Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Homosexuality and Hermeneutics

A friend of mine recently sent me an e-mail telling me about a new argument for homosexuality. It argues that the “Spirit affects and effects the interpretation of Scripture by working in communities of readers” (Rogers ed.), therefore,

“Just as experience in the Spirit in Acts convinced someone like Peter to argue for Gentile inclusion without circumcision, so recognition of the Sprit’s work in the lives of homosexual Christians might lead the church to re-consider the moral status of homosexuality.”

Here is an edited version of my response:

First, this view seems to downplay the importance of the Jesus' apostles. The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20). This new view seems to hold that our imagined revelations are on the same level as those of the apostles and prophets (we are NOT Jesus' apostles)! It seems to me that this is a view more closely aligned with early Gnostic heretics than Christianity. Early Gnostic heretics also downplayed the role of the apostles and tried to deceive others with their imagined revelations.

By contrast, I think it was Ignatius (AD 110) who told his readers NOT to lift him up on the same level of the apostles! He told his readers that he is just a servant, not an apostle! I sense the same attitude in other early church leaders like Clement of Rome and Polycarp as well.

Second, it seems very "convenient" to me that after 2,000 years of understanding that homosexual behavior was condemned by God, we suddenly imagine that the Spirit is teaching something brand new, just (conveniently) at a time when it is not popular or politically correct to stand against homosexual behavior!

I am amazed by the ingeniousness of some "Christians" in their efforts to make something acceptable that God calls an abomination! For 2000 years the church (and before them the Jews) believed homosexual behavior was a very, very serious sin--but all of a sudden, just when that view is unpopular, we imagine that the Spirit is teaching us something different! God help us!

Third, this method of interpreting Scripture is so fluid that there is no fixed meaning. What Scripture might mean today may have no relation to what it might mean next year.

"This approach to the Spirit and interpretation of God’s Word makes everything fluid with no static interpretation whatsoever.” I would go even further and argue that if this new approach is valid, we might just as well rip up our Bible and throw it in the trash--it is useless. We should all just sit around and see what God is whispering in our ear today--which, coincidentally is probably going to be similar to whatever we happen to want.

Democrats will undoubtedly "hear" God telling them to support the Democrat candidate for President. Republicans will undoubtedly "hear" God telling them to support the Republican candidate. And of course, there will be enough Christians supporting either of these options that we can call it a "community of readers" and argue that God is now speaking through the "true" church (which right-wing congregations will imagine to be their churches, and left-wing congregations will imagine to be their churches).

There is also a growing number of "Christians" who are arguing against hell. Perhaps God is telling us something different now and that there really is no hell after all. In fact, maybe God is now telling us that ALL people will be saved and that evangelism isn't really necessary. The point is that there is absolutely no end to what we can imagine God telling us once we start down this path.

Third, if this new view is correct, perhaps I need to be open to Joseph Smith's revelations as well--and maybe even those of Muhammad!

Fourth, Acts 15 is just a summary of a much longer debate (see Acts 15:7 which refers to "after much discussion"). I think we should be a little careful about drawing wide-ranging conclusions about new hermeneutical methods based on the summary in Acts 15 (we don't usually draw wide ranging conclusions about finding the will of God by casting lots in Acts 1:26).  For example, I would argue that the decision of the Jerusalem Council was not JUST because

1) the apostles were seeing signs of the Spirit in believing Gentiles (though that was certainly one of the factors).

But the acceptance of Gentiles was undoubtedly due to a number of other factors as well, including,

2) the fact that the salvation of the Gentiles was mentioned even in the Old Testament (see James' testimony in Acts 15:13-18)

3) the vision Peter received about the unclean/clean animals and the accompanying direct command of God to go to Gentiles (Acts 10-11; see Peter's testimony in Acts 15:7)

4) The fact that Jesus' himself had declared all foods clean (Mk 7:19) and later commanded his followers to go into all the world to make disciples (Mt 28:18-20)

This new hermeneutic seems to hold that the acceptance of Gentiles in Acts 15 was based solely on the fact that some Jewish Christians had witnessed some Gentiles speaking in tongues. Supposedly, the apostles, therefore, concluded—based on this one fact alone—that God was doing something different. But that is NOT what the text says. The decision was based on based on a number of factors--including Scripture and the teaching of Jesus!

Fifth, as argued above, the Acts 15 decision was perfectly in line with Old Testament revelation about the salvation of the Gentiles. It was completely compatible with Jesus' command to preach the Gospel to Gentiles, and with the command Peter received to go to Gentiles and with the command Paul received to go to Gentiles. On the other hand the new hermeneutical principle we are supposed to derive from Acts 15 is that a behavior that God says is so abominable that he "vomited out" nations for it (Lev 18:22-28; 20:13, 22-26)--the condemnation of which is repeated in the NT--is suddenly imagined to be perfectly acceptable to God now! God help us!

If this new hermeneutical principle is true, then there is absolutely no behavior that could not be explained away by some ingenious "Christian" as now being acceptable to God! Homosexual behavior is condemned in the strongest possible terms in the Old Testament, and that condemnation is repeated in the NT. If that behavior can be explained away as now being acceptable to God--then so could theft, murder, rape, adultery, or absolutely anything else. There is nothing so abominable but that some ingenious group could not find "reasons" for imagining that God was telling them something new.

For example, think of the mainline German churches under Hitler. If this new method of hermeneutics was popular back then, I have no doubt whatsoever that some in the mainline churches would have used it to argue that God was leading them to support Hitler. In fact, some may even have gone as far as to argue that God was telling them to support Hitler's "final solution"--regardless of God's previous command against murder.  After all, it wasn't just a handful of "Christians" who supported Hitler but a significant percentage--they could argue that God was speaking through the new consensus of the community!

I'm not denying that the Holy Spirit can and does speak today--but once our "private" revelations are cut off from the written Word of God--or flatly contradict the Word of God--Christianity--as built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone--ceases to exist.