This article was published in In Gear, the magazine of the Group for Evangelism and Renewal of the United Reformed Church. It concerns the question: How should churches who believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman respond to a church-wide consultation currently ongoing?
Be sure of your ground
The United Reformed Church confesses that “the Word of God in the Old and New Testaments, discerned under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the supreme authority for the faith and conduct of God’s people.” As evangelical ministers, elders and churches we must be sure of the Biblical foundation for marriage.
Back to creation
In Genesis 2:24 we find God’s definition of marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Here a family is defined as a father, mother and children. A man shall leave that unit to be joined to his wife and begin a new family. This union is between those who are different yet complementary, for the joining of a man and a woman creates one flesh.
This was the ideal before the fall. Is there a change to this position in response to our sinful nature? The answer is no. Jesus quotes these words on marriage in response to a question on divorce in Matthew 19:4-5. By saying “Have you not read?” he shows that scripture has full authority on this issue. Paul quotes Genesis in Ephesians 5:31. By doing this in the middle of his teaching for Christian marriage he brings us to a greater truth. Marriage is a picture of the relationship that Christ has with his church. Christ is the groom and the church is the bride.
These references are the positive teaching on marriage. It is clear that marriage according to the Bible is between one man and one woman.
As well as this positive teaching we also have a number of occasions where homosexual relationships are negatively mentioned. These are found most explicitly in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, in the middle of the holiness code (Lev 17-22). These passages clearly declare that homosexual practices were forbidden in the community of Israel in the same way as child sacrifice, incest and adultery. But are these commands still in force for the Christian or are they like the sacrificial laws that have been fulfilled in Christ?
The New Testament includes the same prohibitions as the Old with regard to homosexual activity. Jesus condemns sexual immorality in Mark 7:21 which would have been defined by sections of the holiness code. Paul makes it clear that homosexual relationships are not to be engaged in by those within the church. Echoing the language of Leviticus, Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 that homosexuals (as well as adulterers, thieves and drunkards, etc) will not enter the Kingdom of God.
In Romans 1 Paul shows how human beings have suppressed their innate knowledge of God in order to sin wilfully. Paul’s argument is that homosexuality is an expression, among other things, of humanity’s sinfulness.
These passages comment on many of our sins. They confront many things in our own lives that we may seek to justify. But they do teach that same-sex relations are not to be considered as permissible for the Christian.
Stand firm on this ground
Unless and until it can be shown from scripture that marriage can be between two people of the same sex then the only option open to us must be to respond ‘no’ to the question “Would you wish General Assembly to allow same-sex marriage?” Our faithfulness to God and his Word requires us to respond negatively.
Please make sure that you return the consultation questionnaire. One fault of evangelicals can be to retreat into our own churches rather than engage the wider denomination. On this point we must not. Redefining what God has declared is not an optional extra – it is a matter of the faith. You could also write a personal response.
Many of our churches have the people and resources to help others through this issue. Is there a nearby URC who you could help by graciously explaining why this measure cannot be supported? One of the weaknesses of the URC booklet “One Plus One” is that the position outlined above is not found in a positive way. Be prepared to present the Biblical position to those who need to hear it.
If the consultation results in the issue coming to another Assembly then consider contacting your representatives to respectfully express your views.
Finally, you must also prepare yourself for the eventuality of the denomination allowing same-sex marriages to be performed. What will be your response? If this passes then the URC does not follow its own confession in seeing scripture as the supreme authority for what we believe and do. Same-sex marriage is a presenting symptom of Biblical infidelity. Be prepared to be a Jeremiah – calling the denomination to repentance and faith. But also be prepared to leave the denomination – as a church or individual. Our consciences are bound by the Word of God. Here we stand. We can do no other.