This is the English version of Frågan om samkönade relationer, en första gradens fråga.
In the Swedish church landscape, even among many traditional Christians, the issue of homosexuality and the nature of marriage has come to be seen as a secondary or even a tertiary issue. Endless examples could be given, but one of the latest is the famous free church figure Magnus Malm.1 In a cultural article written in the Christian newspaper Dagen, Malm argues that Christians reasonably should be able to agree to disagree when it comes to their different theological views on LGBTQ practices and marriage. Let us agree to disagree, he wrote, referencing Paul’s reasoning in Romans 14–15. In these chapters the apostle writes to two different groups in the Roman congregation, telling them to receive one another as Christ received them and not look down on or despise one another based on preferences on food, drink, and holidays. One could say that Paul is pointing his finger at the issue they are disagreeing on and telling them: That’s a third rank issue. A tertiary issue. A matter of conscience. Live with one another’s differences and don’t split up in different camps unnecessarily.
Malm’s aim may be to maintain Christian unity, but his mistake could not have been more serious. The usual questions regarding LGBTQ practices and the nature of marriage are not tertiary and matters of individual preference or conscience. Neither are they secondary, as with common ecclesiological issues. They are to the highest degree primary issues. The biblical teaching on the nature of marriage and sexual immorality is a first rank theological doctrine about which Christians can never agree to disagree about. It is way too central an issue.
Let me give you three reasons for this:
A matter of the gospel
Firstly, this issue concerns exactly what Malm in his article says it does not: the gospel itself. Scripture teaches that Christ gave his life in our stead, as an atoning sacrifice to save us from our sins. According to Paul it is one of the gospel’s most important truths that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3, see also Matt. 1:21; Tit. 2:11–14). That Christ died for our sins means in this context that he bore the punishment due to our sins, that is, the wrath of God (Rom. 8:1–3). If homosexual acts are sinful—and Scripture is very clear about that they are (Rom. 1:26–27)—it contradicts the gospel to live out, accept, and bless such a lifestyle. It is completely unreasonable to consent to the very sin that places Christ on the cross. Thus, this is a gospel matter.
If homosexual acts are sinful—and Scripture is very clear about that they are (Rom. 1:26–27)—it contradicts the gospel to live out, accept, and bless such a lifestyle.
A matter of regeneration
Secondly, this is a matter of regeneration. Scripture is clear that no one who is truly born again can keep on living in active, conscious, and unrepentant sin. The apostle John, for example, writes: Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 John. 3:8–10, see also Eph. 2:1–5; Col. 3:1–10). The point is that a consistent sinful lifestyle indicates the absence of true spiritual life since the regenerated person has received new desires, God-pleasing desires, in Christ.
A matter of eternity
Thirdly, this is a matter of eternity. This is a first rank issue since Scripture with all desirable clarity says that whosoever lives this way will not inherit the kingdom of God. Scripture is clear: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9–10, also see Gal. 5:19–21; Rev. 21:8). These warning passages are, mildly put, sobering and it would be foolish of us to neglect what they in black and white are telling us. Many (including Magnus Malm) believe that the Bible doesn’t talk about this as if it was a salvific issue. But that is precisely what it does.
This is a first rank issue since Scripture with all desirable clarity says that whosoever lives this way will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Romans 14–15 is in other words irrelevant in this case, because Paul would never reason as he does in these chapters when it comes to a homosexual lifestyle. The fact is, just a few chapters earlier, he is very blunt about his conviction regarding same sex intimacy (see Rom. 1:18–28). Therefore, the argument doesn’t hold. The biblical view on marriage and sexuality is thus a first rank issue; fundamental to what it means for someone to profess to follow the Christ who has revealed himself in history and in the Scriptures. As a matter of fact, Christian sexual ethics has been one of the clearest marks distinguishing the people of God from the pagan world around throughout history. Because of this, no true unity can exist between the two positions. No, there is but one Christian position regarding a homosexual or LGBTQ lifestyle. To deny the traditional view on marriage is therefore to place yourself outside of all Christian orthodoxy and in its place embrace nothing less than heresy.
How then, should local churches act in light of this being a primary or first rank issue? Let me suggest three steps:
- Hold on to the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), without compromising what God has said.
- Think about the practical consequences of this position (how it affects your church’s ecumenism, membership rolls, and the like).
- Offer people something better than sin ever could. Offer them Jesus Christ. In him there is incomparable fellowship, joy, and satisfaction.
Let’s agree to disagree?
So, can we agree to disagree? It depends on what we mean by it. Of course, we can agree about the fact that the different camps have different views about the issue—that’s an obvious fact. But if we mean, can we stand in unity even though we have different views on the point at issue? then the answer is clear. No, we cannot. Because “The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:7–8).