Homosexuality is a dominant issue on the landscape of America Christianity tearing apart denominations and churches. Since 2003, when Episcopalian priest Gene Robinson left his family to join his gay partner and was promoted by the church to bishop, a struggle has existed between those who see homosexuality as sin and those who argue for love and acceptance. Just last year the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America followed their example by blessing same-sex unions and homosexual ministers. Meanwhile, United Methodists and the Presbyterian Church, USA have proponents fighting for the same measures in their respective denominations.
But is this issue really about who is allowed to have sex with whom? Hardly. This issue is about biblical authority. It is obvious from a basic reading that homosexuality is condemned in the New Testament (see Rom. 1:21-27, 1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 1:10) and I don’t even need to run to the Old Testament. Jesus’ own teachings limit marriage to one man and one woman (Matt. 19:4-6). The real question is: is the Bible the Word of God to be taken literally by those who follow Christ or is it, in the words of Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean, “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules”?
The Washington Times published a story in 2007 declaring that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the Bible is God’s Word. But what does that really mean? Do we mean God has spoken truth to us in the form of Scripture? Or do we mean the Bible is an inspired book (like an ‘inspired’ painting or ‘inspired’ lyrics) that has some good things to say, some of which may or may not be true and might be from God? Sadly, many Christians opt for the second. This can work itself out in two ways:
First, some openly declare that parts of the Bible are wrong, culturally backward, or in error. This diminishes biblical authority and makes human reason the ultimate authority. While the Bible contains truth, we are free to pick and choose what is truth and what can be discarded. We approach the Bible like the buffet at Golden Corral; opting for the fried shrimp of God’s love but passing over the spinach of His wrath. We are free to craft a god of our own liking who would never disagree with us, challenge us, or demand anything of us. Existing only as a human invention lacking authority to command his followers, this god is ultimately not worthy of worship as evidenced by the mass exodus from mainline churches which have abandoned biblical authority. Mainline denominations (like those above) fell from 31 million members in 1960 to 21 million in 2005.
Second, some maintain the Bible to be accurate and free of error while stretching the text so far it cannot retain its shape. With the skill of Nicholas Cage hunting national treasure, they dig out obscure translations of Greek words and original interpretations, drawing from several passages that leave the careful listener as lost as Chuck Norris in a romantic comedy. Neil Elliot in his book, The Arrogance of Nations , argues that in Romans 1, Paul isn’t talking about homosexual relationships at all but rather violent people who emulate the depravity of the Roman emperors Nero and Caligula. With a little historical creativity he sets aside 2,000 years of understanding on this passage, dismisses its most straightforward meaning, and makes it palatable to his American audience. This approach to the Bible diminishes biblical authority by demanding it conform to the authority of our personal experience. “The text can’t contradict me, so it must mean something else.” The problem is if the Bible can mean anything and everything, it ultimately means nothing.
An authoritative Bible that is free of error, containing straightforward truth that can be taken literally wields life changing power. First, it makes obedience and discipleship possible. The Bible is able to command us to change our lives and follow Christ in obedience because it is wholly true. Since I cannot dismiss what it says, I am forced to be changed by it.
Second, it offers timeless truth in the midst of a shifting culture. Because it comes from God and because cultures come from man, every culture the Bible encounters will have disagreements with it. In the west we find the Bible’s teaching on sexuality too repressive while in the east it is considered too liberal. The very fact that it conflicts with our culture is evidence of its truthfulness.
Finally, an authoritative Bible makes possible a personal relationship with God. Tim Keller says it best in his book The Reason for God:
“In any truly personal relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you… Remember the movies The Stepford Wives? The husbands of Stepford, Connecticut decide to have their wives turned into robots who never cross the wills of their husbands. A Stepford wife was wonderfully compliant and beautiful, but no one would ever describe such a marriage as intimate or personal. Now what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You’ll have a Stepford God! A God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction. Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle will you know you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination. So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God. It is the precondition for it.”
For those desiring to follow Christ, hold to truth, and know God, an authoritative Bible is a must. Anything less and we are left with a man-made god, not worthy of worship, who, if he manages to hold the attention of churchgoers in this generation, will surely lose it in the next. So whether the issue is homosexuality, marriage, finance, eternity, or the character of God, are we ready to turn to an authoritative Bible or will we treat it like a buffet and create a meal of our own design?