Rev. Cammenga is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.
The faithful church of Jesus Christ today is called to speak out on the subject of homosexuality. She is called to bring the light of the gospel to bear on this matter and be light in the darkness.
We are tempted not to speak out. For one thing, this is an evil so shameful and so repulsive that we hesitate even to mention it. For another thing, to speak out against homosexuality is to invite being labeled as prejudiced and bigoted. There are consequences for those who oppose the homosexuals.
But speak out we must. And speak out we will. We must speak out on homosexuality, first of all, in order to warn God’s people from this sin, or from taking a wrong attitude toward this sin.
We must speak out against homosexuality in order that, if it please God, He may use this testimony to bring to repentance those who have fallen into this sin or have entertained a wrong view of this sin. And, finally, we must speak out on the subject of homosexuality because God Himself speaks on this subject.
The most complete treatment of this evil in Holy Scripture is to be found in Romans 1. In Romans 1 we have a very full description of the sin of homosexuality, its cause, and its judgment by God. We do well to examine this passage carefully.
The sin spoken of in Romans 1 is the sin of homosexuality- the sexual desire of a person for a member of his own sex, whether of a woman for a woman or of a man for a man, and the carrying out of that desire in a sexual relationship. The apostle Paul speaks in verse 26 of “…women (who) did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” And in verse 27, “And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.”
The sin of homosexuality is a sin that has to do with the fundamental physical differences between men and women, with the sexual nature of human beings, and with the sexual relationship and activity. For this reason the apostle does not use the ordinary words for “men” and “women” in Romans 1, but throughout actually uses words that could better be translated “males” and “females.” “For even their females did change the natural use into that which is against nature; and likewise also the males, leaving the natural use of the females, burned in their lust one toward another; males with males working that which is unseemly…” (Rom. 1:26, 27).
In this passage the apostle describes this sin as a very shameful evil. In verse 26 he speaks of it as “vile,” that is, shameful, disgraceful, dishonorable. In verse 27 he describes it as “unseemly,” something indecent, ugly, and altogether filthy. In verse 28 he says that the homosexuals “do those things which are not convenient,” that is, they practice those things which are not befitting a human being, not proper.
The sin of homosexuality is not one shameful sin among many; it is the sin that most fully reveals and most fully works out the shame of sin. This is the apostle’s point in Romans 1. That is plain from the fact, first, that the apostle is here describing the very end, the fullest development of the unrighteousness and ungodliness of men apart from the gospel. That is what he is doing in Romans 1. And what is that fullest development of the depravity of sinful man? It is the sin of homosexuality. Second, this is the idea of the word “working” in verse 27: “Men with men working that which is unseemly.” That word “working” means “to work out fully, to develop completely.” That is what homosexuality is, the working out fully of the sinfulness of fallen man. And third, the apostle teaches the grossness of the sin of homosexuality when he speaks of God giving men and women up to this sin. Three times in Romans 1:24, 26, 28, the apostle says that God gives the homosexual up to his homosexuality. That indicates development in sin, and that homosexuality is the fullest development of man’s sinfulness.
The reason why the sin of homosexuality is an especially shameful sin is that it is a sin contrary to nature itself. Homosexuality is contrary to the revealed will of God in Holy Scripture, to be sure. But in addition, it is contrary to the fundamental order of God in creation. That is why Paul says in verse 26 that women change the “natural” use into that which is against “nature.” And in verse 27 he speaks of men leaving the “natural” use of the woman. Homosexuality is against nature, is unnatural, defies the very order and makeup of God’s original creation. Even the physical anatomy of men and women indicates that homosexuality is against nature.
One thing is plain. Homosexuality is not a normal lifestyle, a natural sexual preference. Homosexuality is unnatural, hideous, and a perversion.
Granted that the apostle Paul in Romans 1 roundly condemns homosexual practice, must this condemnation be extended to homosexual desire? There are many today who are willing (albeit reluctantly) to admit that the Scriptures condemn homosexual practice, but they argue that this condemnation does not extend to the desire of one for another of the same sex. This was the conclusion of the report adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in 1973.
Supposedly, homosexual desire is something that an individual cannot help and for which he cannot be held responsible. The homosexual nature is something that an individual is born with. His being a homosexual is due to his being a victim of his makeup, his genes and chromosomes.
To understand Paul in Romans 1 to be condemning homosexual practice while permitting homosexual nature is either careless reading of Romans 1 or, more likely, deliberate distortion of the apostle’s teaching.
Clearly, he condemns homosexual practice. As clearly he condemns homosexual desire.
The Bible throughout condemns not only sinful deeds, but the lusts out of which those deeds arise. Think once of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Not only does He condemn murder, but He condemns also hatred of the brother; He forbids not only adultery, but also looking on a woman and lusting after her in the heart.
So it is with homosexuality. It is not just the practice, but the “vile affections” towards homosexuality that Paul condemns in Romans 1:26. In verse 27 he speaks of men burning “in their lust” one toward another. And in verse 28 the apostle speaks of the “reprobate mind” from which the sinful deeds of homosexuality proceed.
For both the sin and the passion out of which it proceeds, the homosexual is responsible. He is not a helpless victim of his makeup. He is responsible. Strikingly, the apostle emphasizes that the sin of the homosexual is deliberate disobedience. In verse 26 he speaks of women who “change” the natural use, actively and deliberately “change” what they know is the natural use. In verse 27 he speaks of men who “leave,” again, actively and deliberately “leave” the natural use of the woman. And in that same verse he says that they actively “work” that which is unseemly.
Even the “experts” indicate that it is a myth to suppose that one is simply born a homosexual, with the inclination to homosexuality. Dr. Charles Socarides, M.D., writing in the Journal of American Medicine, has said, “Homosexuality is not innate or inborn, but is rather a learned process.” Time magazine, in a feature article on homosexuality, stated: “About the only thing that most experts (in the field of homosexual behavior) agree on is that homosexuality is not the result of some kinky gene or hormone predisposition. Biologically homosexuals do not constitute a third sex; they are full men and women.” No scientist or genetic researcher has been able to provide any convincing evidence that anybody is born a homosexual. Most homosexuals themselves admit that at some point in their life they consciously chose homosexuality. And even if it can be argued that there are those who have a homosexual nature, have we forgotten that God holds us responsible not just for our sins but also for our sinful natures?
There are some who argue that Paul is not condemning all homosexuality, homosexuality per se, in Romans 1. What the apostle is condemning, they contend, is promiscuous homosexuality. This was what characterized the heathen homosexuals of his day. And it was this that the apostle found offensive and incompatible with the faithfulness to which the gospel calls the Christian. The apostle’s point, then, in Romans 1is that regardless of whether you are homosexual or heterosexual, be faithful to your sexual partner.
What an absurdity! It is about as ridiculous to speak of a monogamous homosexual as it is to speak of a monogamous polygamist. For all practical purposes, there is no such creature. The statistics, as we saw in an earlier article, bear this out. The homosexual lifestyle is a promiscuous lifestyle. The average homosexual has hundreds of “lovers.”
Even if a monogamous homosexual relationship were possible, that relationship, too, is condemned by the Word of God in Romans 1. For it is all homosexuality, monogamous, promiscuous or otherwise, that is condemned. Condemned are those who leave the natural use and burn in their lust “one toward another.” Everyone and anyone who burns in his lust for another of the same sex works that which is unseemly and receives from God the due recompense of his error.
Neither is Romans 1 to be understood as merely the Jewish tradition’s regard for homosexuality, not necessarily Paul’s or God’s viewpoint. This is Dr. Hendrik Hart’s suggestion in “Romans Revisited: How I Came to See Paul’s References to Homosexuality in a Radically New Light.” The CRC scholar writes:
It occurred to me that this section (
) might present not Paul’s own proclamation of God’s condemnation of sin, but the Jewish tradition’s understanding of the consequences of sin – the wrath of God. Paul, in contrast to the view expressed in 1:18-32, would see sin as needing a different approach, one based in the justice of God which is mercy.
Where is the proof for such a preposterous contention? Unbelievable! Paul is made to contradict Paul! And this is supposed to be “new light”!
Romans 1 is not the Jewish tradition’s condemnation of homosexuality, but the gospel’s condemnation of homosexuality, verse 16. It is not Jewish prejudice that condemns the homosexual, but the righteous God who forbids this shameful sin. Paul’s conclusion says it all: “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (v. 32).
Behind this sin of homosexuality, both in the life of the individual and in the life of a society, stands a definite cause.
The cause is that God Himself gives men and women up to this sin. Three times in Romans 1 the apostle speaks of God “giving men up.”
In the past, men have appealed to this expression in support of the teaching of common grace, the teaching that there is a gracious operation of the Holy Spirit in the unregenerate restraining sin, so that there is still some good in them and so that they can do some good works. The argument is that if God gives men over to sin, before He gives them over He must be restraining them, keeping them from being as sinful as they would otherwise be and enabling them to do good.
Against this interpretation stands the clear teaching of the entire passage. This is one of the most outstanding passages in all of Scripture teaching the total depravity of the human race. The chapter speaks not of Gods love for sinners, but of His hatred and judgment of sinners. There is no mention of God restraining sinners, but of His giving over of sinners.
God’s giving up of men to sin certainly indicates development, but it is development in sin. It is not development from good to bad, but development from bad to worse. The example is not of someone who is very sick, but still alive, who is given over to death. But the example is of someone who has just recently died, in contrast to a corpse of several months. Both are equally dead. But there is development, degeneration. The corpse of several months stinks more, is more rotten, and much more repulsive. That is the development in sin that the apostle has in mind inRomans 1.
That God gives men and women up to homosexuality indicates that homosexuality is punishment. It is not only itself terrible sin. But it is the punishment of sin. God punishes sin with sin. This is exactly what God is doing when He gives men and women up to homosexuality.
The sin for which homosexuality is punishment is man’s refusal to glorify and worship God. “For this cause,” verse 26 begins. For what cause? For man’s rejection of the truth about God. Although man knows God, knows that there is a God and that this God ought to be served, he willfully rejects God and refuses to worship Him. That comes out also in verse 28: “Even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” Homosexuality is God’s just punishment of those who reject and dishonor Him. God gives them up to dishonor themselves!
Why is our society threatened by homosexuals? Because our society has rejected God, refuses to honor God, will not obey even the most fundamental commandments of the law of God. Does anyone seriously doubt this about modern American society? Why are churches threatened by homosexuals? Because what is true of our society is true as well of the vast number of churches.
Those who commit the sin of homosexuality and go on impenitent in this sin fall under divine judgment. The God who gives them over to this sin also punishes them for the sin.
That judgment is expressed in verse 27: “…receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.” That refers to God’s judgment in their own body, the venereal diseases, the AIDS, the hepatitis, and more. That includes God’s recompense in their whole life, including the ruin of their family life and their psychological life.
Ultimately the judgment of God is death. That is verse 32, “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death . . . .” Death now and death eternal hereafter. That judgment of God was vividly pictured in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah. They died under the fire and the brimstone.
The church must reflect this divine judgment. The condemnation of this sin and God’s judgment over those who are guilty of this sin must be expressed in the public preaching. This judgment of God must also be expressed in the exercise of Christian discipline. The church will discipline the homosexual, then, out of a concern for the glory of God, as well as out of love for the homosexual who is in bondage to this awful sin.
There is only one hope of escape from this divine judgment, and that one hope is the gospel. That is the message of Romans 1. The church that preaches the gospel is not motivated by pride. We must never suppose that we could never fall into this sin. People of God, this is what we are and what we are capable of apart from God’s grace.
Nor does the message of the church exclude the possibility of the salvation of the homosexual. Not at all! I Corinthians 6:9-11 makes plain that there were saints in the church of Corinth who had been “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind.” But they were now washed in the blood of Jesus Christ and sanctified by the Spirit of God. Because of this cleansing, they were no longer homosexuals: “such were some of you” Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:11.
The gospel gives hope of deliverance to the homosexual sinner, in the way of repentance. Only the gospel gives this hope, for only the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. What a power, then, the gospel is to deliver even from a sin like this!
– to be concluded.
Acknowledgment: The expression of many of the concepts set forth in this installment of my series on homosexuality is heavily dependent on an earlier series on the same subject, written by Rev. David Engelsma, in SB volumes 57 and 58. [RC]