The sin of homosexuality is vile. The punishment of it is severe. The cause is dreadful: God’s giving up of men and women to the sin. Three times does the apostle speak of this “giving up” in Romans 1:18-32 as the cause of homosexual sin in the society of ungodly and unrighteous men who are holding the truth in unrighteousness. He writes in Romans 1:24: “Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves.” In Romans 1:26, we have: “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections. . . .” And we read in Romans 1:28: “And 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 in society is not simply the natural development in wickedness by men estranged from God. This would be bad enough. But it is a depth of evil that is reached under the active power of a vengeful God. This is worse.
The Divine giving up is more than God’s permitting wicked men and women to debase themselves so. There is a definite decision of God with respect to them that they will become thus vile; and there is a definite operation of God’s power within them and upon them, effecting their practicing this iniquity. It is not the case that God makes good men bad. It is not the case either that God puts into the hearts and lives of bad men a particular corruption that was otherwise foreign to them. The uncleanness, the vile affections, and the reprobate mind to which God gives them up are their own. The lusts that now are inflamed are those of their own hearts. But this extreme manifestation of the extent of their depravity is due to the awful action of God’s giving up. Men and women would otherwise not behave themselves this way. This is not because the tendency is not present in sinful human nature, but because the sin is unnatural—”against nature” (Rom. 1:26). Also, the sinner’s selfish self-respect would restrain him from shaming himself with this vileness. Besides, society’s self-interests demand that homosexuality be pitilessly opposed, which our nation has been learning by horrible experience, since it will not learn from the Word.
This was the reason for homosexuality in the inglorious cultures of Greece and Rome, where it abounded. As Paul was writing Romans 1, he had Greece and Rome specifically in mind.
This is the reason for the astonishing prevalence of the sin in Western society today. God is giving apostate Europeans and Americans up to this sin. Included in this Divine work is all the promotion of the evil by the media; the defense of it by the wise of this world; and the acceptance of it by the public. A special agent of the Divine giving up is the apostate Christian Church which approves homosexuality in the Name of God. As once the Lord sent a lying spirit into the mouth of the false prophets in Israel, in order to persuade Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead (I Kings 22:19-23), so today does God put a lying spirit in the mouth of preachers and synods, in order that ungodly men and women may dishonor their own bodies between themselves.
Homosexuality is punishment. It is not only itself sin; but it is also punishment for sin. God punishes sin with sin. The sin for which homosexuality is punishment is men’s refusal to glorify God, which refusal is expressed in their rejection of the truth. A sin of the spirit in man is punished by God with a gross sin of the flesh.
God gave men and women up to these vile affections, according to Romans 1:26, “for this cause.” What cause? This, that “they changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, Who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:25); they “changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23); and “they did not like to retain God in their knowledge” (Rom. 1:28).
Heathen society is confronted with the truth that God is and that He must be worshipped. God Himself shows them His eternal power and Godhead through the creation in which they live and of which they themselves are part (Rom. 1:19, 20). The result is that they “knew God” (Rom. 1:21). But they do not like to retain God in their knowledge (Rom. 1:28). Literally, the apostle writes: “they did not approve God, to have Him in their knowledge.” Looking Him over, they judge God unworthy of their worship. They reject Him. They do worse. They invariably make an idol and worship it instead of the blessed Creator. This is robbery of the glory of God—a creature receives the worship that is due to the Creator. At the same time, they dishonor God by presenting the Deity, in their idols, as a man, an eagle, a lion, or a crocodile.
Therefore, God gives them up to homosexuality. This is God’s just retribution for their rejection of Him. Do they dishonor Him? He will abase them, “to dishonor their own bodies between themselves” (Rom. 1:24). Do they disapprove God? God will give them over to an “unapproved mind” (Rom. 1:28). Do they decide that God is not to be glorified by man; and do they even defile the glory in idolatry? God will show in them how vile is man.
Homosexuality in society is an expression of the wrath of God revealed from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). It is, according to Romans 1:28, itself the recompense of the error of rejecting the truth, and a fitting one.
If the Divine giving over to this abomination was the judgment upon pagan Greece and Rome, who had only the knowledge of God as Creator from creation, how much more is not this to be expected as the judgment upon those nations which have known God from His Holy Word, but reject Him—the nominally Christian nations of the 20th century?
In the light of Holy Scripture, especially Romans 1, the stand to be taken by Christ’s Church is plain: she condemns homosexuality in root and branch. Homosexual nature (lusts) and homosexual deeds (practice) are vile sin. The practice of it is forbidden. The impenitent practice of it shuts one out of the congregation and out of the Kingdom of God everlasting, by the discipline of the Church. “Be not deceived. . .effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind. . .shall inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9, 10).
But the churches cannot see this! Reformed and Presbyterian and Evangelical churches cannot see this! Can it be? Can they not see it in the history of Sodom? Can they not see it in Romans l? Can they not see it in I Timothy 1:9, 10: “. . .the law is. . .for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane. . .for them that defile themselves with mankind. . .and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine”? Can they not see it in the warning of Jude 1:7: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire”? Can they not see it in I Corinthians 6:9, 10)
How advanced, then, is their blindness! And, since they darken the clear light of Scripture, how deep is their darkness! But these are the guides of the saints and their children in the ways that please God and lead to heaven. Such churches are “blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14). All who desire to see, and walk, in the light will “let them alone.” As the men of Ninevah will rise up in the judgment, to condemn Israel, so will a heathen such as Juvenal rise up to condemn the Christian churches of our day, who, in his Satires, railed on Rome for its homosexuality, appealing to his gods:
O Romulus, where did such wickedness come from to assail
Your shepherds? How, O Mars, did this itch spread to your sons?
Just look—a rich man of high birth wed to a man. . . (The Satires of Juvenal, Translated by Hubert Creekmore, Chapter II).
But, of course, the churches can see well enough the doctrine of Scripture. Their trouble is their rejection of Scripture (“. . .who hold the truth in unrighteousness”). They have disarmed its inspiration, obscured its clarity, denied its authority, and questioned its reliability. Now, all things are possible to them, including the contradiction of the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality. That this rejection of Scripture is the hinge on which all turns is plain in the books of Helmut Thielicke and of Letha Scanzoni and Virgina Ramey Mollenkott referred to in a former article (Thielicke’sThe Ethics of Sex and Scanzoni and Mollenkott’s Is The Homosexual My Neighbor? Another Christian View).
Thielicke begins his examination of the teaching of Scripture by asserting, ominously, that it is not enough to cite Scripture; one must also interpret the quotations “in accord with the kerygmatic purpose” (p. 277). (The “kerygma” of Scripture is its central, gospel-message. Theologians use this concept to set aside any teaching in the Bible that offends them and to twist the nose of every passage of the Bible to the shape that suits them. It is, by this time, a rule of thumb that, when a believer hears the words, “This passage should be interpreted kerygmatically,” he must brace himself for a contradiction of a plain teaching of the Bible; just as the heading on an ecclesiastical document, “Pastoral Advice to the Churches,” will almost always herald the trampling on one or another of the commandments of God’s Law.) Thielicke does not consider Romans 1:26ff. to be decisive on homosexuality. For we must discover what in the passage is “kerygmatically ‘binding’ ” (p. 279). Fact is, Paul’s reference to sexual perversion comes “from the stock of the tradition with which Paul was surrounded, above all the Stoic catalogues of vices. . . we must reckon with the fact that Paul’s conception of homosexuality was one which was affec ted by the intellectual atmosphere surrounding the struggle with Greek paganism. . .” (p. 280). Therefore, Christians today have a “certain freedom to rethink the subject” (p. 281). This freedom extends to consideration of the question, whether a constituted homosexual may practice homosexuality (we have seen that Thielicke answers, “Yes”). For “even the New Testament does not provide us with an evident, normative dictum with regard to this question” (p. 294). Thielicke has a freedom to stand in judgment on Holy Scripture; a freedom to rethink God’s thoughts on sin; and a freedom to interpret Scripture according to the mind of scientists, ethicists, modern man, and his own notions. The Reformation renounced this “freedom” once and for all as the worst bondage. We will not go back to this “Babylonian Captivity” of the Church and the Christian man. Sola Scriptura!, which includes that Scripture alone interprets Scripture.
Scanzoni and Mollenkott, also, are able to defend and advocate homosexuality as a Christian condition and life-style, because they set aside the authority of Scripture. This is done, not by a forthright denial of Scripture as the rule of Christian life, but by a new, private, willful interpretation of Scripture. In the chapter, “What Does the Bible Say?,” having considered the account of Sodom’s behavior towards Lot’s visitors inGenesis 19, these authors conclude “that the Sodom story, says nothing at all about the homosexual condition. The only real application to homosexuals would have to be a general one: homosexuals, like everybody else, should show hospitality to strangers. . .” (p. 59). To fix on inhospitality as the main sin of the Sodomites in Genesis 19 is akin to faulting Nero for inept musicianship.
As for Romans 1, its censure “does not seem to fit the case of a sincere homosexual Christian” (p. 62). “The passage in Romans says nothing about homosexuallove” (p. 63). “No reference,” in Romans 1, “is made to persons whose own ‘nature,’ or primary orientation, is homosexual, as that term is understood by behavioral scientists” (p. 65). By means of a sleight-of-hand word-study, doubt is cast on I Corinthians 6:9, 10 and I Timothy 1:9, 10, whether they refer to homosexuality at all. Thus, Scanzoni and Mollenkott, “two outstanding evangelical authors,” arrive at the conclusion which they were determined to reach from the outset:
Since the Bible is silent about the homosexual condition, those who want to understand it must rely on the findings of modern behavioral science research and on the testimony of those persons who are themselves homosexual.
The Bible furthermore, does not mention the possibility of a permanent, committed relationship of love between homosexuals analogous to heterosexual marriage (pp. 71, 72).
For them to add, “But would such a relationship be permissible according to Biblical standards?” (p. 72) is hypocrisy. The doctrine of Scripture which they espouse recognizes no Biblical standards.
Evangelical and Reformed churches that permit the “new hermeneutic,” i.e., the new overthrow of Holy Scriptures, do so with their eyes open to the practical consequences for the life of the congregation and the life of the church-member.
The Church that contends for the Faith once delivered to the saints proclaims this Faith’s condemnation of homosexuality. No more than she does in the case of other sins does she do this in a spirit of self-righteous pride. On the contrary! She sees in this vile sin the deep depths of the depravity of fallen human nature and the shame of man in revolt against God. This nature is not foreign to us; it is ours. Who says, “This sin, at any rate, I could never commit; it, at least, is alien to me,” speaks foolishly; he does not know the greatness of his sin and misery, under the judgment of the gospel. It is grace, free grace abounding, that has called us out of the ungodliness and unrighteousness that holds the truth under in unrighteousness, thus bringing down on us the wrath of God that gives over to the vile affections. It is grace that reveals the truth in our hearts, so that we worship and serve the blessed Redeemer and Creator. It is grace that orders our steps aright, in conformity with the Law of God revealed in Scripture and in nature. It is grace that moves us daily to pray, not without trembling, “Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me” (Psalm 19:13). And it is grace that answers the prayer with the mighty, sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit of Christ.
No, the Church is not motivated by pride. But her motivation is zeal for the holiness of her God and love for God’s people, whose welfare is threatened by the spread of abomination among them. Her clear, unequivocal “No!” to homosexuality is the javelin of Phinehas that stays the plague from the children of Israel. This “Phinehas-seal” carries away the praise of Jehovah: “Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned My wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for My sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in My jealousy. Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him My covenant of peace” (Numbers 25:11, 12).
Nor does this condemnation exclude the penitent homosexual from salvation, or the child of God who fights against homosexual lusts from the comfort of the gospel of God. Homosexuality is not the unforgivable sin. I Corinthians 6:9-11 teaches that there were saints in the Church of Corinth who had been “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind.” But they were washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. The blood of Jesus, applied by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, cleansed them from this sin. It broke the ruling power of this sin in their lives. It forgave them of all the former deeds and of all the lusts that still remained against their will in them. Because of this cleansing, they are no longer homosexuals, just as a converted adulterer is no longer an adulterer, or a converted drunkard, a drunkard. “Such were some of you,” Paul writes in verse 11, implying, “But such are you no longer.” Now, they are saints. Such they are in the estimation of the Church; such they are in their own estimation; such they are, most importantly, in the estimation of God. They no longer practice homosexuality, fleeing temptation; and they daily crucify the lusts of the flesh that remain, hoping for the Day of Christ, when sin shall be abolished.
The gospel gives hope to homosexual sinners, in the way of repentance. It is not a sin that is stronger than the Spirit of the crucified Christ and from which there is no possibility of deliverance. No one may respond to the call to come to Jesus Christ by saying, “But there is no pardon for this sin; and there is no power in Christ to purify from the pollution of this sin.” There is abundant pardon in the cross of Jesus Christ for every homosexual sinner who repents; and there is power in Christ’s Spirit to sanctify him to walk on the narrow way and through the strait gate which leadeth to life. The Church may confidently ignore the psychologists, sociologists, and theological statisticians who challenge this power of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Lord, and continue to proclaim the good news: “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).
This, in the end, is the purpose of Scripture’s exposure of homosexuality in Romans 1. Seeing the abomination all about her in the world, the Church resolves never to be ashamed of the gospel, but to be ready to preach it everywhere and always. Apart from the gospel in which the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, this is all that there is in the world: the wrath of God burning against ungodly men, giving them over to enormities. With Paul, the apostolic Church exclaims: “I am ready to preach the gospel. . .For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”