Has A Rubicon Been Crossed In The CBOQ?
For better or worse the LGBTQ issue has begun to function as a sort of “Rubicon” within Christendom in general and Evangelicalism in particular. In July of 2016, I wrote an article called “Why Is Gay Marriage The Evangelical Rubicon?” The article was in response to the decisions by the Anglican Church of Canada and by the Church of Scotland to redefine the Christian understanding of marriage. Many observers were making the point in print that these decisions represented a “crossing of the Rubicon” that put these denominations outside the mainstream of orthodox Christianity. Let me briefly summarize why such decisions seem to be accorded more significance than the several other disagreements that exist between various Christian bodies.
Why The Affirmation Of Homosexuality Is Such A Big Deal
1. It is not because homosexual behavior is any more sinful than other sins.
This needs to be said. Are there people who have spoken of homosexual sex as the unforgiveable sin? I’m sure there are, but they are by no means in the majority. In fact, I don’t know anyone personally who holds such a view and I’ve never even heard that view articulated by anyone outside of the infamous (and 20 person strong!) Westboro Baptist Church. Most evangelicals generally agree that all people are sinners and stand equally condemned before God apart from the grace of God in Christ. Homosexual acts are no more “damning” than lying, gossiping, stealing, watching heterosexual pornography or cheating on your taxes. Put simply, homosexual sin is not “at the top of the list” when it comes to damning sins – but it is on the list. To deny that is serious business.
2. The affirmation of gay marriage represents a more obvious threat to the unchallenged authority of Holy Scripture within the church.
There are open disagreements within Evangelicalism that do not seem to trigger the same level of concern that this one does. This is due in large part to the fact that the Bible says nothing positive about homosexual behaviour – even those advocating for same sex marriage admit that. The Bible uniformly condemns homosexual acts throughout the entire canon of Scripture, making this issue far more black and white than other issues of disagreement. There is an argument to be made for infant baptism, there is an argument to be made for the continuation of charismatic gifts, there is an argument to be made for and against the Rapture – that is why those disagreements generally do not represent such an obvious threat to the authority of the Scriptures. Those arguments may be attributed to interpretation and nuance – this issue cannot be. If a church is going to affirm same sex marriage, it must do so over and against the clear and obvious teaching of the Bible, Old Testament and New.
3. The affirmation of same sex marriage challenges the Christian beliefs about sin and salvation.
To affirm same sex marriage is to buy into the narrative that natural orientation is to be interpreted as God’s will for behavior and expression. As Lady Gaga argues, “God makes no mistakes … don’t hide yourself in regret, just love yourself and your set”. That statement runs contrary to the Christian doctrine of creation and fall. Christians believe that God made the original human beings holy and pure, but by voluntary transgression human beings fell from their original innocence - in consequence of which all human beings are now sinners by nature and choice. The Bible teaches that the desires of our heart are not reliable guides for determining appropriate behavior:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NKJV)
Even Bruxy Cavey, the most well known Canadian proponent of “a third way approach” on LGBTQ issues, understands that Christians cannot affirm the desires of the heart as determinative for human behavior. In his public statement dated “Fall 2013” he addresses the gay community directly and says:
I want to encourage you to put aside the “I was born this way” argument in determining your ethics. That way of thinking does not apply to Christ-followers. To be a Christian is to believe that Jesus is our Lord – not our past, our biology, or our desires.
The Bible promises an immediate freedom from the penalty of sin and a progressive victory over the power of sin as the heart and substance of salvation. The classically Christian view is summarized in Romans 6:17-18:
“But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Romans 6:17–18 ESV)
A Christian is saved immediately from the dominion of sin and becomes progressively free from the desire for sin such that eventually we become “obedient from the heart” to the teaching which we have received. Therefore, a church that in any way affirms or normalizes homosexual behavior has crossed a Gospel line.
Has A Rubicon Been Crossed In The CBOQ?
Danforth Baptist Church recently released a statement clarifying their stance on LGBTQ issues. There are a few sentences within the statement that are worthy of commendation:
1. We share and uphold the values of love, justice and equal rights for all people, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, family makeup, social status, income, ability, or physical or mental health; and we desire to reflect the heart of God and the attitude of Jesus Christ towards those who have been marginalized
It is hard to imagine that any Christian would disagree with that. As Baptists we do not look to the state to enforce Christian behavior. We seek to persuade, not to pressure through the arm of the state. I want my Muslim neighbor to enjoy the same religious liberty I enjoy even though I intend to use my liberty to seek his conversion to faith in Jesus Christ! I want my LGBQT neighbor to send his/her children to school without any concern that their child will be subject to bullying or harassment. I want any such bullying or harassment to be punished to the full extent of the law. I want all LGBQT people to feel welcome at my church and to receive the same level of hospitality and concern as any other visitor. If this were what Danforth Baptist meant by calling itself “inclusive” then I could find no quarrel with them.
But the statement goes on to say a great many things with which I cannot agree. Most concerning to me is statement #7:
7. We will consider people for positions of leadership and service in Danforth Church on the basis of the evidence and our understanding of their faith, character, maturity and gifting, rather than their sexual orientation or gender identity.
There is a world of difference between inviting an LGBQT person to attend your church and to sit under the ministry of God’s Word on the one hand, and asking them to serve as an elder on the other. To appoint to leadership and service is to affirm and commend - the Bible makes that very clear:
"Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure." (1 Timothy 5:22 ESV)
"If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money." (1 Timothy 3:1–3 ESV)
"Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith." (Hebrews 13:7 ESV)
"Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God." (3 John 1:11 ESV)
If Danforth Baptist Church is appointing practicing homosexuals to positions of leadership and service then an obvious line has been crossed. The fact that they are publicly declaring their intention to do so indicates a dangerous lack of Gospel discernment.
How did Danforth Baptist come to this place? How could they so obviously defy the clear and unambiguous word of the Lord? I believe the answer is found in statement #3:
3. We acknowledge that the cultural, social and religious contexts of the scriptures are significant in our interpretation of biblical passages, and that humility is required in holding positions on secondary and/or disputable matters
The culture is significant.
We need to be humble.
This is the new way of asking a very old question:
“Did God actually say” (Genesis 3:1 ESV)
Everyone acknowledges that “culture is significant” when reading and interpreting the Scriptures. J.I. Packer writes:
“The Biblical revelation was given in terms of Eastern culture, environment and thought-forms, all very different from our modern, industrial, Western world, and it has to be translated into modern terms before men can fully grasp its relevance.”
A great deal of effort must be spent by the preacher or exegete in grappling with these Eastern forms in order to understand the principles and imperatives within. These same must then be presented to the contemporary audience in an accessible way – this is the heart and substance of preaching – to read the text and to give the meaning. However, this does not give the preacher or the church the freedom to contradict the principles and imperatives stated within the text. Packer goes on to say:
“The formula ‘of course nowadays we don’t believe…’ should find no place in modern re-statements of the gospel; its appearance (a common thing, unfortunately) is usually a sign that what is being stated is, to that extent, not the gospel, but a denial of the gospel; and such statements come under Paul’s curse”
Likewise it is hard to argue with Danforth’s suggestion that we must be “humble” when reading and interpreting the Bible, however, it must be noted that they are using that word in ways the Bible never does. This is how the Bible uses that word:
"But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word." (Isaiah 66:2 ESV)
According to the Bible, to be “humble” means to know yourself a fallen sinner and therefore to tremble before the revealed Word of God. That is, quite transparently, not how Danforth Baptist is using the term.
Michael Krueger has written about the new ways that some within Christendom have begun using the word “humility”. His work is worth citing at some length:
“In the modern day, humility has basically become synonymous with another word: uncertainty.
To be uncertain is to be humble. To be certain is to be arrogant. Thus, the cardinal sin in the intellectual world is to claim to know anything for sure.
Of course, this shift presents a real problem for Christianity. Christians believe that God has revealed himself clearly in his Word. Thus, when it comes to key historical questions (Who was Jesus? What did he say? What did he do?) or key theological questions (Who is God? What is Heaven? How does one get there?), Christians believe they have a basis on which they can claim certainty: God’s revelation.”
It is not arrogant to take God at his Word – in fact, according to the Bible it is the sum and substance of true humility.
What Can We Do?
It is clear that Danforth Baptist has crossed the Rubicon but what does that mean for the rest of us? What can we do? What about soul liberty? What about free will association? Don’t those things preclude us from taking any meaningful action as a larger group of churches?
The concept of soul liberty is rooted in the original Baptist Confession of Faith. In chapter 21 “On Christian Liberty And Liberty Of Conscience” it states the following:
“Paragraph 2. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.
Paragraph 3. They who upon pretence of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction, so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righeousness before Him, all the days of our lives.”
They who upon pretence of Christian liberty do practice sin, or cherish any sinful lust pervert the Gospel to their own destruction. Soul liberty was never intended to provide a shield for those who would destroy the Gospel.
The concept of free will association is rooted in the same textual heritage. In chapter 26 paragraph 15 of the same document we find the following:
“In cases of difficulties or differences, either in point of doctrine or administration, wherein either the churches in general are concerned, or any one church, in their peace, union, and edification; or any member or members of any church are injured, in or by any proceedings in censures not agreeable to truth and order: it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together, do, by their messengers, meet to consider, and give their advice in or about that matter in difference, to be reported to all the churches concerned; howbeit these messengers assembled, are not intrusted with any church-power properly so called; or with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves, to exercise any censures either over any churches or persons; or to impose their determination on the churches or officers.”
The original Baptists believed that denominations were not to have coercive power over the individual churches. Many have held this up as an argument against the censure by the group of any particular church but this understanding fails to wrestle with the fact that the early Baptists in Canada who used this statement of faith regularly censured and disfellowshipped churches that they believe had abandoned the Gospel. Their understanding of this principle seemed to be that while the group was not to be granted coercive power over the individual churches they did have the authority to say: “if you believe that then you are no longer us”. Their associations were overtly theological, of that; there can be little doubt.
Neither soul liberty nor free will association, correctly understood, present a barrier to effective action on behalf of the larger group of churches towards the goal of pursuing the discipline, repentance and reconciliation of Danforth Baptist Church.
What Should We Do?
The first thing that should be done by concerned pastors and churches is to write a letter to the Board of the CBOQ. Make sure it is addressed to the Board – this will result in the letter being read out loud at the next meeting. Letters sent to staff can be read, filed and forgotten. Letters sent to the Board must be entered into record. Your church should communicate their concern immediately; you should ask at what point the CBOQ Board and Staff became aware of this public statement by Danforth Baptist and what the Board and Staff have done thus far to seek repentance and reconciliation.
If there is no satisfactory answer to that question, and if there is no will or intention to seek that repentance and reconciliation, then the matter must be raised at Assembly. It is neither safe nor wise to remain in any denomination or association that has neither the means nor the will to discipline member churches.
My prayer and hope is that the Board and Staff of the CBOQ are already ahead of us on this matter. I pray that they are deep into a process of rebuke and restoration. I pray that a statement of confession and repentance will be read by Danforth Baptist at this year’s Assembly. I look forward to extending grace and mercy and full restoration upon the public reading of that statement.
I hope that is happening; I pray this is happening, but until I am sure that is happening I would urge immediate action on behalf of all member churches within the CBOQ.
And May God Alone Be Glorified,
Pastor Paul Carter
First Baptist Church, Orillia
February 3rd, 2017
Afterward: I do not intend for this article to "settle the matter"; I am well aware that there are many questions still to be answered. Rather I see this post as an effort to begin a long overdue conversation. Canadian Baptists need to have "the talk". We have been putting it off for far too long. We need to roll up our sleeves and talk about hard things like "orientation" and "identity". We need to wrestle with what it means to "affirm", "accept" and "agree". I realize that this article barely scratches the surface - and I'm sure that it will take the addition of many other voices before this conversation achieves any sort of clarity or utility within our little community. But I hope the conversation gets going soon. Before damage is done to people for whom Christ died and before the name of Christ is blasphemed among the nations on our account. Even so, come Lord Jesus!
 J.I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” And The Word Of God (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1958),136.
 Ibid., 136.