SEX, CHRISTIANS, & THE CHURCH
AN OUTLINE GUIDE BASED ON SCRIPTURE AND CHRISTIAN TRADITION
WILLIAM DIPUCCIO, PH.D.
This outline guide was originally written as a resource on the controversies over sexuality and homosexuality in the Episcopal Church. My principle aim in composing it was to provide a clear understanding of doctrine and discipline drawn primarily from Scripture, with additions from the Anglican Articles of Religion and the Fathers of the church.
In this new edition, material has been rearranged, revised, and added. Though I have long since left the Episcopal Church to become Eastern Orthodox, the teachings contained in this guide, including the citations from the Anglican Articles, still resonate with the teachings ancient Christianity. Many of the discussions taking place in churches throughout the United States have talked about Scripture, and around Scripture, but there are few who have paused long enough to hear holy Scripture speak. Some of the verses included here are not commonly read and readers may be shocked by their tone and stridency. That shock is indicative of how lax we have become regarding sexual immorality. The writers of the Bible, and Jesus himself, would have little, if any, tolerance for today’s sexual revolution.
At the same time, though, they would have little tolerance for the hate and scorn which some have exhibited in their zealousness to defend divine truth. Such animosity is never appropriate:
“And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” 2 Tim. 2:24-26
Scripture makes a clear distinction between those who are struggling with or confused by sin, and those who publicly advocate sin by word or deed in defiance of God’s moral law. The former are the recipients of pastoral guidance, instruction, and discipline; the latter are recipients of divine wrath and ecclesiastical punishment. Again, the former distinguish between good and evil and fall upon the mercy of God as their only hope; the latter regard evil as good and, with recalcitrant hearts, refuse to accept the grace of repentance.
The outline unpacks the logic with which the Bible and the ancient Christian tradition have approached the entire question of sexual immorality and church discipline. The purpose of such discipline is to restore the sinner to repentance and protect the faithful from the poison of immorality and false doctrine. In an age when church discipline has almost disappeared, it is worth noting that toleration of false teachings and immoral lifestyles is condemned in Scripture and even constitute acquiescence and complicity.
*In other words those who refuse to denounce and separate themselves from false doctrines and immoral lifestyles will be held responsible for their inaction. Censure and separation are not an option, but a command (see section V. A and B, below).
* For example, to silently tolerate open and blatant racism in the church would be tantamount to approval.
I. WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF HUMAN SEXUALITY AND WHAT ARE THE MORAL LAWS WHICH GOVERN IT ?
A. Human sexuality reflects God’s spiritual order for creation and redemption.
Though some Christians hold different views about the historical nature of the first chapters of Genesis (e.g., whether Adam and Eve were real individuals or symbols of humanity), all are agreed that the moral and spiritual worldview taught here is an essential aspect of traditional Christian beliefs, and represents a view of humanity and sexuality which is at variance with our culture.
1. Sexuality in humans mirrors the creative power of God.
a) GEN 1:27-28 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
b) GEN 5:1-3 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.
c) 1CO 11:11-12 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God.
2. Sexual intimacy mirrors the unity between Christ and the church.
a) EPH 5:25-32 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
B. The creation of man and woman is the model or prototype of human sexual relationships.
1. GEN 2:23-24 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
C. The authority of this prototype in determining the limits of moral behavior was affirmed by Jesus.
1. MAT 19:4-6 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
D. The prohibitions in Scripture against sexual immorality are derived from this prototype which excludes all else.
1. It is a mistake to think that the commands and prohibitions found in Scripture are simply a “grocery list” of do’s and don’ts. Such a legalistic mindset has resulted in attempts to find loopholes, reinterpretations, or circumlocutions, especially regarding sexual morality. As the comments of Jesus (below) show us, the logic of divine law springs from God’s original plan for creation.
2. MAT 19:8-9 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
3. 1CO 6:15-19 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her. For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
E. Jesus actually expanded the scope of sexual prohibitions found in the law, making them far more stringent.
1. The love which Jesus taught is often mistaken for moral tolerance or laxness. Though His message was one of mercy and forgiveness, he held His followers to a high moral standard.
2. MAT 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
3. MAT 15:17-20 “Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. “These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
F. Sexual immorality and homosexual behavior are unequivocally forbidden throughout Scripture.
1. Behavior not Orientation
Sexual immorality is a perversion and rebellion against the order of creation, and the God of creation. In Scripture, people are judged primarily according to their acts rather than their inclinations and urges. The modern concept of “orientation” does not excuse behavior, since there are many sins which may be motivated by natural, genetic, or even acquired dispositions (anger, alcoholism, gluttony, drug addiction, etc.). Those who are plagued by such temptations and habits need our mercy, help, and forgiveness, but not our approval.
2. By the Ten Commandments and OT law.
a) EXO 20:14 You shall not commit adultery.
b) LEV 18:22-23 You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.
c) LEV 20:13 If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them.
The seriousness of this sin was shown by its penalty. The Mosaic Law was harsh by Christian standards, but not without mercy. It was similar, in many ways, to the other legal codes at that time. Strict laws were essential to preserve the identity and integrity of the Jewish people amidst rampant paganism and immorality.
3. By the writers of the NT.
a) ROM 1:24-27 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
Homosexual behavior is contrary to the divine order of creation (see I.G.4, below) and follows the rejection of God as creator by those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18). Sexual immorality is one aspect of this “debased mind” (v. 28) which includes a host of other sins (v. 29-31) that come under divine punishment.
b) 1CO 6:9-10 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
Notice that homosexuality is not singled out here (or below), nor are homosexuals held to a higher standard than others. Chastity is expected of all people. Those who are unmarried are expected to refrain from sexual activity.
c) 1TI 1:8-10 But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching…
d) JUD 1:6-7 And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.
G. Attempts to circumvent or evade the clear meaning of Scripture, as presented in the objections below, are therefore futile.
1. Objection: “The OT law contains numerous commandments that are either obscure or no longer relevant to us today, therefore it is not a reliable authority in matters of sexuality.”
a) As we have shown, commandments pertaining to sexual behavior are rooted in the creation and did not originate with the Mosaic Law.
b) The obscurity or irrelevancy of some laws does not nullify all laws (e.g., murder, incest, adultery, bestiality). This is a logical fallacy. The same reasoning can be used against the application of law today since our legal system contains numerous laws which are antiquated and ambiguous. Each law must be examined on its own merit.
2. Objection: “Laws against homosexual behavior are part of the ceremonial purity laws of the OT which Christians no longer observe”
a) If true, then bestiality (Lev. 18:23, 20:15-16), child sacrifice (Lev. 20:1-5, 18:21), and incest (see Lev. 18:1-18, 20:11-12, 17, 20) could be vindicated on the same grounds.
b) The objection is based on a failure to understand the theology of the law and its significance for Christianity. This theology was articulated in the first century by Paul (see Gal. :23-29; Col. 2:17) and the author of Hebrews (see chapters 7-10). It is succinctly summarized by the Anglican 39 Articles:
ARTICLE VII. OF THE OLD TESTAMENT: “Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity be received in any commonwealth; yet, not withstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.”
3. Objection: “Jesus never addressed the issue of homosexuality.”
a) See I, D and II, B, C above.
b) Even if this were true, his silence would not imply approval given the fact that the entire fabric of Jewish moral law was decidedly opposed to homosexual behavior. The burden of proof is on those who insist that Jesus would commend such behavior.
c) The same specious argument can be made to justify pedophilia, bestiality, and incest, since none of these were addressed by Jesus!
4. Objection: “Paul’s condemnation (Romans 1:24-27) was directed toward heterosexuals engaging in unnatural relationships. The genetic basis of sexual orientation was unknown in Paul’s time. We know now that gay and lesbian couples are acting in accord with their natural desires.”
a) First, “natural” sexual relations are determined by the biological design of sex, namely, intercourse between two persons of the opposite sex for the purpose of procreation. This is physiologically impossible between two males or two females. I grant, of course, that procreation is not intended (or possible) as the result of every sexual act. Nevertheless, same-sex acts are still anatomically “unnatural” (crudely speaking) and have no procreative potential whatsoever. Therefore, the affections that lead to such acts are deemed “unnatural” as well.
b) Second, this objection ignores the full context of Paul’s words. For Paul, the standard for “natural” and “unnatural” behavior is based on the difference between unfallen and redeemed creation. In fallen creation, the human disposition has become deviant, sinful, and therefore “unnatural”—having departed from its intended design. Fallen creation, then, can never be the standard for moral righteousness.
c) Third, there is no conclusive scientific evidence for a “gay gene” (and if science were to finally prove that no such gene existed, gay advocates would not renounce their immoral beliefs). Even if there is a genetic basis, the fall has fundamentally altered the physical world (and/or our relation to it) so that we are all born with sinful dispositions that stand in need of divine redemption.
d) To excuse homosexual behavior on the basis of a genetic disposition would be no different from excusing drunkenness by an alcoholic, or gluttony by someone with an eating disorder. Divine morality is not based on human behavior after the fall, but on God’s intent in creation. Paul clearly held that the full meaning and purpose of creation can only be understood in the light of revelation.
e) Redemption from homosexual behavior necessitates a great deal of pastoral compassion, assistance, and patience. The life of celibacy is particularly demanding and the level of self-control required to sustain such a life places a heavy burden upon the homosexual who wishes to remain morally pure. He or she makes that sacrifice knowing that the kingdom of God and the spiritual life is higher and more deeply satisfying than the momentary satisfactions of the flesh.
5. Conclusion: If it is possible to approve of and bless homosexual behavior from Scripture, then it is possible to make the Bible say “darn near anything!”
H. Why bother with sexual morality? I’m not hurting anyone else.
1. Humans were created in God’s image and for communion with Him. Augustine said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” But Divine communion is not spiritual only, it encompasses the salvation of our entire being—body, soul, and spirit. Indeed, our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:19). Communion with God, then, is a form of fulfillment that is deeper and more enduring than sensual pleasures, and it can only be found through the pursuit of the spiritual life.
2. When lust and passion control us, we become more like animals and less like humans created in God’s image. This is just as true for sexuality as it is for other passions like anger and gluttony. As Fr. Panayiotis observes, enslavement to our passions and desires “deprive[s] us from the ultimate experience of the Love of God, a far greater source of joy and pleasure than anything our unbridled sexuality can provide.” Self-control (a fruit of the Holy Spirit) is an essential aspect of the spiritual life.
3. “If we were to learn anything from the mystical experience of the saints, it would be that sexuality is not at the center of human experience. On the contrary, humanity is actually called to transcend sexuality: ‘For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven’ (Mat 22:30).”
II. WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF SEXUAL IMMORALITY AND THE HISTORIC TEACHINGS OF THE CHURCH ON HOMOSEXUALITY?
A. Sexual immorality is a form of idolatry that has been used throughout history to seduce faithful believers into sin and rebellion.
1. That which has the greatest potential for good, often has the greatest potential for evil. Sexuality mirrors the creative power of God, the unity between Christ and the church, and enables us, through godly offspring, to increase the kingdom of Christ. Immorality turns this gift of God into a source of sin and misery, rivaling in scope and effect the virtue produced by moral behavior.
2. ROM 1:22-25 Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
Paul describes the slide from idolatry to sexual immorality (see entire passage, 1:18-32). Rejecting God is a rejection of the divine order of creation which includes the moral law. This rejection culminates in “unnatural” sexual acts, along with numerous other sins that characterize a “depraved mind” (v. 28-32). Ancient idol worship was often accompanied by licentious rituals which seduced both Jews and Christians.
3. COL 3:5-6 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience,
4. 2PE 2:12-19 They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.
5. 1CO 10:7 And do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.
6. 2TI 3:6 For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses,
7. REV 2:14-16 ‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality. ‘Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. ‘Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.
8. REV 2:20 ‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray, so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
B. Historically, the church has spoken with one voice on the issue of homosexuality.
1. The Early Church
a) Like the apostles, the early church did not single out or focus upon homosexuality, but included it with other forms of sexual immorality, especially pederasty. See “Homosexuality” by D.F. Wright, in Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, ed. Everett Ferguson.
(1) Many writers emphasized the homosexual lust of the Sodomites (Methodius, Chrysostom, Macarius, Augustine, Gregory the Great).
(2) Homosexual behavior was also condemned by church councils (Elvira, Ancyra).
b) Clement of Rome (quoting 1 Cor. 6:9-10): “neither fornicators, nor homosexuals…will inherit the kingdom of God.”
c) Aristides: Some polluted themselves by lying with males.
d) Aristides: The Greeks, O King, follow debased practices in intercourse with males, or with mothers, sisters, and daughters.
e) Athenagoras: They do not abstain even from males, males with males committing shocking abominations, outraging all the noblest and comliest bodies in all sorts of ways.
f) Clement of Alexandria: Men play the part of women, and women that of men, contrary to nature.
g) Tertullian: The coupling of two males is a very shameful thing.
h) John Chrysostom (referring to Rom. 1:26-27): All of these affections…were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males…And a yet more disgraceful thing than these is it, when even the women seek after these intercourses, who ought to have more shame than men.”
i) Augustine: [Those] shameful acts against nauture, such as were committed in Sodom, ought everywhere and always to be detested and punished.
j) Basil the Great: He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers.
2. Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, etc.
a) Throughout history, both Christianity and Judaism have been unanimous in their opposition to homosexuality and other forms of sexual immorality.
b) Only within the last 50 years have some groups (mostly liberal Protestants and Reformed Jews) suggested that homosexual behavior, fornication, and other forms of immoral behavior should be accepted.
c) The Eastern Orthodox church, the Roman Catholic church, and numerous Protestant denominations (e.g., Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, etc.) continue to oppose this immoral behavior as evidenced by their public teachings and statements.
C. Acceptance of homosexuality entails the acceptance of bisexuality, transgendering, transvestism, and even bestiality, sadomasochism, pornography, prostitution and incest (between consenting adults).
1. Acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage is based, in part, on the belief that human affections are the basis of moral standards (‘they really love each other’) and that such affections should not be morally or legally denied. This is an ethic based on experience rather than divine revelation or natural law (an example of the “is ought” fallacy in ethics).
2. If affections are the criteria for moral standards, then there is no moral or logical reason why even incest between consenting adults, bestiality, etc., should be opposed, no matter how shocking they may be to us at this time.
3. This is not a potential slippery slope, but is already part of the sexual revolution in some churches which includes active participation by practicing homosexuals, bisexuals, transgendered people, and transvestites.
a) On approval of sadomasochism see Episcopal theologian, Carter Heyward, Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God, 109.
b) On approval of bestiality, prostitution, masturbation, nonvaginal heterosexual intercourse, polygamy, homosexual acts, and pornography, see the Episcopal theologian, William Countrymen (Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley), Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implication for Today, 243-45, 264-265:
“The Christian is free to be repelled by any or all of these and may continue to practice his or her own purity code in relation to them. What we are not free to do is impose our codes on others.” 243-244.
III. COMPROMISE IN THE CHURCH IS NOT POSSIBLE ON ESSENTIAL DOCTRINES AND DISCIPLINES: WHY MUST I CHOOSE BETWEEN “INCLUSION” OR TRUTH?
A. Unity and love in Christ is rooted in our solidarity with Christ’s teaching and practice, not simply on our common humanity or shared experiences.
1. LUK 6:46 “And why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
2. JOH 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
3. JOH 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.”
4. JOH 15:10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.
5. JOH 8:31-32 Jesus therefore was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. ”
6. 2TI 2:19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,”and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord abstain from wickedness.”
7. 1JO 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
8. 2JO 1:6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.
9. 2JO 1:9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.
B. God’s love is not a license to sin, but places certain demands upon us.
1. JOH 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
2. JOH 15:10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.
3. 1JO 2:3-4 And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;
4. 1JO 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
C. Divine love necessitates discipline.
1. HEB 12:4-11 You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him; For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives. ” It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
2. REV 3:19 ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.
D. There are times when we must choose between unity and obedience to the truth for the sake of Christ.
1. MAT 10:34-39 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. “For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. “He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it.
E. Despite calls for “inclusion” in some churches, only one course of action will ultimately prevail in your church.
1. Will your church fund the ministries and salaries of clergy (diocesan and national) who advocate homosexuality and other forms of immorality?
2. Will your priest or pastor bless same-sex unions?
3. Will gay and lesbian couples be affirmed in your church?
4. Will advocates of gay and lesbian behavior assume leadership roles in your church?
5. What will children be taught in Sunday school regarding sexuality?
6. Who will serve as role models for your children in the church?
7. Who will lead the youth group and what will they teach your teens about sexuality?
8. Who will represent your church to the community?
9. What message will your church send to the community?
IV. HOW DO THOSE WHO TEACH DOCTRINES AND DISCIPLINES CONTRARY TO SCRIPTURE AND HOLY TRADITION POSE A DANGER TO GOD’S PEOPLE?
A. What is a False Teacher?
1. As shown below, a false teacher is one who:
a) Publicly advocates false doctrine or practice contrary to Scripture and the teachings of the church.
b) Recklessly ignores the warnings of Scripture and the church.
c) Refuses to accept the grace of repentance offered to him or her.
2. A believer who privately holds such views, struggles in his or her faith, and/or falls into sin but continues to apply for mercy and repentance, is not a false teacher though he or she may be subject to pastoral discipline.
3. Our conduct towards those struggling with sin, as well as false teachers, should exhibit patience, gentleness, and firmness, even while exercising proper church discipline:
2 TIM 2:24-26 And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
B. False teachers deceive and confuse the faithful concerning the will and character of God, draw others into sin and rebellion, and cause bitter divisions in the church.
1. MAT 7:15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
2. MAT 24:11 “And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many.
3. MAT 24:24 “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.
4. ACT 20:29-30 “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
5. 1TI 6:3-5 If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.
6. 2TI 2:15-18 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth. But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some.
7. 2TI 3:1-10 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these. For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected as regards the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, as also that of those two came to be. But you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance…
8. 2TI 4:3-4 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
9. TIT 1:10-11 For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach, for the sake of sordid gain.
10. 2PE 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.
C. False teachers appear as an angel of light.
1. MAT 7:15-20 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “So then, you will know them by their fruits.
2. MAT 23:27-28 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
3. 2CO 11:13-15 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
4. 2TI 3:5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these.
D. False teachers may have many commendable qualities.
1. False teachers are not devils, but human beings, often devout Christians, who have gone astray.
a) 1TI 1:19-20 keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.
b) 2TI 2:17-18 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some.
c) 2PE 2:20-21 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.
2. False teachers advocate a mixture, sometimes subtle, of truth and error. This accounts, in part, for the attractiveness and seductive power of their message.
a) Beginning with the apostolic era, the church has always faced false teaching. Some are obvious and have been rejected from the outset without further consideration (e.g., advocating immoral behavior, denying Christ came in the flesh or rose from the dead). Others have proved to be more subtle at first, necessitating the collective judgment of church councils (e.g., application of circumcision to gentile Christians, Acts 15; the Arian controversy of the fourth century regarding the divine nature of Christ). It is worth noting that the first Apostolic council reaffirmed the moral standards of the Mosaic law without deliberation (see Acts 15:29 where gentiles are told to abstain from “fornication”—a general word used in Scripture to designate different forms of sexual immorality).
b) COL 2:4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive argument.
c) 2TH 2:1-3 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, that you may not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction…
Notice, the coming of the Lord was not denied, but they erred in saying that He has already come, contrary to apostolic teaching.
3. False teachers may have many positive personal qualities that would otherwise qualify them for Christian ministry.
a) 2TI 3:5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these.
b) MAT 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
c) MAT 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
4. False teachers may be personally charming, loving, and articulate.
a) The attraction of false teachers and their doctrine is sometimes due to the charisma of their personality. However, these qualities are condemned in Scripture when they are used in the service of deception and evil.
b) ROM 16:18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
5. False teachers may be sincere in their beliefs. However sincerity is not a measure of truth. It is possible for a person, through a long process of rationalization and self-deception, to be sincerely wrong!
a) MAT 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
b) LUK 6:46 “And why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
E. False teachers are condemned and anathematized throughout Scripture.
1. In the OT, false teachers and those who seduce the faithful to idolatry are sentenced to death (Deut. 13:6-11, 18:20). While such punishment is never prescribed in the NT, this harsh sentence does demonstrate just how seriously false teaching is regarded by God.
2. MAT 23:13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in….MAT 23:15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves….MAT 23:27-28 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. “Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness….MAT 23:33 “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?”
3. GAL 1:6-9 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!
4. 2PE 2:17 These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.
5. JUD 1:11-13 Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.
V. WHY ARE CHRISTIANS CALLED UPON TO SHUN BELIEVERS WHO ADVOCATE FALSE TEACHINGS OR LEAD DEPRAVED LIVES?
A. False teachers are to be admonished and excommunicated (i.e., shunned) in the hope of restoring them to repentance and protecting the faithful from the poison of immorality and false doctrine.
1. Ecclesiastical discipline is not a matter of private judgment, but, as these verses make clear, the result of a more collective due process. The facts must be firmly established by the clergy/leadership of the church before discipline can be administered by all. Notice that disassociation does not apply to those outside of the church (see 5, below).
2. MAT 18:15-17 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
3. ROM 16:17-18 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
4. 1CO 5:1-5 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
On the restoration of this man to fellowship, see 2 Cor. 2:6-9.
5. 1CO 5:9-13 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
Paul recognized that in a pluralistic society we must tolerate a degree of immoral behavior. Nevertheless, just as Christ brought the gospel to ‘tax collectors and sinners,’ immoral behavior is an opportunity to lead people out of darkness. Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36). The scope of our mission does not include forcing those outside the church, who do not have the Holy Spirit or the benefits of salvation, to comply with all of the divine moral standards (such forced submission is the purpose of sharia law in Islam). However, as shown many times throughout the OT and later history, a society which goes beyond toleration to indulge and bless immorality will eventually face God’s judgement.
6. 2CO 6:14-17 Do not be bound together with unbelievers [i.e., false teachers in the context of this epistle]; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,”says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you.
7. 2TH 3:6-7 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you…
8. 2TH 3:11-15 For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
9. 1TI 5:19-20 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.
10. 2TI 3:5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; and avoid such men as these.
11. TIT 3:10-11 Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.
12. GAL 2:11-13 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
13. 2JO 1:9-11 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
14. From the Anglican Articles of Faith, which reaffirm the ancient practice of the church:
a) ARTICLE XXXIII. OF EXCOMMUNICATE PERSONS, HOW THEY ARE TO BE AVOIDED: That person which by open denunciation of the Church is rightly cut off from the unity of the Church, and excommunicated, ought to be taken of the whole multitude of the faithful, as an Heathen and Publican, until he be openly reconciled by penance, and received into the Church by a Judge that hath authority thereunto.
b) ARTICLE XXXIV. OF THE TRADITIONS OF THE CHURCH: It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the Traditions and Ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.
15. See also the discipline of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-11.
16. On restoration, also see III.C above, and 2 Tim. 2:24-26.
B. Toleration of false teaching and immorality is condemned, and constitutes acquiescence and complicity.
1. 2CO 11:3 But I am afraid, lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.
2. 1CO 5:1-2 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.
3. 2JO 1:9-11 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
4. REV 2:14-16 ‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. ‘So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. ‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.
5. REV 2:20-23 ‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. ‘I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. ‘Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. ‘And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.
C. A final warning from Scripture on the consequences of rebellion and rejecting divine truth. 1. ISA 5:20-21, 24-25 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!…Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes stubble and dry grass collapses into the flame, So their root will become like rot and their blossom blow away as dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. On this account the anger of the Lord has burned against His people,
2. 1SA 15:22-23 And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams. “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king.”
3. REV 3:15-3:19 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.