|A timely and timeless statement on sexuality and the church|
A timely and timeless statement
on sexuality and the church
In 1995 the Executive of the Baptist Union of Western Australia asked me if I would serve on a task force to formulate a policy for the Baptist churches on sexual matters.
This was at a time when homosexuals and their allies were making significant inroads into Christian churches. The Uniting Church of Australia, for example, had changed its policies to allow openly practising homosexuals into not only church membership but also church leadership, and other denominations appeared likely to follow suit.
This was a difficult request for me. I had just finished three years of service on the Doctrinal Task Force, which had revised the Basis of Faith for the 100+ churches of the Baptist Union. In addition to the time-consuming reading and reflection involved in this work, I had had to drive over 200 kilometres (one way) from Collie to Perth each month to attend the task force meetings. These meetings, though mostly amicable and constructive, were always intense and were sometimes quite heated and I generally left them feeling emotionally exhausted.
Furthermore, my honorary work on the Doctrinal Task Force was undertaken in addition to my main duties. I was, at the time, pastor of the Collie Baptist Church. I was writing gospel articles for Challenge newspaper, apologetic articles for various Christian magazines, including Life News, and poetry and fiction for numerous secular magazines and publishing houses. And, not insignificantly, I had a wife and five children who seemed to think that I ought to devote some time to them as husband and father.
So, I was reluctant to agree to another open-ended commitment to serve on another taxing (not to mention 200-kilometre-distant) task force for the Baptist churches.
However, my wife and my church felt that I had certain knowledge and understandings that would be invaluable to the task force and they supported the Executive’s request. Also, I had to admit that my service on the Doctrinal Task Force had proven far from wasted, and so I had to wonder if my service on the proposed task Force on Human Sexuality might not prove equally productive, to the safeguarding of our churches and the glory of God. Thus, I was roped in.
The members of the Task Force on Human Sexuality (informatively subtitled “with special reference to homosexuality and the church”) were Dr Max Davidson, Dr Lachlan Dunjey, Mrs Rhoda Walker and Pastor Andrew Lansdown (me!). We worked well together, reaching unanimous conclusions, and delivered our report to the Baptist Churches in a little over a year. Our reasonings and recommendations were adopted by the churches at the 1996 Winter Assembly and they remain the official policy of the Baptist Union of Western Australia on human sexuality to this day.
Shortly after the adoption and publication of the Task Force’s report, the principal of one theological college told me that it was the best statement on human sexuality and homosexuality that he had ever seen. And in August this year (2015), the principal of another theological college quoted parts of the report at a conference on Sexuality and the Church and declared it to be an outstanding policy document.
The full report is reprinted in this issue of Life News. Life Ministries believes it to be an accurate and abiding exposition of the biblical teaching on human sexuality, and feels it is even timelier today than it was when it was released two decades ago.
Please take time to read and reflect on the report (below). God willing, it will not only clarify and strengthen your own understanding of God’s standards for sexual relationships and behaviour, but also equip you to share that understanding with those who are being seduced by the world’s view of human sexuality, and homosexual in particular.
The Report of the BUWA Task Force on Human Sexuality
with special reference to homosexuality and the church
The Task Force1was established by the Executive Committee of the Baptist Union of WA. It was asked to consider human sexuality in general, and in particular, to present Baptist perspectives on issues that have been raised by a report produced within the Uniting Church of Australia.2
The Christian Church has always existed within specific social and cultural contexts, and in every generation has had the God-given responsibility to interact in the light of Christian truth with the current issues of its day. At the present time in Australia, one such matter concerns homosexuality. What are Christians to think about homosexuality? How can they relate with love and compassion toward homosexuals? What place might there be within church life for them? These questions demand careful and compassionate consideration by all of God’s people as we earnestly seek to live as his people in a fallen and hurting world.
In this document the term “homosexual” is used to refer to a person who actually engages in acts of sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex. The term is not used to refer to a person who experiences an attraction toward a member of the same sex, this being called “homosexual attraction”.
The Task Force takes the view that homosexuality is a deviation from God’s good intentions for the expression of human sexuality. Many other deviations could well have been considered in detail also, and much of what is said about homosexuals and homosexuality applies to such matters as well.
All people, regardless of who they are and what they do, are still loved by God. As Christians we are to love them too. However, love and compassion for someone does not imply approval of the particular sins in which a person might engage. There is a difference between acceptance of a person and approval of their sin.
Membership in the local church is open to all who have sincerely repented of past sin, welcomed Christ as their Saviour, and are seeking by God’s grace to please him. This is not to say, on the one hand, that a person must have overcome all known sin before they may join a church. All Christians are forever struggling with sin. The critical issue is whether or not a person has faith in Christ and a repentant attitude towards the sin with which they are wrestling. On the other hand, a church is right to refuse membership to a person who says they have faith, but who refuses to acknowledge as sin what the Bible calls sin. It is in this context that our report sees it as inappropriate for someone who is committed to practising same-sex sexual activity to be a church member or leader.
High standards need to be maintained for those who are church leaders, for they are placed in a position of trust as examples within the family of God. Western Australian Baptists have previously affirmed that “those who serve as leaders in our Churches, especially pastors, should [demonstrate] exemplary Christian behaviour in all matters, including marriage and family relationships.”3
This report has been expressed largely in terms of paired statements, the first making an affirmation and the second a denial which contrasts with it. It is hoped that this approach will serve to focus attention on important aspects of the issue, and stimulate discussion and investigation.4
The report concludes with some recommendations, including the proposal that it be circulated among our churches, for their consideration and growth in understanding.
1. The Bible
Fundamental to any discussion of human sexuality is the necessity to define the basis of authority for making assertions. For Baptists in Western Australia the primary authority is the Bible. “Being God-breathed” the biblical writings “are fully trustworthy and supremely authoritative in all matters of faith and conduct.”5
The biblical texts were written in a wide variety of cultural and historical contexts and by various authors. They are to be understood in the light of those contexts, so that the intention of the authors may be grasped. The Bible is at the same time a source of divinely revealed and enduring truths in relation to both God and humanity. Therefore, we cannot agree with those who argue that biblical passages relating to homosexuality and other aspects of human sexuality are open for revision in the light of the changed conditions of today.
1.1.1. We affirm that the Bible is the Word of God.
1.1.2. We deny that the Bible merely “contains” or “becomes” the Word of God.
1.2.1. We affirm that the biblical writers were inspired by the Holy Spirit as they wrote.
1.2.2. We deny that the biblical writers were merely inspired by their experience of God.
1.3.1. We affirm that the Bible, being inspired by the Spirit of Truth, is true in all that it teaches.
1.3.2. We deny that the Bible is marred by the supposed prejudice and ignorance of its human authors, or that the biblical writings are time-bound, so that what the Bible teaches is superseded by modern knowledge.
1.4.1. We affirm that the Holy Spirit, being omniscient, fully comprehended today’s views and values at the time that he inspired the prophets and apostles to write the Scriptures.
1.4.2. We deny that contemporary experiences, attitudes and practices represent something new to the Holy Spirit, thereby invalidating the teachings and values he revealed long ago in the Scriptures.
1.5.1. We affirm that the Bible, although a book of progressive revelation, is a unified work.
1.5.2. We deny that the Bible is contradictory in its teaching on sexuality or any other matter.
1.6.1. We affirm that the Bible can be readily understood by those who approach it with humility and faith, relying upon the Holy Spirit for enlightenment.
1.6.2. We deny that the Bible is too complex for the average Christian to understand.
1.7.1. We affirm that the written Word (the Bible) and the incarnate Word (Jesus) are of one accord.
1.7.2. We deny that the written Word can be separated from the incarnate Word, or that the written Word ever contradicts the incarnate Word, or vice versa.
1.8.1. We affirm that the plain, consistent teaching of both Jesus and the Bible on sexual morality can be summarized as “Celibacy in singleness, faithfulness in marriage.”
1.8.2. We deny that there is anything ambiguous or contradictory within the teaching of Jesus, or within the teaching of the Bible, or between the teachings of Jesus and the Bible, concerning sexual morality.
The biblical doctrine of sin has many aspects. It involves unbelief and rebellion against God, failure to love him with all our hearts, and failure to meet his righteous standards. At the same time, it involves failure to love our neighbours and to care for the world God has made.
2.1.1. We affirm that sin can be described as “an abuse of the freedom and responsibility of being made in the image of God,” and that this abuse lies “at the heart of broken relationships with God, each other and ourselves.”6
2.1.2. We deny that human sin can be described merely as the abuse of people and does not also involve the breaking of God’s law, as if these two ways of thinking about sin were in conflict.
2.2.1. We affirm that sin is concerned with absolute moral right and wrong before God and that it is fundamentally against God, and against other people, ourselves and the environment.
2.2.2. We deny that sin is relative to the age in which a person lives such that modern means of contraception offer new possibilities of freedom in sexual expression outside of heterosexual marriage.
3. Human Sexuality and Marriage
The Baptist Churches of Western Australia have previously affirmed that “human sexuality is a good gift from God to be exercised and enjoyed as he intended. Accordingly, we uphold the New Testament standards of faithfulness in marriage and celibacy outside of marriage....We believe marriage is the only appropriate context for sexual relations and that pre-marital, extra-marital and homosexual acts are sinful.”7
Baptists of Western Australia have previously made a detailed statement concerning divorce and Christian leadership, so this matter is not dealt with here.8 Principles in that statement give guidelines concerning divorce in relation to church life in general.
3.1.1. We affirm that God made human beings as sexual beings, and that human sexuality is a good gift from him.
3.1.2. We deny that human sexuality is incidental to human nature or is in itself undesirable or wrong.
3.2.1. We affirm that one reason God made human beings male and female is so they might enjoy sexual intimacy with one another.
3.2.2. We deny that God intended sexual intimacy to occur between male and male or female and female, or that same sex activity is ever acceptable to him.
3.3.1. We affirm that marriage is the proper context for sexual intimacy between a man and a woman.
3.3.2. We deny that there is any other context or relationship apart from marriage in which sexual intimacy should be enjoyed.
3.4.1. We affirm that in this fallen world distortions can occur in the expression of human sexuality.
3.4.2. We deny that such distortions should be viewed as acceptable or embraced as good.
3.5.1. We affirm that God’s righteousness is always consistent with his love, and that his righteousness sets the boundaries for our expressions of love.
3.5.2. We deny that God’s righteousness is ever in conflict with his love, or that we can ever express love without regard to righteousness.
3.6.1. We affirm that marriage is the moral and legal union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
3.6.2. We deny that other unions constitute marriage or that they should be viewed or valued in the same way as marriage.
3.7.1. We affirm that God intended marriage to be a partnership in which husband and wife love, honour and respect one another.
3.7.2. We deny that God ever intended marriage to be merely a legal contract in which the man controlled his property, which included his wife.
3.8.1. We affirm that sexual intimacy between husband and wife is good, and is intended by God for bonding, pleasure and procreation.
3.8.2. We deny that God approves of sexual intimacy between persons other than husband and wife.
3.9.1. We affirm that marriage is the ideal and God-intended context in which to conceive and rear children.
3.9.2. We deny that other relationships are as helpful as marriage for the nurture of children.
3.10.1. We affirm that marriage involves a union of members of the opposite sex.
3.10.2. We deny that a same sex relationship can ever constitute a marriage.
3.11.1. We affirm that the church ought to do all in its power to uphold the importance and sanctity of marriage as a loving, life-long union between one man and one woman.
3.11.2. We deny that the church ought to broaden its understanding of marriage to include same sex relationships, or that such relationships should be recognized and endorsed in any way at all.
Scripture is clear that homosexual behaviour is sin (Lev 18:22; Rom 1:26-27). In 1 Cor 6:9 the Greek arsenokoites denotes a person who engages in homosexual activity and is not referring to an inclination or a potential to such activity.
By the term “homosexual” we mean a person who engages in same-sex sexual activity. We do not mean that someone who experiences sexual attraction to a member of the same sex is a homosexual. Homosexual attraction in itself is not a sin. Sin is committed when such an attraction is practised, or it is intended that it be practised. In terms of our definition, a person who experiences same-sex attraction is not a homosexual. The term “homosexual orientation” is not used in this document because it may imply that choice is not involved in a person’s sexual expression, and that a person cannot successfully repent of a homosexual lifestyle.
The origins of homosexual attraction are not yet fully understood. However, the Bible is clear that sin involves choice and it unequivocally condemns homosexual behaviour as sin. Therefore, arguing biblically, there must be a significant choice component to this behaviour. While it is true that some people may have an inbuilt predisposition towards homosexual attraction—just as some may have an inbuilt predisposition to practise other forms of sin—nevertheless choice is still present and the pursuit of the behaviour is sin.
4.1.1. We affirm that a homosexual is a person who engages in same-sex activity.
4.1.2. We deny that the attraction to same-sex activity (but without that activity) makes a person a homosexual.
4.2.1. We affirm that a person becomes a homosexual ultimately by choosing to be involved in same-sex activity and that the adoption of a homosexual lifestyle is also a matter of choice. This is in contrast to innate characteristics such as gender and ethnicity.
4.2.2. We deny that persons who desire same-sex activity have no control over whether or not they engage in such activity.
4.3.1. We affirm that to engage in same-sex activity is sin in the eyes of God.
4.3.2. We deny that temptation to same-sex activity is in itself sin.
4.4.1. We affirm that we are concerned for homosexuals as people created in the image of God and that they, like all others who sin, need God’s forgiveness and our love and compassion.
4.4.2. We deny that this concern necessitates approval of the homosexual lifestyle.
4.5.1. We affirm that the Bible is our ultimate authority and the revelation of God’s abiding values, and that the biblical writers uniformly condemned homosexual acts in their own times as sinful perversions of God’s good intent for sexual expression.
4.5.2. We deny that homosexual acts are now acceptable to God in the changed socio-cultural context of today.
4.6.1. We affirm that heterosexual acts outside of marriage, homosexual activity, pornography, prostitution, paedophilia, rape and adultery are all sinful and contrary to God’s will for human beings.
4.6.2. We deny that the revision of biblical attitudes to homosexual acts by some people can properly be paralleled to the revision of attitudes to matters such as slavery.
4.7.1. We affirm that “celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage” represents an accurate summary of God’s design for human beings in relation to sexual acts.
4.7.2. We deny that the statement “celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage” is to be regarded as purely an expectation, and not as something that God desires absolutely.
5. The Church and Its Ministry
The Doctrinal Basis of the Baptist Churches of Western Australia states that “The Church is the community called into being by God. In both its universal and local expressions, it consists of persons who have personally and knowingly accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, and have pledged themselves to worship, follow and serve him as a priestly community.”9Implied in a person’s commitment to Christ is repentance, both as sorrow for past sins, and as an on-going attitude to those sins which persist in a Christian’s life.
The love of God extends to all people, and he welcomes all who repent with his forgiveness. “As Jesus accepted the woman accused of adultery, and charged her to ‘go and sin no more’,10so we welcome all those who seek him. As they turn away from their sin, trust in Jesus and are baptized, we accept them into membership. As they mature in the Christian faith, grow in godliness and evidence appropriate gifting, we consider them for leadership.”11
While we are “to reach out in compassion to all people who are trapped in sin, with [Christ’s] offer of forgiveness, cleansing and eternal life”12it is a matter of sadness that some continue without repentance and faith, and can neither be welcomed into the membership of the church, nor placed in positions of Christian leadership.
5.1.1. We affirm that the church consists of all people who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
5.1.2. We deny that the church consists of all who have been baptized, regardless of whether or not they personally acknowledge Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
5.2.1. We affirm that the Kingdom of God is open to all people who come in repentance to receive God’s forgiveness and grace.
5.2.2. We deny that loving acceptance of people as members of the Kingdom of God is appropriate if repentance from known sin is absent.
5.3.1. We affirm that the church of Jesus Christ is to be a loving and accepting community for all people, but not one which embraces or approves of the sins in which people might be involved.
5.3.2. We deny that homosexuals should be accepted as church members or serve in the church, or that such exclusion is a rejection of a homosexual’s personhood.
5.4.1. We affirm that scripture exhorts us to high moral standards in sexual ethics and we are to model, encourage and declare these standards in the family and community.
5.4.2. We deny that this means that we should condemn those who fall short of these standards, for we have all fallen short in some way or another, and it is only through God’s grace that we are made right with him.
5.5.1. We affirm that we are to preach and teach Biblical standards of sexual morality with love and compassion.
5.5.2. We deny that there is any compatibility between these standards and same-sex or both-sex behaviour.
5.6.1. We affirm that we have the right as Christians to teach our children the truth about human sexuality, to inform them of the perversity of some behaviours and to correct misinformation, particularly that provided by the homosexual lobby.
5.6.2. We deny that the homosexual lifestyle and other deviations are natural, normal or desirable, and that they should be presented in our schools as alternative sexual lifestyles.
5.7.1. We affirm that the ministry of the church is to be based on the ministry of Jesus Christ, who reached out in compassion to all people as he inaugurated the Kingdom of God.
5.7.2. We deny that the church should withhold compassion from any person, since all are loved by God and made in his image.
5.8.1. We affirm that people guilty of breaking God’s sexual standards need our compassion so that they might repent and receive God’s forgiveness.
5.8.2. We deny that reaching out in compassion to sinners implies condoning or ignoring their sexual sin or approval of their sinful lifestyle.
5.9.1. We affirm that repentance from homosexual acts and intentions is necessary, as it is in relation to all that is proscribed by the Bible.
5.9.2. We deny that it is unjust to refuse church membership to homosexuals who are unrepentant in relation to their homosexuality.
5.10.1. We affirm that all Christians who come with an attitude of repentance in relation to known sin are to be welcomed at the Lord’s Table.
5.10.2. We deny that those who claim to be Christians and who willingly practise sin, including homosexuality, are to be welcomed at the Lord’s Table.
5.11.1. We affirm that the Church is right to set high standards for those it accredits as leaders for Christian ministry.
5.11.2. We deny that such standards should exclude issues of sexuality such as homosexuality.
5.12.1. We affirm that it is inappropriate for homosexuals to be accepted for ministry within the Church.
5.12.2. We deny that it is unjust, on the grounds that they are “different,” for the Church not to accept homosexuals for ministry within the Church.
1. Dr Max Davidson (Chair), Dr Lachlan Dunjey, Pastor Andrew Lansdown and Mrs Rhoda Walker.
2. The Uniting Church in Australia’s Assembly Task Group on Sexuality, Uniting Sexuality and Faith.
3. Baptist Churches of Western Australia, By-Laws, Appendix X, “Divorce and the Ministry,” 6.
4. Churches may find it helpful to study this report in association with The Uniting Church in Australia’s Assembly Task Group on Sexuality, Uniting Sexuality and Faith, available directly from the Uniting Church of Australia.
5. Baptist Churches of Western Australia, Doctrinal Basis, 7.
6. The Uniting Church in Australia’s Assembly Task Group on Sexuality, Interim Report on Sexuality, Section 3.20, p. 21.
7. Baptist Churches of Western Australia, “Statement on Human Sexuality and the Church.”
8. Baptist Churches of Western Australia, By-Laws, Appendix X, “Divorce and the Ministry.”
9. Baptist Churches of Western Australia, Doctrinal Basis, 2.
10. John 8:11.
11. Baptist Churches of Western Australia, Statement on Human Sexuality and the Church.
12. Baptist Churches of Western Australia, Statement on Human Sexuality and the Church.