Controversy in the Church
Every age has its share of controversy within the Church. In Augustine’s day, it was controversy over the nature(s) of Jesus. In Martin Luther’s day, it was the argument over justification by faith alone. In the days of Wesley and Whitefield, it was the debate over the doctrines of election and sanctification. During the Fundamentalist/Modernist dispute (in the 1930s and ’40s), common points of contention were the doctrine of Scripture and the virgin birth.
As we look ahead in the evangelical church (in the United States), there are several controversial doctrines that are brewing within the church or dividing us from the broader culture. And these are not minor issues. I see three doctrines in particular that are causing significant controversy, and all three have significant implications.
1. The Historical Existence of a Real Adam and Eve
The Christian thinker and apologist, Francis Schaeffer, writes in his book, Genesis in Space and Time, “How should the early chapters of Genesis be read? Are they historical, and if so, what value does their historicity have? In dealing with these questions I wish to point out the tremendous value Genesis 1-11 has for modern man. In some ways these chapters are the most important ones in the Bible, for they put man in his cosmic setting and show him his peculiar uniqueness. They explain man’s wonder and yet his flaw. Without a proper understanding of these chapters, we have no answer to the problems of metaphysics, morals or epistemology, and furthermore, the work of Christ becomes unnecessary” (pp. 9-10).
A debate is raging today in the evangelical world about the historical reality of Adam and Eve. Did they really exist? More and more evangelical scholars have been questioning their literal existence, from Old Testament scholars to those in the biological sciences at a number of Christian schools. For example, Calvin College’s biology department is almost entirely evolutionary in its teaching. I know because I’ve talked to students there, and I’ve read books by their science faculty. Sadly, the same is true of both Wheaton College and Hope College. Such schools will plant seeds of doubt into students’ minds about the historical accuracy and authority of God’s Word.
One of the latest to join the debate is Dr. Peter Enns, an Old Testament scholar who has taught at Fuller Seminary and Westminster Seminary. I recently read his book, The Evolution of Adam. It’s not about Adam’s actual evolution, but rather the “evolution of thinking” on Adam and Eve. Dr. Enns weaves a very sophisticated argument that Adam and Eve were not literal human beings. In fact, Dr. Enns dismisses the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and most of Genesis 1-11, as legendary. What’s even more troubling is how he handles the Apostle Paul (who clearly believed that Adam really existed; see Romans 5). Dr. Enns argues that Paul was wrong and simply bought into the primitive cosmology of his day. Then Dr. Enns goes one step further and says in a footnote on page 153 that even Jesus did a similar thing. He writes that, even though Jesus attributed the Pentateuch to Moses, “I do not think that Jesus’ status as the incarnate Son of God requires that [such] statements be understood as binding historical judgments of authorship.” In other words, Jesus was wrong! Clearly, such views are way outside of the mainstream of Christian thought. Both history and the Bible show that such trajectories of thinking will take Dr. Enns right off the cliff—theologically and otherwise.
2. The Issue of Gay Marriage
On May 9, 2012, President Obama became the first sitting U.S. President to publicly declare support for the legalization of same-sex marriage. In the fall of 2011, three states legalized gay marriage through the ballot: Maine, Maryland, and Washington. Illinois did so just recently. Gay relationships have become increasingly mainstream in American sitcoms and movies. Because of this, all indications are that the 30-and-under crowd views homosexuality as normative and simply another life choice—sort of like “Republican or Democrat?” or “strawberry or chocolate?” or “Yankees or Mets?” This is a seismic culture shift from previous American generations. Many forget this.
The primary issue is simply this: What did the biblical authors mean in context? If Scripture speaks on a topic, then a Christian’s role is to try to determine the meaning of the text to the best of their ability. This is based on the assumption that God has spoken and that His Word is infallible.
Let us be clear about one other thing: both homosexuals and heterosexuals have enough sin to disqualify them from any finger-pointing. Sometimes when Christians talk about homosexuality, they forget that sins like divorce and premarital sex are rampant within the church and culture, doing tremendous damage. And these are heterosexual sins! The issue of gay marriage issue is NOT about pointing fingers, it is about one basic question: Does God approve of same-sex unions in the Bible?
Homosexuality is addressed in a number of places in the Bible. First of all in Genesis, chapters 1 and 2, it is very clear that God created man and woman to be the fundamental family unit of society. Genesis 19 is very clear that homosexuality is a sin—and a grievous one at that. Leviticus 18:22 clearly forbids same-sex relationships, as does Paul in Romans 1. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul lists homosexuality as a sin. Simply put, the evidence in the Bible is overwhelmingly clear that any type of homosexual activity is a sin. No one in church history has ever disputed this. The bottom line is this: the Bible forbids homosexual behavior but not a homosexual orientation. This is a very important distinction. The Bible does not approve of monogamous, homosexual unions if you take it literally. It’s very interesting that former Anglican Bishop, John Spong, who wrote a book defending homosexual unions (Living in Sin, 1990) included an entire chapter on why we CAN”T take the Bible literally! The same is true of Bishop Gene Robinson’s new book, God Believes in Love, in which he attempts to make a case for homosexual marriage from the Bible. But like Spong, Robinson is also clear that he does not believe the Bible is the inspired, literal word of God. That’s because any straight-forward reading of the Scriptures is clear that homosexual sex is a sin.
3. The Wrath of God
Last summer, the committee putting together a new hymnal for the Presbyterian Church (USA), dropped the popular hymn “In Christ Alone” because the song’s authors refused to change a phrase about the wrath of God. The original lyrics say that “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song wanted to substitute the words, “the love of God was magnified.”
The song’s authors, Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, objected. So the committee voted to drop the song. Critics say the proposed change was sparked by those who want to remove God’s wrath out of the hymnal. “That lyric comes close to saying that God killed Jesus,” said Rev. Chris Joiner of First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, TN. “The cross is not an instrument of God’s wrath.”
Mr. Joiner needs to re-read his Bible. That God the Father killed Jesus is exactly what is taught if one takes the Bible seriously. The most famous verse in the Bible (John 3:16) says it very clearly: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” When it comes to God, Romans 1:18 says it this way: “The wrath of God is being revealed from Heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” While these kinds of verses are not fun to read, we dare not toss them simply because they are unpopular. To do so will undermine the Church and invite the judgment of God (even if we deny its reality!).
by Jay Childs, Senior Pastor