When Bad Theology Becomes Bad Policy

October 24, 2016 will go down as a significant day in the history of Cheyenne, Wyoming. On that day, by a vote of 7-3, approved a resolution that stated the city’s support for LGBT equality.

This is a big deal for Christians in Cheyenne, and other supporters of religious liberty. The proponents of the resolution have attempted to downplay this. It has been said that this resolution is not actually an ordinance, and it has no enforcement authority, therefore it is not a threat to religious liberty. That is simply not true. What has happened here is that the government of the city has officially taken a position that is against the beliefs of orthodox biblical Christianity. While a religious conscience clause was added in the 11th hour, it really does not matter. It does not matter, because of what the resolution does say: the city will be modifying its own policies as well as supporting state laws to further LGBT equality. Thus, while one may be afforded the liberty to hold their private religious views, the city will actively work to ensure that these views cannot be spoken of or practiced within the public sphere. What starts as a non-binding resolution will soon lead to the introduction of actual legislation, and the city would be inconsistent not to adopt it, since they are now so firmly and publicly committed to the LGBT cause. It is only a matter of time.

Not only is the resolution itself troubling, but the coverage of it by the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Cheyenne’s only major newspaper, and particularly its quotation at length of Councilman Mark Rinne disproportionately to others, makes it rather clear where the paper stands on the issue. Of the 1,213 words in the WTE’s article, 542 words (about 44% of the article) are spent directly quoting or paraphrasing Rinne. I would like to take the opportunity here to interact with some of Rinne’s arguments. Rinne is heralded by the WTE as “eloquent”. He is essentially their champion of the cause. However, in his comments, I would contend that Rinne shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bible and theology.

The Law

Rinne’s comments begin:

“It does say in Leviticus and Paul says in his letter to Romans that homosexuality is a sin, but Leviticus also says, ‘You must carefully obey all of my laws and regulations,’ so what are some of those Levitical laws?” Rinne said.

Good question. And to many, this argument is compelling, as if some of the Mosaic laws are no longer binding, then why are any still binding?

Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-19:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

So Jesus is saying that the Law remains. So, how much of it is still binding on the Christian? Is Rinne right when he says we should not eat shellfish, or touch a woman on her period, or that we are bound by the various other laws he cited?

Before we answer that question, we need to look at what the Bible says about the Law and how it applies now.

Historically, there has been understood to be a threefold division of the Law:

Ceremonial Law

The ceremonial law is the set of laws governing the Old Testament sacrificial system, and setting the conditions for participation therein. The laws concerning diet, disease, cleansing, etc. were for ensuring that one remained “clean”–allowed to participate in worship and fellowship with the people of Israel. There was also a lot of practicality in these laws. The medical care of the time was very primitive. There were no antibiotics or surgery. So the laws concerning leprosy were important, as leprosy at the time was highly contagious and fatal. If one had leprosy and was allowed to continue living among the people, it could very easily trigger an epidemic, so a separation was needed. Similar principles apply to the dietary laws. Eating under-cooked meat or the meat of certain animals opens one up to a higher risk of disease. God, the creator of the world, knew this, and gave these laws in part to preserve His people, in order that they would fulfill their ultimate purpose in bringing forth Jesus Christ.

But are the ceremonial laws still binding? A passage in Mark 7 is helpful here:

And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) (Mark 7:18-19 ESV)

Here, Jesus is declaring the dietary law as no longer binding. This principle is reinforced to Peter in Acts 10:

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven. (Acts 10:9-16 ESV)

This is in preparation to send Peter to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. In the New Covenant, God has made all foods clean.

While time and space does not permit a comprehensive discussion of this topic, there are many other examples in the New Testament that concern the ceremonial law and it’s fulfillment in Christ, thus leaving Christians not bound by it. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 and the books of Galatians and Hebrews are particularly insightful here. This is also validated by history, as Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple in Matthew 24:1-2, which occurred in A.D. 70. The temple has never been rebuilt. The Jewish ceremonial worship centered around the temple, and without a temple cannot be carried out. If our sovereign God were still interested in being worshiped in that place and in that way, then this likely would not have remained the case for as long as it has.

As Christ is a perfect, complete sacrifice for all of the sins of His people, the ceremonial law is no longer binding. It is, however, useful for teaching, and for understanding the standard of God’s holiness and what was being required of His people, as well as painting the cultural and contextual picture of the Old Testament as well as Christ’s coming.

Judicial Law

In addition to the ceremonial law, there were particular laws set into place that were governing Israels trade, punishment for crimes, restitution, and taxation. While these serve as a good model for the laws of any national government, and have influenced many governments throughout the ages, including our own, they are not binding on Christians now. Again, though, they are useful for teaching and instruction (1 Timothy 3:16 makes this clear of all scripture).

That the civil law is no longer binding is evident in the fact that God brought judgment against the nation of Israel, causing its government to be overthrown. Instead, in the New Covenant, God has called for submission by Christians to whatever government they find themselves under, so that they may live in peace.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2 ESV)

Moral Law

Last, but certainly not least, is the moral law. This is most plainly exemplified in the Old Testament by the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), but contains other laws as well. These are laws that are binding upon all people for all time.

Part of how we know this is how the moral law is cited in the New Testament. We return to Mark 7, the same passage in which Jesus declared all foods clean, for an example:

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:9-13)

While Jesus has declared all foods clean, he has also reinforced the command of the Decalogue to honor parents (Exodus 20:12). In fact, in other places, we see Jesus articulate an even higher standard of moral law than Moses did:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)

“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 lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)

Part of the test as to a law being a binding moral law is what is said about it in the New Testament. While the New Testament often points to the ceremonial and civil laws being finally and completely fulfilled in Christ, moral laws are reaffirmed. We will come back to this a little later when discussing homosexuality specifically.

Rinne’s argument about the Levitical law is a non-sequitur. He concludes the moral law is no longer binding due to the ceremonial laws he cited no longer being binding, without interacting with what the Bible itself has to say about the subject. He is misrepresenting what orthodox, historical Christianity believes about the Law. His claims that Christians are disobeying laws they should be following is baseless.

God Gives the State Authority, but the State Does Not Have the Authority of God

Rinne goes on to make some rather remarkable comments about church-state relations:

Rinne also touched on one opponent’s argument that, sooner or later, right-minded Christians would have no choice but to decide whether to follow the laws of society, or the laws of God – specifically in reference to civil society’s greater acceptance of the LGBT community.

“We are a nation of laws, but they are secular laws, not religious laws,” Rinne said. “We all know in Matthew, Jesus said, ‘Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,’ but Paul said in Romans to obey the government, for God is the one that put it there; all government has been placed in power by God. So those that refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God and punishment will follow. That’s Scripture.”

There are numerous problems with this argument. I cited Romans 13 earlier in this piece as proof that the Old Testament judicial law is no longer binding upon the Christian. It is a large leap to go from Romans 13 urging submission to authority to saying that Christians ought to lay down their convictions and follow civil authorities when the two are in conflict. There are numerous examples from Scripture where quite the opposite is encouraged and practiced.

In Acts 4, Peter and John were brought before the Jewish authorities for preaching the gospel. This council had a particular agenda to silence the agenda of Christianity. They attempted to impose this on Peter and John. Let’s see how that conversation went:

But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:17-20)

This is not the only time we see God’s people in the Bible disobey civil governments in instances where doing so violates biblical beliefs. The book of Daniel lists several, where Daniel and his compatriots in the Babylonian captivity defy orders by kings to commit idolatry and to violate other aspects of the Old Testament laws. It earned Daniel a trip to the lions’ den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego a trip to the furnace. Even Paul, who wrote Romans 13, was imprisoned multiple times and eventually met his death at the hands of the Roman authorities.

In a sense, Rinne is correct in that we may be heading towards a situation where biblical obedience will result in punishment from civil government. Where he is wrong is to claim that to obey scripture in defiance of civil government is disobedience to God. Our first authority is God and His word, and all other allegiances are to be made subservient to that. God has given the state the authority it has. but He has not given it all authority.

Forgive what?

Rinne continues:

He further noted that Christians, through their faith, have been redeemed from those laws and are instead commanded to live in harmony with one another and accept one another just as Christ has accepted them.

“You must make allowance for each others’ faults and forgive those who offend you,” Rinne said. “Paul said we’re all responsible for our own conduct, and because of that it’s not our position to judge. Judging others is reserved for God.”

We have already discussed to what extent Christians are bound and no longer bound by the law. As far as the claim to “live in harmony…and accept one another” (I am not sure how much of that is Rinne and how much of that is the WTE’s interpretation), I would be curious to know on what biblical basis such claims can be made. Jesus does indeed accept us, sinners as we are, but that is not simply a matter of ignoring sin. Jesus, the only perfect man who ever lived, had to die to pay the penalty for that sin. Sin is serious business. To admit that the very concept of forgiveness exists (as Rinne has done here) is to admit that sin and wrong do exist; otherwise, there would be nothing to forgive and nothing to accept.

And, of course, the “judge not” argument is made. Yes, Jesus did say that. But if read in its context, Jesus is addressing hypocritical judgement. This does not mean that Jesus is saying that we should not call sin, sin. After all, who has done that more than Jesus did in the gospels? How often did he pronounce condemnation upon the scribes and Pharisees? In fact, Jesus lays out a framework in Matthew 18 for precisely how sin is to be confronted within the church:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 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. (Matthew 18:15-17)

Christians are to confront sin, particularly within their own ranks. This isn’t the only example of this in the New Testament. Paul became aware of gross unrepentant sexual immorality in the church in Corinth, and he addressed it in 1 Corinthians 5. Here is what he said:

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:3-5)

So I don’t really know how Rinne can use Paul as a justification for not confronting sin–it seems like he was something of a master of it.

A Conclusion Not Based on Evidence

Rinne’s remarks conclude:

In the end, Rinne said he had a choice of deciding between a narrow adherence to Levitical law or following the teachings of Christ when Paul said all God’s commandments can be summarized by one: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“If this is a religious argument, that’s what I got out of Scripture and I intend to vote in favor of it. (the resolution)”

Again, where are these conclusions coming from? Would Christ have considered accepting and celebrating homosexuality as “love your neighbor”? Christ had a specific picture of what marriage and sexuality looked like:

He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast 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 not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6 ESV)

A few things here: First, Jesus says “Have you not read?”. This is an affirmation of Old Testament moral law and the created order. Second, it is an affirmation of gender binary, and the gender of a person being determined by God for His purposes. Third, the “two shall become one flesh”. This implies monogamy, therefore a case for bisexuality fails as it is by its very nature not monogamous. Am I missing something here? Could there be any more of a clear-cut case that the LGBT agenda and Christianity are not compatible when Christ offers the refutation?

And Paul says plenty on the topic of homosexuality as well. Yes, there is the Romans 1 passage, as Rinne mentioned:

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)”

But this is not the only time Paul deals with the subject:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God? (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)”

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)

One cannot logically follow the teachings of Jesus and Paul and arrive at the conclusions that Rinne did. Of course, that is reflective of the larger problem. When one reads the WTE article and other similar accounts of these proceedings from around the country, it becomes pretty clear that the argument has moved away from logic and Bible and into the realm of emotion. Accounts of people crying and telling stories of depression and suicide do pull at the heartstrings. Saying that people should love whom they wish sounds nice, at least on the surface. God is love, right? But what is being lost in this discussion is that God is holy, God is just, and God created us to live a certain way. This is not to punish us or prevent us from enjoying life, but to allow us to glorify Him and enjoy life the way He intended us to. The Christian looks at what God has revealed and orders life, including sexuality around it.The LGBT agenda looks at sexuality and attempts to reorder God’s revelation around it.

Why it Matters

And why, you ask do I care about this? Why have I, a straight man, written nearly 4,000 words to address something that was said in a city council meeting and a resolution that isn’t even an actual law? Because I want others to find the joy, peace, and hope that is found only in Christ. Earlier I cited 1 Corinthians 6 in which Paul listed several vices, including homosexuality, as things that are not compatible with the kingdom of God. But what he says next is remarkable:

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.(1 Corinthians 6:11)”

Such were some of you. Not, such are, but such were. God is capable of redeeming and changing those in the vilest of sin. He has done that to me. The only difference between me and anyone else on that list is God’s grace. I want God’s grace to be known. I want Cheyenne to be a place where it is legal and permissible for God’s grace to be made known. I want people like Mark Rinne to realize that the God they think they know is far greater and has far more to offer than freedom to indulge in sin.

Furthermore, it is a fear of mine that many Christians do not know how or are not interested in dealing with the all-too-common arguments like those that Mark Rinne has made here. The arguments cited against the resolution by the WTE by Christians were rather weak and erroneous (though that may be an intentional portrayal by the paper). As this conflict continues to rage in our society between the LGBT community’s demand for rights and the Christian demands for religious liberty, we need to know what we believe and why. I have attempted to lay out a biblical framework for addressing criticisms of biblical orthodoxy on LGBT issues.

It is my hope that the push for legislation to deny religious liberty on the basis of sexual liberty stops soon. But recent history suggests that this will not be the case. While I am able, I am going to speak. I hope that my fellow residents of Cheyenne, of Wyoming, and of the kingdom of Christ will do likewise, and do so consistently and boldly. ♦

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS ARE FROM THE ESV® BIBLE (THE HOLY BIBLE, ENGLISH STANDARD VERSION®), COPYRIGHT © 2001 BY CROSSWAY, A PUBLISHING MINISTRY OF GOOD NEWS PUBLISHERS. USED BY PERMISSION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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