Tag Archives: ethics

Should Christians Change Their Ethics?

Unfortunately, the homosexuality issue is proving increasingly divisive. In that context, it is not uncommon to hear people say that the church must update its ideas if it is to remain relevant. Some fear that the church will have no mission as long as it adheres to its belief that homosexual acts are sinful.

On April 3, 2015 (Good Friday) the New York Times published an opinion piece by Frank Bruni entitled “Bigotry, The Bible and the Lessons of Indiana” in which he approvingly quoted someone else as saying that “church leaders must be made “to take homosexuality off the sin list.”” Of course, people have taken exception to that suggestion that Christians must be forced to abandon a biblical teaching, and many have pointed out the weaknesses of his argument.

Nevertheless, it is a recent example of the idea that the church must change.

Trevin Wax has written “Must Christianity Change Its Sexual Ethics? History may Hold The Key.” He reflects on the suggestion 100 years ago that the church must let go of its belief in miracles. That type of belief was seen as embarrassing in an age of scientific knowledge.

One hundred years later, the church is once again being rocked. This time, many Christians are calling for us to rethink the “embarrassing” parts of Christianity — specifically, our distinctive sexual ethic. After all, many of the moral guidelines we read in the New Testament were written from another cultural vantage point and are no longer authoritative or relevant today. If Christianity is to survive and thrive in the next century, many of our ancient prohibitions (sex outside of marriage, homosexual practice, the significance of gender, etc.) must be set aside.

Wax points out that it is somewhat arrogant for the declining western churches to lecture the rest of the world, which largely remains faithful to the scriptures and is seeing explosive growth in many places, on why the west alone truly understands the biblical teaching.

But history, he says, also suggests that those who do not capitulate survive and grow. The denominations that most readily agreed to abandon belief in miracles have seen rapid decline.

He asks what we are likely to see in another 100 years time and suggests:

And the lesson we learn from a century ago will probably still be true: The churches that thrived were those that offered their world something more than the echo of the times.

In other words, churches do best, not when they simply become like the world, but when they remain true to what is distinctively Christian, even when that is not popular. It shouldn’t really be any surprise that God blesses those who remain true to His word.

Peter Cheyne


PCUSA Approves Same-Sex Marriage

At its General Assembly in June 2014, the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved a change to its constitution that redefines marriage so as to include same-sex couples. The key sentence now simply refers to “two people”:

Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.

It also voted to allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages.

The PC(USA) constitution requires a majority of Presbyteries to agree with a decision such as this for it to come into force. On 17 March 2015, the 86th of their 171 Presbyteries agreed. That means that this is now the position of the PC(USA) and will come into force on 21 June 2015.

See the reports in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

The PC(USA) has lost 37% of its membership since 1992 including a growing number of congregations that have left to join other denominations because of concern about the PC(USA)’s increasingly liberal values. The loss of those conservative congregations undoubtedly led to the surprisingly strong vote. The redefinition of marriage was approved by 76% to 24%.

Already (29 March 2015) the PC(USA) has ordained its first lesbian couple to ministry.

At least one congregation has began the process of leaving the PC(USA). Leaving though can be expensive. It has recently cost one church $7.8 million.

The PC(USA)’s own website gives details on the number of congregations leaving, in an article called “Who’s Joining The Exodus?”.

What are the legal implications for ministers and churches that might refuse a same-sex wedding?

Unsurprisingly, the response among many Christians has been scathing. For some of the reaction, see the following.

The Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) broke away from the PC(USA) in 1973 and maintains markedly different standards. It has grown 10-fold since 1983. The PCA’s response on the same-sex marriage issue can be read here.

Thinking Christian” suggests this is not a redefinition of marriage only but also of grace and justice.

Gina Miller doesn’t hesitate to call the PC(USA) apostate.

See here some of the response – largely from within the PC(USA).

The National Black Church Initiative that represents 34,000 churches from 15 denominations has cuts its links with the PC(USA) over this issue. They have called the PC(USA) to repent, saying that they can no longer call themselves a Christian entity. “No church has the right to change the Word of God. By voting to redefine marriage PCUSA automatically forfeits Christ’s saving grace,” said NBCI President, Rev Anthony Evans.

In 2008 I had the privilege of attending the 218th General Assembly of the PC(USA) on behalf of the PCANZ. It really was a privilege. Our hosts were extremely hospitable and generous. It was fascinating observing what was a huge event. But it seemed to me that the church was strangely conflicted. It was wringing its hands about the decline of membership numbers yet still making the decisions that were driving people out. The Assembly spent a lot of time trying to build relationships with other churches in other nations but its internal relationships were being strained to breaking point.

For Rev Dr Mark D. Roberts reflections on that Assembly, see the blog The End Of The Presbyterian Church (USA)? Revisited. Helpfully, this (rather long) blog also includes a history of the PC(USA)’s decisions on this issue up to 2008.

My prediction (for what it is worth) is that the PC(USA) will decline even more rapidly following the 2014/15 decision. Keep watching.

Peter Cheyne