40 Questions, but only One Question is Needed

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One of the conversations carrying on in the Christian blog world at the moment is the dialogue over Matthew Vine’s “40 questions for Christians who oppose marriage equality“, which itself has flowed from the excellent “40 questions for Christians now waving rainbow flags“.

There are a number of great responses to Matthew Vines, but of particular note are Doug Wilson’s “Time for a Little Q & A” which progresses in typical Wilson style to stuff like these corkers:

19. Did you know that, for most of church history, Christians believed that the Bible taught the earth stood still at the center of the universe?

Oh, good grief.

39. What do you think the result would be if we told all straight teenagers in the church that if they ever dated someone they liked, held someone’s hand, kissed someone, or got married, they would be rebelling against God?

The kids in our church would laugh at us because we had previously given them Bibles, and have taught them how to read them.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some substantive responses in Wilson’s piece, but he also is realistic about what he’s dealing with here.

James White has a response “A Believing Response to Matthew Vines’ 40 Questions“. Here’s a sample:

Do you believe that it is possible to be a Christian and support slavery? If not, do you believe that Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards were not actually Christians because they supported slavery?

Your ignorance of the topic of slavery is, sadly, very common, and, in our society, epidemic, probably due to the “it is a word that starts emotions and ends thought” syndrome.  Slavery of all kinds has existed throughout human history, and continues to exist even to this day in various parts of the world.  Failure to differentiate reasons for, and types of, slavery, has led to a wildly inane ignorance of the topic.  Slavery as defined in the Hebrew Bible, for example, had different kinds, had to be ended on the Year of Jubilee, and could even lead to a slave desiring to remain as a servant, a true member of the household.  This is very different from Roman slavery, and different again from the form of slavery that existed in Africa and Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries (yes, slavery was very common in Africa, with many Africans enslaving their fellow Africans—or traveling across the Mediterranean to enslave Europeans).  In the biblical context, slavery was often the last resort, and as such, was a life-saving institution, allowing a person to remain alive when all other possibilities were exhausted, even with a hope of redemption and eventual freedom.  Since your question ignores all of this basic history and fundamental rational thought, it cannot be meaningfully answered, since Luther and Calvin, for example, lived prior to American slavery, and would have encountered various forms of slavery even in the European context.

Again, the whole thing is well worth your time both to serve as a clear demonstration of the kind of arguments being put about by some of those calling themselves “Christian” and also some great responses.

But as I read all this material I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that as good as all these sets of 40 questions are there’s really only One Question that needs to be asked. And it starts like this:

Haven’t you read … ?

Recognise it? I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that of all the questions being bandied about, this one cuts the deepest. The full question, of course, runs like this:

Matt. 19:4    “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

And there is the bottom line. When those who should know better try and trap Jesus over a marriage-related question He just takes them back to the basics.

  1. This is what the Scriptures say (specifically Genesis 2).
  2. This is the way God made us.
  3. He made us male and female.
  4. Marriage flows directly from and is an expression of this complementarity of divinely-created male and female order.
  5. Don’t mess with it.

And it really is that simple. Every question (starting with the direct divorce question He was asked) about marriage can be worked through that framework. The One Question provides the diagnostic to work on all of them.

That means that Jesus’ One Question allows us to ask a related one:

In Matthew 19:4-6, how does Jesus define marriage?

and the answer you receive will clarify everything.

Some people will avoid mentioning the male/female thing – just point that out and mention that Jesus seems to think it’s important.

Some people will avoid the fact that God made us this way – just point that out and mention that Jesus seems to think it’s important.

Some people will even suggest that it still says nothing about homosexuality. I’d just ask them to read it again after asking your original question again. Afterwards you can ask “how does a same-sex marriage fit into Jesus’ model?”

Some will suggest that Jesus didn’t know about modern understandings of homosexual relationships. I’d then be asking some serious questions about just who they think Jesus was and is; divine eternal Son of God or not?

Tragically what this comes down to is a lack of confidence in the Scriptures. It’s sheep who don’t recognise their Shepherd’s voice. It’s students who don’t want to learn from the master. It’s a horrible outworking of years of too many of us paying lip service to the Bible; flipping into it when we have something we like but otherwise setting it aside when another authority (in this case social pressure) competes. It is, of course, no surprise to anyone that those at the forefront of other revisionist and liberalising theologies (which are all produced by a denigration of Scripture’s authority) are almost always those displaying the same-sex rainbow banner.

Just One Question, friends, but it’s the key question. And ultimately it’s Jesus Himself asking it,

Haven’t you read … ?

When someone who calls themselves a Christian so quickly rejects Jesus’ words then we have real issues and that’s why this whole internal debate is such a big deal for the church. The real issue here isn’t sex or marriage, it’s all about how to read the Bible properly and how to sit under it. When we’ve lost that, then what else do we have?

The flip side, of course, is that for some this One Question will be a wakeup call. The sheep really do know the shepherd’s voice but sometimes they just need to be reminded. I’ve had the joy of sitting down with more than one person over this issue and asking them the One Question and seeing their eyes light up as they understand the clarity with which our Lord and Master has spoken on this question. Not that the other questions raised aren’t important and may or may not need to be dealt with, but there’s something foundational about the One Question because, well, it’s Jesus talking about foundations. Once we see it clearly then everything else is measured relative to Jesus’ clear word.

I love the work of men like Wilson and White in responding to Vines and others. It’s valuable labour and when I write this piece please don’t hear me seeking to undermine what they’re doing. But not all of us can operate at that rate and capacity and it’s important for us to remember what the core arguments are. I think it’s fair to say they can be summed up in One Question. So let’s keep asking it.

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  1. Tricia

    Exactly. The Sunday after the English Parliament passed the same sex marriage act, I was preaching and leading a service. I was appalled and frustrated at the lack of directive from the Church of England and felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. I sat down and said to myself, what does Jesus have to say. Matthew 19 came as the answer, so at the end of the service I addressed the issue iof what Parliament had done and said, but this what Jesus says marriage is.
    At a previous service I looked at what CS Lewis says about marriage in Mere Christianity. At the end of the service I was approached by a member of the congregation saying that they had accompanied someone to church whose daughter was a lesbian and she had commented that she was glad she had not brought her daughter. I replied that I had experience of same sex attracted people in my family and friends but I would never wish them to marry as it clearly is not open to them in scripture. It seems that even in an evangelical church we are now supposed to manipulate scripture to what itching ears want to hear.

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