New South Wales and ACT Baptists are meeting tomorrow to discuss and decide an issue that denominations across the world are facing. There are a set of motions requiring churches and accredited pastors to affirm “Marriage is a covenant relationship ordained by God as a lifelong faithful union of one man and one woman. Sexual intimacy outside such a marriage relationship is incompatible with God’s intention for us as his people”.
The topic is broader than sexuality. In 2021 the NSW & ACT Assembly affirmed that both churches and accredited pastors be required to affirm the “basic doctrines, objects and values of the Association”
A detailed read of the motions can be found on John Sandeman’s blog.
Depending on the outcome of the Assembly meeting, Baptist Churches that don’t affirm these positions may be required to leave the association and pastors lose their accreditation. This is of course a significant subject and one where we pray Christians will speak and listen graciously and especially listen to and believe what God has spoken in the Bible. Affirming marriage should not be a controversial issue among churches, and it is a sad indictment on churches that there is any dispute or disagreement here. To believe that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman and that all other sexual relationships are sinful is doing nothing more than believing what Jesus taught and what the Apostles affirmed.
Sydney Baptist and Morling College lecturer, Mike Frost, has expressed disagreement with the move. He has written an article to presumably dissuade delegates from supporting the motions. While he is not saying that he supports same-sex marriage (I suspect he doesn’t), he argues that baptists can and should remain together even when we disagree over this issue. Frost’s position is problematic for several reasons.
First, he makes an important category error. He puts same-sex marriage under the umbrella of ‘non-core issues’. He uses the phrase repeatedly throughout his piece and he concludes with this sentence,
“But instead of rallying to fulfill these bold visions for Christian mission, we’re debating the ins and outs of how to expel a tiny number of churches that don’t agree with the majority on yet another non-core issue.”
Contrary to what Frost asserts, our understanding of sexual relations is a gospel issue. Our understanding of sexuality and marriage is connected to our view of Jesus, the Bible, the nature of sin and salvation, and more. Jesus was clear when he described sexual relations outside marriage between a man and a woman is porneia.
The Apostle Paul is also clear,
“Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. 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.”
Jesus and Paul define homosexual relations as sinful and keeping people outside the Kingdom of God. I don’t see how Frost can declare that this is ‘yet another non-core issue’ when the Bible is pretty clear that it is.
In 1 Timothy Paul spells out as unambiguously as anywhere in the Bible how any sexual relations outside marriage contradict sound doctrine and the gospel,
“We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”
Mike Frost telling his readers that this is a non-core issue, doesn’t stack up according to the Scriptures. These are not matters on which Christians can agree to disagree. This is a gospel matter. Where people cannot agree on the gospel, how can there be partnership and association?
Second, Mike Frost makes another category error. His heading proposes that requiring common assent to Baptist doctrine is, ‘Breaking up the family in pursuit of uniformity’.
The suggestion of uniformity is misleading. This isn’t about uniformity, it is about standing together on clear and gospel issues.
No Baptist is asking for agreement on every dot and flick and iota. No Baptist is demanding a uniform position on eschatology or the gifts of the Spirit. No one is asking for uniformity in the style of church service. Frost’s own article provides several examples of where Baptists have agreed to disagree. In suggesting that same-sex marriage is on par with these other issues is a serious mistake. Again, if Jesus calls an activity sin and if Paul says an activity keeps a person outside the Kingdom of God, how can we partner with churches who teach this harmful idea?
Genuine Christian unity is both theological and spiritual, and the two belong together. Paul writes to the Ephesians,
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all…14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ”
Unity requires speaking truth in love and standing against teaching that is false and dangerous. It is because Christian unity is so precious, that remaining in that which unites is of such importance
I have argued elsewhere that baptists historically have written and affirmed doctrinal statements and positions when the need arose. There is a popular view today among Baptists that we are anti-creedal and that we don’t want or need statements of faith in order to join together. The saying, ‘no creed but Christ’ may sound appealing, but it’s neither historically true nor wise.
Throughout 400 years of Baptist history, various baptist fellowships have written confessions and statements of doctrine and required assent to them. One of the little-known facts about baptists is that we have more doctrinal statements than probably every other protestant denomination! The desire among NSW baptist churches to stand on the Christian view of marriage (and more) isn’t less than baptist, it is in keeping with many baptists historically (including those in Australia).
Third, Frost speaks of a bold vision for mission, but how can there be a shared mission when churches (or pastors) don’t share the same message?
Mission is about telling people the good news of Jesus Christ, but if two churches believe two different gospels, how we can partner together?
For instance, Baptist pastors and churches who support same-sex marriage do not accept that repentance is required, rather these relationships should be celebrated by churches. How can two churches go on mission together when one says repentance is necessary and the other says it is not?
Our neighbours and communities don’t need churches that play the lyrebird and mimic back to them their own moral and spiritual proclivities. The gospel of Jesus Christ is far more compelling, subverting and beautiful.
I recall an observation made last year by British historian Tom Holland,
“I see no point in bishops or preachers or Christian evangelists just recycling the kind of stuff you can get from any kind of soft left liberal because everyone is giving that…if they’ve got views on original sin I would be very interested to hear that”.
Affirming basic Christian beliefs will serve both our churches well, and our local communities. Anything else is a pathway to a brittle skeletal institutionalism and an irrelevance to the Kingdom God is building.
While it’s great to hear Mike Frost advocating mission, he’s sticking a cork in the breech here. How can shared mission take place when there isn’t agreement on the gospel and what it means to repent and what it means to be saved? Indeed how can there be partnership in any meaningful way when the very thing that unites Christians is disputed and even denied by some?
While Frost wants everyone to keep singing together, the reality is those baptists who advocate same-sex marriage are singing a different song, with different lyrics and melody. Their position not only contradicts the formal position on marriage, some are actively seeking to change this established position. The point is, these Baptists are unlikely to be satisfied until such time the denomination has changed to Australia’s latest views on sexuality and gender. After all, if they are serious about this being a justice and gospel issue, as I have often heard, how can they rest until the baptist view accepts same-sex weddings and marriages?
The notion that we can and will all live together in a joyful forward movement mission is somewhat disingenuous, given the ambition of some baptists is to change core baptist convictions.
I’m praying for tomorrow’s meeting. Of course, it is difficult. If our churches are not able to have these important conversations and if we are not prepared to affirm the very things for which Christ died, then what are we about? God honours the faithfulness of his people. It may not win us popularity votes or praise in ecclesial halls, but there is something remarkably simple and attractive and good about faithfulness and sticking with what God says.
The people who often suffer most through these conversations are same-sex attracted Christians who believe in Jesus and are living faithful and celibate lives for the sake of the Kingdom. To have churches teaching that they need not repent and should instead live out their desires is a great and terrible disservice to these brothers and sisters. Should we not support and encourage them in godliness by affirming the same Gospel together?
I trust other State Unions may look on at what is transpiring in NSW and take courage to also stand and make these clear affirmations and positions for the sake of the Gospel around Australia.