The Denmark Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church has requested a ruling of law about the initial language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline regarding the original language added in 1972 which states that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with christian teaching. You can read the reasons why they are challenging in the link provided, but it boils down the idea that homosexuality is not addressed by the standards of faith, specifically the Articles of Religion. In this I will demonstrate how it is addressed by the Articles of Religion as well as in Wesley’s sermons as well as his Notes upon the New Testament, both of which are also standards of faith. I will provide supporting evidence from other sources as well, and note them as they appear. For the sake of consistency, all verses will be from the MKJV. I drew a translation at random, and this is the one that came up.
I will be focusing on Article VI, reprinted here for ease.
“The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard who feign that the old fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the law given from God by Moses as touching ceremonies and rites doth not bind Christians, nor ought the civil precepts thereof of necessity be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian whatsoever is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral.”
From this we see that a distinction is made in the law of the Old Testament. A division of the law is not a new idea that originated with Wesley, it is directly taken from our Anglican roots. It is not even a distinctly reformation belief as some division of the law has been recognized going back to the Israelite’s the laws were delivered to, though it is fair to say that how we apply them is very different. There is no comprehensive list as to what is a moral law or what is a ceremonial one, but the slightest application of exegesis shows easily the distinctions in most, if not all case.
So, how then are we to know what parts of the law are what? The civil law had to do with the day to day living of the Israelite’s. While much of it is antiquated and impossible today, a good bit of it can be a helpful guide to daily living. This would also include punishments for violations. Despite this, we are not bound by it. Much of this shares characteristics with the ceremonial law, and I personally do not see the need for the civil category, but the Westminster Confession did, so here we are. The ceremonial law is how, in the old covenant, man reconciled to God. It contains rules for the sacrifice, offerings, the priests, etc. In a society that did not distinguish daily living from religious ceremony, the civil and ceremonial are often the same. The ceremonial law certainly contains patterns of truth (there is an alter in the temple, and an alter in heaven for example), but we are not bound by them. They are a shadow of good things to come. They share some similarity with the moral law in that they can, and do, reveal truths about God, but they differ in that they are not mandates for holiness.
Now we come to the one that we should be focused on for the purposes of this discussion. The moral law has no expiration because it is based upon the very character of God himself. They are the type of things that have to do with the command of God to be holy because He is holy. The two great commandments (Love of God and love of neighbor) would be a good example of this. So would not telling falsehood, or not engaging in idolatry. These are the things that, according to the Articles of religion, we are to be held accountable to.
So, allow me to ask the following question. Is who we choose to have sex with a moral question? If your answer is yes, and it should be, then whatever the moral law has to say about that applies to us. (If your answer is no, please seek spiritual guidance.) Let us begin with Leviticus chapter 18. In verse 2 we find the following: ” And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, I am Jehovah your God. ” The audience is established here clearly as the sons of Israel. Some argue that this restriction only applied to priests, but the audience here establishes this is not so. At this point feel free to cruise the entire chapter as there is a lot of good stuff in there, but we are going to fast forward to verse 22 at this point. “You shall not lie with mankind as with womankind. It is abomination to God.” This is one of several forbidden sexual practices listed in the Old Testament. There is no exception here. There is no hint of this being restricted to temple worship. No hint that this means anything other than a plain reading suggests. This is simply one of several prohibited sexual practices that is inherently sinful. The chapter goes on to say that if you do the things listed here that you defile yourself. Clearly there is a moral connotation here. The chapter ends with God, again, reminding us that He is God, and that these prohibited actions defile us. We see something similar in Leviticus 20:13 we find a similar admonishment, this time with a punishment attached. This punishment would of course be a part of the law that we, as Christians, are not bound to, but it does demonstrate the severity that God has toward sexual immorality. “If a man also lies with mankind, as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be on them.” Some would be tempted here to say that because we are not stoning people, that we should ignore this on the whole, but I refer you to the very next verse which reads “And if a man takes a wife and her mother, it is wickedness. They shall be burned with fire, both he and they, so that there may be no wickedness among you. ” Should we ignore this as well because of the penalty? Of course not. Again, this is a clear prohibition devoid of any hint of temple prostitution, forced intercourse, pederasty, etc.
So again we have come to the point where we should ask the same question. Is who we choose to have sexual intercourse with a moral choice? In reading the verses provided, hopefully going above them and below them as well, do we see a pattern of prohibited sexual activities beginning? If these things are moral, and I can not stress enough that scripture treat them as such, then we are held to them, according to the Articles of religion. The first part of showing how the articles, and other standards of faith do indeed what the men and women of the Denmark Annual Conference say they do not is laid out.
If you read this far and did not fall asleep, then congratulations. There is a way to go. If you choose to comment on this, then realize that you are commenting on a part of a larger whole which will be rolled out over the next several days. I have chosen to break things up in an effort to make them easier to read in short sittings. There is a lot more that can be said about these sections and verses. I have not tried to gloss over anything, but rather to focus into a particular topic as it relate to the request of the good men and women from Denmark. I encourage you to read and study the often forgotten books of the Old Testament. There are wonders and treasures there for any and all of us. There is also a great deal of understanding. More to come soon.
This continues here.