The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

When Religious Leaders Lose Their Credibility: Part 2

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Pastor Oliver “Buzz” Thomas wrote an article that appeared in USA Today (November 20, 2006) under the title “When religion loses its credibility.” Similar articles have been written before. Jimmy Carter wrote “Judge Not” in the February 27, 1996 issue of the Atlanta Constitution.1 Similar to the Thomas article, Carter reserves his jabs for the “religious right.” He considers abortion and homosexuality to be “emotional” not moral or theological issues. He spouts the all too familiar platitude about believing in the “separation between church and state,” implying that civil laws have no religious or moral context. He seems to forget that the civil rights movement was framed in biblical terms and was led by Baptist ministers. Carter wrote that “it is much easier and more convenient [for the religious right] to focus on homosexuality [rather than divorce and fornication]” than to acknowledge that the sin of homosexuality “is never mentioned by Jesus.” Thomas uses a similar argument. What’s disturbing is that Carter teaches Sunday school on a regular basis and Thomas is a pastor.

Thomas, like Carter, makes a typical hermeneutical mistake by arguing that since Jesus did not condemn homosexuality, then neither should we. Let’s follow this logic and see where it takes us. Jesus did not condemn rape, slavery, incest, or bestiality. Thomas is not alone in developing a theology based “only on the words of Jesus.” The New Testament assumes the validity of the Old Testament, including its ethical demands regarding adultery, homosexuality, and abortion. What did the early church use before the gospels were written? The church at Corinth did not have the letters Paul wrote to Galatia and Ephesus. The Christians at Berea examined “the Scriptures daily” to see whether Paul’s theology was orthodox (Acts 17:11). Jesus’ words and Paul’s letters are filled with allusions and quotations from the Old Testament, what was simply described as “Scripture” (Mark 12:10; Acts 8:32; Rom. 4:3; 1 Tim. 4:13; 5:18; James 2:8; 2 Peter 1:20). Paul tells us what we should think of all of God’s Word, the Old Testament included: “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Paul was not a New-Testament-only believer, and he did not preach a New-Testament-only ethic.



The New Testament, therefore, must be read and interpreted against the backdrop of the Old Testament. There is no New-Testament or red-letter ethic. This means that Jesus’ carefully chosen words have an Old Testament context. The word “fornication” (porneia) includes numerous sexual sins under the general heading of “uncleanness.”

[Fornication] is used in the LXX for homosexuality, for consanguinity, and by Paul for “uncleanness” and “lasciviousness.” In Rom. 1:29, it refers to sexual sins in general; in I Cor. 6:13–18, it refers to relations with prostitutes (vss. 15, 16) and to sexual sins generally; in I Cor. 7:2, it means adultery and mental or physical sexual disorders through forced continence and bad relations between husband and wife.2

In 1 Corinthians 5:1 the word “fornication” is used twice to refer to a sin which was being tolerated by the church: a man was having sexual relations with his stepmother, something Jesus did not specifically condemn, but which is condemned under the general prohibition of “fornication” (see Lev. 18:8; Deut. 22:30; 27:20). In Paul’s list of sexual sins in Romans 1:29, the apostle includes fornication, a term which meant all acts of sexual immorality, including homosexuality. So then, the Old Testament (Deut. 24:1), Jesus (Matt. 5:32 and 19:9),3 and Paul condemn fornication (1 Cor. 7:2), which includes the sin of homosexuality.

Endnotes:

[1] Jimmy Carter, “Judge Not,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (February 27, 1996), A17.
[2] Rousas J. Rushdoony, “Fornication,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Philip E. Hughes, ed. (Marshallton, DE: The National Foundation for Christian Education, 1972), 4:232.
[3] Fornication is not a synonym for adultery (see Matt. 15:19; 1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19; Heb. 13:4).

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