There must be many who, secretly or not so secretly, despise the church for the fact that in the year 2013 large sections of the church still teach that allowing women or practising homosexual ministers is wrong and against God's will. Fortunately, our standard is not what society may think of us but rather the word of God as our 'supreme rule of faith'. Still, even accepting this there are disagreements within the church over these two issues.
Recently, I was pondering the biblical case (or lack thereof) for practising homosexual ministers and it suddenly occurred to me that I'd thought about these issues before in another debate within the church, this time on women ministers. It is interesting to reflect on the extent to which those arguing for the acceptance of women ministers and those arguing for the acceptance of practising homosexual ministers use much the same type of arguments for making their case.
One argument involves the Christian teaching on gender and the other the Christian teaching on sexuality. Any attempt to make a biblical case for them involves explaining away explicit bible verses to the contrary. This does not automatically make the ideas wrong – there are parts of the Bible which are no longer applicable today (the Old Testament sacrifice system or civil laws for Israel for example). But it's important to note that to faithfully argue against what the Bible says on a matter must involve using another part of Scripture that overrides the other. For example, the New Testament authors are quite clear that because Jesus implemented a new covenant the old order of things passed away. Hence we have a biblical reason to not obey another part of the Bible.
Some would use Bible verses on the inclusive nature of the gospel, such as the one in Galatians 3: “nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” to support their claim but in context the verse is talking about salvation and being children of God rather than providing us with a standard for ministers. The Bible simply does not talk about homosexuality in a positive light. There are other Bible verses and examples used to support women ministers and admittedly the case against women ministers is not as clear as the condemnation of homosexual ministers but I've written more about this here and here.
For many though, when it comes to the argument for homosexual or women ministers, what is immediately striking is the Bible plus nature of their arguments. That is to say, the arguments recognise that 1 Timothy 2 v 12 and Romans 1 v 24 – 27 both respectively prohibits women ministers and condemns homosexuality as a sin (thus meaning practising homosexuals cannot be ministers). But there is some other reason outside of Scripture to come to another conclusion.
The next common feature of pro women / homosexual ministers arguments is a neglect for the importance of the created order. Genesis 1 & 2 act not only as a description of how creation occurred but also as a prescription for how God created things to be. In particular we find a creation order for gender and sexuality. We find out that marriage is to be between a man and a woman and sex only within marriage. All other sexuality is sin. And we also find an account of the biblical view on gender: equality of worth as both Adam and Eve are created in God's image but difference in role as Adam is created first and then Eve because he requires a helpmate.
This is why in both passages references above Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, makes note of creation. In the passage in 1 Timothy 2 he roots his reason for banning women ministers in creation (Adam formed first, etc) not issues of culture, ability or education. And in Romans he talks about the 'unnatural' desire of homosexuality, suggesting that it goes against God's intent for creation.
Pro arguments for women/homosexual ministers by necessity have to diminish the importance of creation. No longer is Genesis 1 & 2 a setting forth of God's intent for the human race in gender and sexuality, along with a lot else, for all time. Rather, it becomes a social expression of an ancient culture which is free to be over ruled by the more progressive culture of today. This is dangerous ground and begs the question if God knew what he was doing when he created us or what he was doing when he inspired Genesis.
This leads nicely onto the great phrase at the heart of both arguments: 'trajectory in Scripture'. In other words, pro women / homosexual minister arguments are based on a narrative of progression. So while there are explicit Bible verses against such things the broad sweep of the Bible points towards greater and greater inclusion. Usually, slavery is mentioned at this point, the one triumph of the church still respected by secular society!
This is wrong on too many levels to go into them all. The slavery example fails, for starters, because 'biblical' slavery is very different from the slave trade of old. This view also suggests that the Bible is wrong about a few things but its ok because God got there eventually. It suggests that while Jesus was perfectly happy denouncing the hypocritical religious culture of his day God chickened out of teaching full women / gay 'equality' until two thousand years later. Scripture ceases to be our final authority and instead becomes a stepping stone to other ideas. First women ministers, then homosexual ministers and probably those who practise incest and bestiality next.
It implies a rather dim view of the Bible as being God's word to 1st century Christians but somehow deficient for the 21st century. The Bible does not teach that it is a stepping stone but rather that it is the sufficient word of God; not to be added to or taken away! (Revelation 22 v 18 - 19). It is of little surprise that those who argue for women and homosexual ministers often do not hold to the inerrancy of Scripture. Such a high view of the Bible cannot be faithfully maintained if it's wrong on such important matters as gender and sexuality. The only way to duck the teaching in Timothy and Romans is to pretend that it's really only human authors rather than the biblical ideal: "For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1 v21)
It also suggests, rather alarming, that human nature is not what the Bible describes it as. The idea that modern society might have a better, 'more progressive', morality than other ages does not fit in well with the teaching that humanity is a fallen, sinful race and will be a fallen and sinful race until the world ends. Modern society is no better than any other before it. The progressive view of society is rejected by a clear understanding of the sinfulness of sin and its ever present corruption of the human race.
Being somewhat cynical in nature I cannot help but observe that the 'trajectory of Scripture' has a tendency to follow secular trends. With the tide of feminism came arguments for women ministers. With the tide of pro-gay everything comes arguments for practising homosexual ministers. Who knew that God's revelation of himself and his will lagged so much behind the secular world view? Strange that those without a belief in God should know God's thoughts before his church does. Strange, and not at all biblical. The church is meant to be a light to the world; not look to the world for its light!
Let's bear in mind the description of an unconverted person: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 2v14) Now, many pro women / homosexual minister arguments would have us believe that 21st century man and his progressive ideas not only grasped what comes from the Spirit of God but got there before God's people did. Indeed, we have let the person who considers the Bible foolishness to teach us how to interpret our Bible!
Many argue that the church needs to change its views on women ministers or homosexual ministers or be put out of business, rendered 'irrelevant' in the modern world. These arguments reveal a great deal of muddle headed thinking and goes against the example Jesus sets for us. If society rejects the teaching of the Bible we are not then called to change the teachings of the Bible! Jesus was telling the truth when he promised that his people would be hated for what they believe. Our call, as Christians, is to be obedience and this obedience must rest on what the Bible teaches or we depart from our only guide to Christian living. We stand on Scripture or we do not stand at all.
In conclusion, the arguments for women ministers and practising homosexual ministers both come from the same place – an attempt to work around explicit Bible verses in order to conform the church to a secular trend. Such arguments ignore the created design of God for all time; suggest that the Bible is merely a stepping stone to some higher morality rather than the sufficient revelation of God and imply that the world knows more than the church does about God's will. The arguments used can pretty much be respun to argue that any sin is acceptable before God, he just got it wrong before.