Should Personal Experience Trump Divine Revelation in Morality?

Title: Should Personal Experience Trump Divine Revelation in Morality?
Text: 2 Timothy 3:16, Proverbs 14:12, Matthew 22:36-40, Luke 14:26-27
Time: May 13th, 2015

A conservative Christian senator from Ohio opposes gay marriage until his son comes out as gay, then flip-flops and advocates it. A conservative Christian theologian for decades defends the biblical and traditional Christian teaching that homosexuality is a sin, then suddenly changes because someone in his family comes out as gay; now he’s in favor of gay marriage and teaches the compatibility of homosexuality and Christianity. Gay activists playbook strategy explains the importance of getting American citizens acquainted with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people in order to demonstrate to them that they are normal persons just like everyone else. The thinking is that if everyone can get to know members of the LGBT community, they’ll be more accepting and affirming of their lifestyles. The strategy appears to be working. But is this methodology legit? Does the experience of meeting and liking someone from the LGBT community make their sinful practices okay? Is homosexuality justified morally because homosexuals seem to be okay? Should we change basic and essential moral categories of right and wrong because someone in our family or someone in our friendship circle comes out as gay? Should this have any ethical or moral relevance? For a growing number of people, including many Christians, apparently discovering that some very nice well-known people, or even members of their own family, a relative or a friend are gay inclines them to change their moral understanding of homosexuality. But does this make any sense? Or is this allowing personal biases and emotionalism to overwhelm clear, sane moral reasoning? I’d like to deal with this subject today because I believe it’s going to become more and more important in the days and years ahead, especially in the Christian church community. What is the basis for morality? What determines an ethical right or wrong? Is it intuition, emotion or feelings? Is it reason and logic? Or is it divine revelation as expressed in the Bible? As a Christian I would assume that all Christians would be on the same page ethically and morally on these questions, but sadly today, due to a vast ignorance of even basic biblical teachings, many Christians and those who attend churches don’t know what they believe as Christians, and of those who do know what they believe, many of these don’t know why they believe what they believe. This contributes to the confusion. So in order to address this moral confusion I’d like to talk about why morality should not be based on human experience but instead of divine revelation. If we try to ground our moral understanding of right and wrong on changing human experience we’ll be confused, we’ll fall into error. Only by basing our moral values on what God has revealed will we have a sure foundation for knowing what’s right and wrong. Let me explain further.

First, the Bible alone is the only sure foundation for ethics and morality. 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Here’s a New Testament teaching given by the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, part of the canon of the Bible, acknowledged and accepted by all Christians for nearly two thousand years as divine revelation. In this passage he explains the nature of divine revelation itself by describing all of scripture, that is, both the Old Testament and New Testament, as breathed out by God. The prophets and holy writers were inspired by the Spirit of God to communicate truth from God to us through writings. These were collected into a corpus or body of writings called the Bible. They are not simply the thoughts and reflections of men; they are the Word of God. So for everyone, especially Christians, the Bible is the ultimate authority on all matters that it teaches, including moral and ethical teachings. I’m surprised at how easily Christians forget where the truths that they supposedly believe originate from and from what source they are supposed to draw from for Christian living. It is none other than the Bible. Isn’t that what the great Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin taught? Against a corrupt established Christian church of the medieval times these men asserted that the Bible alone was the absolute and sure source of authority. Against human tradition and the opinions of man these men insisted that every teaching, doctrinal or moral, must be grounded in Holy Scripture. And they were right. And the same holds true today. As Christians we must insist that any teaching on any subject in the church be grounded clearly in the Bible. Unless taught plainly in the Bible it’s just human opinion. So when we ask ourselves the question, “Is homosexuality sinful?” We must go first to the Bible, not anywhere else. What does God say on the subject? What does God’s Word teach on this topic? And when we ask these important questions in respect to homosexuality we find that, yes indeed, the Bible teaches us about homosexuality, and more specifically, it teaches that it’s a sin. We don’t have time to go over all the biblical passages that teach the sinfulness of homosexuality, but let’s just give one example. “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable,” Leviticus 18:22. I’ve taught on this passage already, but just to summarize – this command of God is still binding today as a prohibition against all homosexual activity. It and other passages clearly teach God’s prohibition against homosexuality. There can be no getting around it. This is the foundation upon which to build a Christian moral position concerning the issue.

Second, human experience is not a good source for determining moral or ethical decisions. Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” The writer of Proverbs, and we presume it to be King Solomon the Wise, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives us a truth to consider – not everything that seems or appears or feels right is indeed true; our human experience or evaluation can mislead us and lead to destruction. Now this truth is clearly true once we reflect on it a little. Have you ever had the experience of being deceived, either by something or someone? Sure, we all have. Did we feel or think we were being misled at the time? Of course not, or else we wouldn’t have followed along. But we’ve all experienced being fooled or deceived, either by something, someone, or even ourselves. It’s possible; it’s probable because we’re human. To err is human goes the old saying. If we rely solely on our own human reasoning or feelings or emotions or intuition and so forth, we’ll be mistaken. So obviously, we can’t base our moral and ethical choices on our own human experience because if we do so we’ll be misled. The Bible teaches this truth and so does our own human experience. But it seems that people forget this truth and go right ahead and change their moral convictions about the wrongness of homosexuality because someone they know or somebody in their family or one of their friends “comes out” as gay. Would we do this same thing in respect to other sins. How about pedophilia, that is, someone who commits sexual acts with minors? Would we change our moral abhorrence to pedophilia if someone we knew and liked came out as a pedophile? No. But why not? If we are willing to change our moral convictions based on our knowing someone, a friend or family members who is gay, why not for someone who is a pedophile? It’s the same inconsistency at work. The error in both instances is departing from the clear, objective Word of God found in the Bible and “winging it” by basing our moral understanding on our own personal experience, human reasoning or emotional feelings. It’s understandable that we’d be tempted to want to love and accept someone we love in our family or a close friend, but to accept and affirm their sinful activity is wrong. To compromise our Christian moral convictions because a friend or family member is a lovable or likeable sinner doesn’t make any sense. We can still affirm the person without affirming their sin. We shouldn’t compromise God’s teaching for anything or anyone, whether family member or friend. There’s simply no justification morally for doing so.

Third, as Christians we are taught to put God above all earthly or human loyalties. Matthew 22:36-40, “’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the Prophets hand on these two commandments.’” Oh, by the way, Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament, a portion of Leviticus, from the same part of the Bible that teaches against the sin of homosexuality teaches about love, so we see that it’s possible to teach both to hate the sin, love the sinner. Gay activists claim that it’s impossible to love a gay person and hate their sin, but the Bible teaches differently, because the Bible teaches us to do both from the very same passage. Love is not incompatible with morality. But we see here Jesus teaching on ultimate loyalty. We are to give God first and foremost devotion. We are to love him supremely above all earthly persons, places or things. That goes for moral and ethical questions. We are to listen to and obey God’s commands over any and every earthly human consideration. In respect to the topic we’ve been discussing, and specifically in relation to Christian’s compromising on the issue of homosexuality because they know a gay person personally, either a family member or close friend, it’s clear – we must obey God above anything we may think or feel based on personal experience. We can still love family members who say they are gay, but we cannot attempt to justify their sin out of kindness to them. We should still care about friends who “come out” as homosexual, but in no way does their relationship to us alter the fact that their lifestyle is sinful in the eyes of God. We certainly should not change our moral convictions in order to make them feel affirmed and loved and accepted. Our loyalty must be first to God and his teachings rather than with someone we know or care about. If homosexuality was wrong before we knew a friend or family member was gay, it’s still wrong after they “come out.” Real ethical and moral questions are not so flimsy and inconsequential that they are altered merely by personal contact with someone’s personal experience one way or another. Ethical and moral questions aren’t settled by human experience, they’re settled by an examination of God’s revelation to humanity. The whole point of God revealing things through what is called “special revelation” is to clarify things that might not be easily recognized through human experience. Here’s a perfect example of divine revelation working. It settles the question for all time concerning homosexuality. No matter what the changing political or relational circumstances, homosexuality is still wrong.

Now I think even people who flip-flop on this moral issue can see why what they’ve done is totally inconsistent and unjustifiable. Imagine a ten-member jury sitting for a murder trial in a court of law. All the evidence presented is stacked against the defendant, yet his lawyer tells the jury, “Don’t make up your mind yet until you meet my client. You’re going to really like this guy. He’s the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. Keep on open mind until after you meet him.” So then the defendant is put on the witness stand and the jury gets to see and hear him. What is the responsibility of the judge whose duty is to see that a fair and honest trial is carried out? He would definitely remind the jury that they should consider the evidence in relation to the murder and not focus on the personality of the defendant. It would be the judge’s duty to remind the jury that the trial is about the evidence for or against the defendant, not about how likeable is the defendant. That’s rather obvious. Although I’m sure the defendant’s lawyer would rather the jury focus on the defendant’s likeability rather than the truthfulness of the facts in the case. Because after all, it really doesn’t matter how nice, kind, lovable or likeable the defendant is; all that matters is what is the truth. And that’s what’s at issue on the question of the moral status of homosexuality. It shouldn’t matter if we know friends or family members who are gay. It shouldn’t matter if they are lovable, likable or whatever. Their relation to us, their likeability or lovability has nothing to do with the moral question of right or wrong in respect to their lifestyle. If something is wrong, it’s wrong. It doesn’t matter if we know someone who is doing wrong or not. It doesn’t matter if our friend or family member is doing wrong or not. Their being our friend or family member shouldn’t change anything about the rightness or wrongness of their actions. We shouldn’t personalize the moral or ethical issue. That’s what the gay activists want us to do. They figure, like the defense lawyer in my illustration, we can be tempted to soften or disregard our prior moral conviction based on our personal experience of the person. “If you only got to know gay people, you’d feel different,” and so forth. No. That has nothing to do with the issue. Our loyalty should first and foremost be to God, like Jesus teaches, and then everything else follows from that. Under no circumstances should we turn our backs on God’s will in order to make a friend or family member feel better. Wasn’t it Jesus again who said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple,” Luke 14:26-27. Again, it’s a matter of loyalty. Our loyalty must be to God first, people second. We must never compromise truth in order to appease people. Not only is that disloyalty to God, it’s a harmful ethical and moral principle to follow – and disaster if carried out consistently in our lives and society.

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