If you are a regular reader of this blog then you have probably read my previous piece on the Revoice conference. Revoice has been the source of great division in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the denomination in which I serve. That is because although Nate Collins, the conference organizer is a Southern Baptist, the church which hosted the conference belongs to the PCA and several of the speakers are office holders in the PCA.
As I have written previously, I am thankful that those connected to Revoice have repeatedly affirmed their belief in the biblical ethic that sexual intimacy is to be shared between a man and woman in the bonds of marriage. There are no special congratulations for affirming what the Bible teaches. However, lest anyone mistakenly conclude that the speakers and organizers of Revoice advocate the normalizing of homosexual acts, I want to be clear that is not the case. Unfortunately, the positions they hold concerning human identity, sexual orientation, sanctification, and the moral status of same-sex desire will, I fear, ultimately undermine their current commitment to biblical standards of conduct.
I will not argue about the motives of those connected to Revoice. I can only assume that they sincerely hope to minister to those who struggle with sinful sexual desires. This is a cause the church must embrace. The new sexual revolution and the gender chaos connected to it is wreaking havoc in the lives of many of our neighbors; people we are called to love. The church must think constructively and regularly about ways to communicate God’s law and gospel to those who struggle under the weight of homosexual desires and gender confusion.
But as I have stated before, along with many others, the trouble with Revoice is the content. What Revoice proposes is a departure from what Christians have historically believed about key doctrines and their ethical implications. Revoice represents a theology and ethic which, if allowed to take root in the PCA, will lead us into great and grievous errors.
One of the troubling statements which came out of Revoice was that the “nuclear family” has become an idol in the church. In his plenary address, Nate Collins made the following rather extraordinary statement:
Is it possible that gay people today are being sent by God, like Jeremiah, to find God’s words for the church, to eat them and make them our own? To shed light on contemporary false teachings and even idolatries, not just the false teaching of the progressive sexual ethic, but other more subtle forms of false teaching? Is it possible that gender and sexual minorities who have lived lives of costly obedience are themselves a prophetic call to the church to abandon idolatrous attitudes toward the nuclear family, toward sexual pleasure? If so, we are prophets.
Dr. Collins’ shocking application of the Scriptures – that homosexuals are prophets in the way of Jeremiah sent by God to rebuke the church – can be left for another post. In a future post I may also address whether abstaining from what God calls an abomination constitutes “costly obedience.” What I wish to focus on here is the notion that the church holds “idolatrous attitudes toward the nuclear family.” This theme, that the church idolizes or makes too much of the “nuclear family” was affirmed elsewhere at Revoice.
In her conference workshop, Bekah Mason stated that “the non-traditional family is the biblical family.” She cited examples of families from the Bible which strayed from the pattern of husband, wife and children. However, in doing so Miss Mason neglected or ignored an important principle of biblical interpretation: description is not the same as prescription. The fact that the Bible records the existence of family arrangements other than husband, wife, and children does not suggest that the Bible commends those arrangements. Indeed, the Bible often points out the inevitable disasters that occur when God’s design for the family is rejected.
So, why the ambivalence and perhaps passive hostility from Revoice toward the pattern for family established by God in his Word? One can only speculate. Perhaps it is because, having uncritically accepted worldly categories of sexual orientation and human identity, an ambivalence toward the family is inevitable. Since the speakers and organizers of Revoice wish to challenge what the church has always believed about the nature of temptation, homosexual desires, and human identity, perhaps a necessary component of that project is a relative devaluing of the family as designed by God.
I am choosing my words carefully, I assure you. I believe that the warnings from Revoice against making an idol of the “nuclear family” are, at the very least, ill conceived. This warning comes from those who have chosen to embrace a homosexual identity, invented a category of non-lustful same-sex sexual attraction, and have, in many cases, eschewed the creation mandate. I do not believe they are in a position to offer wise counsel regarding the family. That may sound harsh. But my intention is to correct what I view as a sharp trajectory toward serious error. Even the terminology of “nuclear family” is adopted from secular culture. Much like the term “sexual orientation,” “nuclear family,” implies that there are various ways to be family just like there are various ways to be sexually oriented. But in the Scriptures we see that God has instituted two families: 1) The conjugal family of husband, wife, and children, and 2) The spiritual family, the church to which all Christians belong.
Consider what God affirms about the conjugal family in his Word:
• It is the creation of God (Gen. 1-2). The conjugal family is the one God-prescribed design for families.
• It is given the creation mandate to have children and govern the created order (Gen. 1-2). That means humanity’s very purpose is tied to the conjugal family.
• It is the means by which God communicates the blessings of his covenant of grace from one generation to the next (Gen. 12, 15, 17; Acts 2:39).
• It was the means by which the Messiah was raised and incorporated into Jewish society.
• It is assumed in and governed by God’s moral law (Ex. 20:1ff; Eph. 6:1-4; Col. 3:18-21; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).
• It is the ordinary means by which God trains his people to understand and obey his law (Deut. 6:20-25).
• It is (marriage, that is) a living illustration of the mystery of Christ’s love for his church (Eph. 5:22ff).
Even a cursory survey like the one above suggests that it would be exceedingly difficult to value the family more highly than does God.
To be sure, the human heart is a factory of idols. Our imaginations run wild in ways we are probably not fully aware, seeking to worship the creature rather than the Creator. So I suppose it is possible to make an idol of the family. But I suggest that is no easy task. Again, is it possible to value the family, to love the family, to place a higher priority on the family than does God? I assume so. But how hard one would have to work to do so.
However, it is also true that not everyone is called to be married. Indeed, some are positively gifted to remain chaste. The Apostle Paul himself recommended chastity for those who would follow in his footsteps of dangerous and demanding ministry (1 Cor. 7). What is more, not every marriage is blessed with the ability to procreate. These men and women must never be slighted, ignored, or in any way devalued within God’s spiritual family, the church of Jesus Christ. I am blessed to be a pastor to precious souls in all these categories of life and our church is stronger because of them.
So, the church is made up of the married and the chaste as well as those with and without children. If any pastor, elder or church member withholds love from or marginalizes someone because they are unmarried or without children they are sinning against God and the body of Christ. It must also be stated that those who are married and have children should not be resented for it. Neither should churches be dissuaded from acknowledging the goodness of marriage and child-raising.
In the weeks since the Revoice conference, nothing I have read has lessened my deep concern about the theology and ethic taught at the event. Given where the conference was hosted I wonder whether the theology of Revoice will be given a place in the PCA. I suppose it already has.
I agree fully with the following statement from Rick Phillips in a post published yesterday (9/25/18):
There are many reasons to have sympathy with the aims expressed by the Revoice conference, especially the genuine sorrows of those who experience same-sex attraction. But the doctrine of Revoice is not one that biblically faithful Christians can afford to view with sympathy. Either the biblical view of humanity, sex, marriage, and society is right or else it is wrong. Likewise, if gays represent a prophetic voice challenging the church to conform, then it is the traditionally understood Christian view of sex and marriage that comes under rebuke. It is for this reason that the PCA cannot afford either to endorse the Revoice message or even to stand by inactive as conferences like these are held in our churches. If the Bible is true, right, wholesome, and good, then the doctrine of Revoice must not be embraced, nor permitted in the counsels of the church. What is at stake in this controversy is nothing less than the commitment of our denomination to the truth of God's Word and our embrace of the Scripture's view of life and godliness.
You can read Dr. Harry Reeder’s excellent commentary HERE.
Tim Geiger of Harvest USA attended Revoice and recorded his thoughts HERE.
David Strain wrote a wonderful piece on same-sex attraction in the form of an imagined letter to a struggler.
Dr. Guy Waters wrote a helpful piece on Paul’s words about homosexuality HERE.
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