If I were to describe the behaviors of some Christians who support the changing long held Christian moral beliefs, the term modernist comes to mind—though not in the sense that radical traditionalists abuse as an epithet—thus stripping it of any meaning.
Modernism is defined as “a tendency in theology to accommodate traditional religious teaching to contemporary thought and especially to devalue supernatural elements.” In other words, modernism is an attempt to deny or downplay the inconvenient truths that God has commanded, but modern society finds objectionable. Thus, the Christian who tries to reduce miracles to fortuitous coincidences or tries to turn “thou shalt not” into “It is OK” is guilty of modernism.
Tragically, there has been a surge in the number of Christians who openly seek to twist the meaning of Christian moral obligations since Obergefell, and there seem to be a growing number of Christians who are willing to accept their arguments because they do not like the idea of of themselves or loved ones acting in a way that Christian belief calls sinful. It’s not for me to judge the culpability of the Christians who buy into the argument, but it is not being judgmental to say that these compromises are certainly against what God has commanded and that those Christians who confuse their compromising the truth with being compassionate. We need to remember that even when loving the sinner, we cannot compromise on the truth.
Jesus Is God and We Cannot Separate Him From God in the Old Testament
One common justification for rejecting unpopular moral teachings is done in trying to separate the God of the Old Testament from Jesus Christ in the Gospel. God in the Old Testament is seen as harsh and judgmental, while Jesus in the Gospel is seen as loving and non-judgmental. But that vision of the two are wrong for several reasons—the first of which is the very fact that it divides One God into two beings where one is considered bad, and the other good. That’s basically gnosticism.
In fact, if we profess to be believing Christians, there are some principles we must accept…in fact, to deny them makes us heretical:
- We believe in One Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—who has existed eternally.
- Therefore Jesus has always been God the Son.
- From this it follows that one cannot divide God into separate beings or claim that what God taught, Jesus repudiated.
- Once we recognize this, the Christian cannot use the “Jesus never said anything about X” argument without (knowingly or not) denying the Triune and eternal nature of God.
It is important to recognize these facts, because, after Obergefell, people are trying to bully Christians into abandoning their moral objections to “same sex marriage” by saying “Jesus never condemned homosexuality.” To make that claim, one has to either deny the Trinity or deny the authority of Scripture when it disagrees with one’s personal behavior. So, let’s look at that next.
The Authority of Scripture is God and We Do Not Have the Right to Overthrow It
Protestants and Catholics both recognize the authority of Scripture, though they have different ideas on what that authority means. Generally speaking, we hold that the Bible was divinely inspired, while making use of the talents of the human authors, so that it is free of error. The Catholic Church, in the Vatican II document Dei Verbum, describes it this way:
11. Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19–20, 3:15–16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him2 they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted.4
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16–17, Greek text).
So, we have to realize that since God inspired the authors to put into the Scriptures what He wanted put there, we are not free to simply pick and choose what we think is out of date. We have to understand the context of the words and the culture which the author shared with the original audience. We also have to understand that, despite the fact that the human authors wrote over a period of thousands of years, God inspired all of it, and we cannot simply pick out a section to support what we would like to be taught.
The Jewish Law and Divine Accomodation
What causes so many misunderstandings is the fact that we forget that everything in the Bible ultimately points to Christ. In the Old Testament, this means laying the framework, building the nation where Jesus can be born. This brings us to the concept of Divine Accommodation—that in teaching us, God moves from the simplest concepts to the more complex—as we grow more able to understand (See Galatians 3:23-24). He had to prepare us for receiving Christ by creating a framework. In Christ, the Law is fulfilled. That doesn’t mean the “thou shalt nots” can become “it’s OK if you want to do it.” But it does mean that the elements of the Law which were pointing to the fulfillment of Christ can be set aside—the ceremonial law, dietary law and legal strictures on what to do to transgressors—but the moral obligations of God’s teaching remain. This is what Acts 15:1-29 was affirming in saying that the Gentile Christians were not bound to keep the Law and why St. Paul took so stern a stance against those who tried to implement the circumcision and kosher laws.
What we need to keep in mind is, the legal codes of the Jewish Law were not the sudden imposition of barbarism on a genteel people. They were restrictions on how the Jews could behave in comparison to how their neighbors behaved. Yes, reading the laws of Exodus and Leviticus may sound offensive to our ears. But when one compares them with the neighboring nations, those nations did worse things on a regular basis. In other words, God wasn’t giving the Jews free rein to run wild. He was forbidding them from running wild.
Moreover, once you look at Jesus teaching the crowds “You have heard it said…but I say unto you…” He actually takes the law to a higher level. It’s not enough to avoid doing evil. We have to avoid harboring it in our hearts. So, when critics try to cite the other laws in Leviticus to deny the condemnation of homosexuality, they haven’t refuted the Christian moral teaching…they’ve merely shown they do not understand how God gradually brought His teaching to us, turning us away from evil and towards good as our minds could comprehend it. Christ is the final fulfillment of the Law. There won’t be any further revelation beyond Christ (contra the Muslims and Mormons)—we’ll just apply His teachings to new situations. In doing so, we will never see God’s teaching go from “X is a sin” to “X is not a sin.” If it ever appears to be otherwise, it merely shows we have misunderstood the essence of what was condemned.
To discuss each of the issues would take too long and cover too much ground. For example, I do not have the time to discuss St. Paul discussing Sin, Law, Gentiles and Jews in the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians. Suffice to say, if you want to know how Christians view the relationship of the Old Testament legal code in comparison to the teachings of Christ, you need to study what Christianity teaches on the subject and not merely assume that the Church must have gotten it wrong just because you don’t understand it. That’s an argument from ignorance fallacy.
It is vital to remember, that we cannot try to set God the Father against God the Son, the Trinity against each other to justify our own behavior. Nor can we try to set one part of the Bible in opposition to another. There is no conflict between Father and Son because God is Triune. There is no conflict between Old and New Testament because God inspired both. When a conflict appears, it is actually a conflict of our own understanding.