Among the many confusions about the Bible expressed by nonbelievers is the notion that Christians “pick and choose” which parts of the Old Testament to follow and believe.
Lately, this has come up in the context of Obama’s and the White House’s attempts to promote gay “marriage.” Atheists and gay marriage proponents have repeatedly asked why is homosexuality a sin when Christians ignore most of the provisions in the Old Testament, like not eating pork or shellfish?
The question of course is just an effort to pounce on perceived hypocrisy, but I’ve been surprised by how few Christians seem to know the answer.
The answer is found in Acts of the Apostles. While there are several sections that hint at the answer, the section that best spells out the Christian view is in Acts 15.
Some history is necessary. After Jesus’ Ascension, the early church was left under the control of James, the brother of Jesus and the Apostles. As the church grew through evangelization during the Apostles’ travels, more non-Jews were converted to the young faith.
Because Jesus himself and all the Apostles were Jews, the early church was considered a movement within the framework of Judaism and it had a distinct Jewish character. From the writings, it seems that many of the early followers were also adherents of the Mosaic Law, with all its intricate prohibitions and commandments.
As more Gentiles were converted, some of the Jewish followers thought that new converts should accept the Mosaic Law, including circumcision.
The issue eventually needed a decision by the church’s leaders, so Paul and Barnabas set out for Jerusalem. The decision made by Peter and James is recorded in Acts 15:
“Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.'” — Acts 15:7-11
James further pointed out that the expansion of the church to the rest of the non-Jewish world was predicted in Scripture, therefore:
“It is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” — Acts 15:19-21
The Apostles then composed a letter for Paul and Barnabas to take to the church in Antioch explaining the decision:
“For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.” — Acts 15:28-29
That doesn’t mean that the early church tossed out Scripture, however. Scripture remains the foundation of church teaching. In 2 Timothy 3:16, the author says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
As Jesus himself said:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:17-19
The Christian belief has always been that while God gave man the Mosaic Law, no one except Jesus was able to fulfill it, we humans being flawed by sin. By fulfilling it to the point of dying on the cross, Jesus fulfilled the Law for all mankind.
Thus, Christians are not required, for instance, to participate in Passover, but there are churches where members may choose to do so, and it’s a valued part of the church’s heritage. The only requirements are those laid upon Christians by Christ himself and the Apostles.
One of those requirements is to refrain from fornication, which brings us back to the issue of homosexuality. Gay marriage and other relations are all just fornication and thus to be avoided by Christians. Teaching that homosexuality is OK is in effect annulling a commandment, which is clearly a sin as stated by Jesus himself.
Some gay activists and their supporters like to point out that Jesus didn’t explicitly mention homosexuality in the Gospels, but Jesus talked a lot about marriage, adultery and divorce, and those things apply to homosexuality as well. It’s just that people were less confused in those days, so there was no gay lobby trying to turn morality inside out, therefore there was no need to ask about homosexuality. As Jesus said:
“Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” — Matthew 19:4-6
But that’s exactly what the gay marriage movement seeks to do, separate the bond that naturally exists between men and women.
It’s true we don’t put homosexuals to death because we follow Jesus’ example with the adulterous woman. He found no guilt in her, but let her go with the admonition to sin no more. Likewise, Christians must allow homosexuals the opportunity to turn to Christ, but we cannot forget that the condition for forgiveness is to sin no more.
As Christians, we need to do a better job of explaining that and stop giving in to intimidation from a vocal lobbying effort that seeks to further erode marriage and the family.