By Bob Allen
A leader in the Southern Baptist Convention says this week’s ouster of a congregation for violating the denomination’s teaching that homosexuality is always a sin established a dividing line that sooner or later every church will have to cross.
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a podcast Sept. 26 that Tuesday’s vote by the SBC Executive Committee to exclude New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., means there is no “third way” for sidestepping the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in the nation’s second-largest faith group.
“Division is always painful, but on a clear question of biblical truth, division is sometimes the only act that faithfulness to Scripture will allow,” Mohler said. “This is one of those moments.”
Mohler said homosexuality and same-sex marriage “now loom as the great dividing line that will certainly tear some denominations apart and will lead yet others to define the terms of their convictional cooperation.” He said that is precisely what the Executive Committee did in its unanimous vote finding that New Heart is not a Southern Baptist church.
Earlier this year the members of New Heart Community Church considered firing their pastor after he said from the pulpit he no longer believes the traditional Christian view that all same-sex relationships are inherently sinful. Instead a majority adopted a recently proposed “Third Way” solution to the impasse of neither excluding members because they are gay nor judging those who firmly believe that sexual activity is only moral in the context of marriage between a man and woman.
In correspondence with SBC officials, church leaders tried to plead a case that the congregation did not “act to affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior,” language in the SBC constitution and bylaws to determine whether a church is in “friendly cooperation” with the national body.
Mohler said the Executive Committee “sent a signal that the Southern Baptist Convention intends to stand without compromise on this question.”
“In other words, the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, on behalf of the denomination as a whole, saw clearly the impossibility of any third way,” Mohler said.
“The issue is now inescapable not only for the SBC Executive Committee, but for every church, every denomination, every seminary, indeed every Christian organization,” Mohler said. “The question will be asked, and some answer will be given.”
“When the question is asked, any answer that is not completely consistent with the church’s historical understanding of sexual morality, and also fully consistent with the full affirmation of biblical authority, will mean a full embrace of same-sex behaviors,” he said, “if not immediately, then eventually, and also a full embrace of same-sex relationships. There is no third way, and as this sad case makes very clear, there never was.”
Mohler said another illustration of the “dividing line” nature of homosexuality came the day before the SBC Executive Committee vote, when former President Jimmy Carter, who years ago resigned his membership in the Southern Baptist Convention over differences with the denomination’s new statement of faith, answered a question about LGBT rights at a community college in Michigan by saying that Jesus never discriminated against anyone.
“That’s one of those statements that you just frankly have to unpack word-by-word,” Mohler said. “Discrimination in this case is one of the odd words that fits our contemporary political context but really doesn’t fit the Scripture. What in the world does discrimination mean in this case?”
“There is no question that Jesus Christ very consistently held up the law and held up the moral principles of the law, making clear that not one jot or tittle of the law would disappear until all had been fulfilled,”Mohler said. “Of course, he is the very one who by his active and passive obedience perfectly fulfilled the law.
“But in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus went so far as to make very clear that the moral law continues amongst his own people. He went so far as to argue that indeed it matters in the interior, not merely in the exterior life.”
“It’s not enough to demonstrate an external compliance with the command, such as you shall not murder or you shall not commit adultery,” Mohler said. “Jesus said not only that those moral principles of the law continue, but that now it’s not enough for his people even to have anger in the heart tantamount to murder or lust in the heart tantamount to adultery.”
“Christians have to be exceedingly careful never to try to draw any line of division between Jesus and the Scripture,” Mohler said. “Jesus said of the Old Testament scriptures, these are they that testify of me. And concerning the New Testament scriptures, he promised his own disciples that the Holy Spirit would lead them not away from the truth but into truth. And that is the evangelical affirmation of the total trustworthiness and truthfulness of Scripture.”