The entire purpose of this blog series is to address the question “How can Christians claim the Bible forbids homosexual acts, but then ignore all the other Old Testament laws?” If its logic and implied conclusion is valid then the LGBTQ apologist has succeeded in correcting the traditional Biblical Christian’s error, removed the moral obstacle, eased the consciences of Christians and homosexuals, and progressed in gaining universal acceptance of homosexuality as not only an accepted practice, but even a good and moral practice. The question at hand is worthy of critique because embedded within its foundational premise is a widely believed but somewhat distorted evangelical doctrine taken from Romans 6:14 and Ephesians 2:8, “We are saved by grace and not by law.” This popular doctrine is shared by traditional, evangelical Christians and LGBTQ Christians alike. The LGBTQ apologist is saying that traditional evangelicalism simply needs to apply the truth consistently. If evangelicals were only consistent, non-hypocritical, then they would see what we see—that homosexuality is okay. It is a powerful, emotive proposition. Liberal, Protestant churches accepted homosexuality long ago, and now with “gay marriage” being the law-of-the-land, some evangelical Christians are being persuaded as well. The reasoning in this question seems to satisfy some in their quest for a biblical justification for homosexuality. It is a monumentally important question.[Please note that I am in full agreement that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. My contention is that the distortion arises from convoluting this doctrine of salvation with sanctification.]
This fourth installment of the series continues my analysis and rebuttal of the primary question above. I maintain that the question itself is full of erroneous presuppositions, theological error, and should therefore be dismissed altogether. This series will hopefully serve to correct the LGBTQ apologist and to give the evangelical Christian assurance that his theological heritage, resting on its biblical foundation is solid and must not be abandoned. I fear though, that he does not know his theological heritage.
The Evangelical-Reformed Connection
One error in the question is its sweepingly false notion that it properly identifies and represents orthodox Christian doctrine. It begins, “How can Christians claim…?” Though, the questioner identifies and represents a popular Christian doctrine, zie has not identified and does not represent historic, Protestant, Christian doctrine. (See the third blog post which addresses the doctrine.) The popular doctrine is novel within the scope of Church History. This should cause the Christian to pause. As Paul warns in Galatians Ch. 1, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”
Modern, Evangelical Christianity is Protestant. Its branch of the Christian family tree forked at that major division known as the “Protestant Reformation.” Like it or not, your doctrine was forged by the likes of John Calvin, the father of Presbyterianism. For instance, that bastion of evangelicalism, Dallas Theological Seminary, was started by a Presbyterian, Lewis Sperry Chafer. It’s safe to say Chafer was not thoroughly Reformed, but “DTS stands on the shoulders of great men [Reformed Theologians] like Spurgeon.” I cannot cite the quote, but I recall hearing it during a chapel service I attended sometime between 1993 and 1997.
The Tripartite View of the Law in Church History
John Calvin’s teaching on the division of the law into Moral, Civil (Judicial), and Ceremonial may be the most recognized statement of the “Reformed” tripartite view of the Law, (See section 14 here from Institutes of the Christian Religion.), but it’s not the first. A look at Calvin’s footnote shows that he draws upon the teaching of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica. That places the doctrine back to the 13th Century. Yet, Aquinas was not the originator either. He drew from the well of theological thought that had even much earlier origins. One of the most recognized church fathers, Augustine of Hippo, expressed similar doctrine in the late 4th century. I can recommend this article from the Westminster Theological Journal 61:2 (Fall 1999): 175-207 for a more thorough source treating the historical development of Aquinas’ view of the Law. Another excellent resource is Jonathan Bayes’ article from Reformation Today, Issue 177. To be fair, I will include this blog from the Gospel Coalition and this interview of Dr. Thomas Schreiner for opposing views. However, my purpose here is not to defend the doctrine so much, but rather to prove that the doctrine of the threefold division of the law has a long and distinguished pedigree in church history.
Returning to John Calvin (1509-1564) as my historical place marker, I now move forward chronologically. The great Reformed confessions of Protestant doctrine that stand as faithful, though not inerrant, expressions of biblical truth consistently teach the tripartite division either formally or practically. By “practically” I mean they may use the alternate phrase “the three-fold purpose of the Law” which expresses how the Law pertains to the daily life of the New Testament Christian. Namely, the Law is to be a mirror, a restraint of evil, and a guide of what pleases God. Some of the confessions of faith and creeds include the Reformed Church’s Belgic Confession Article 25 (1618); the Presbyterians’ Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) chapter 19; The Congregationalists’ Savoy Declaration (1658) chapter 19; and the Reformed Baptists’ 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) chapter 19.
In addition to Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and these confessions of faith, the threefold division of the law is supported by such stalwart theologians as John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon, to name only three of many. I know there are other great theologians who differ. But again, my point is that the doctrine has a rich tradition with highly regarded proponents and is shared by vast numbers of Christians now and in times past. And it is also my point that this tradition is arguably representative of historic, orthodox, Protestant doctrine. For the LGBTQ apologist or the evangelical Christian to represent the popular, contrary doctrine as normative Christian doctrine is simply an error.
In conclusion, it is clear that the modern evangelical Christian—be he either unsympathetic to or embracing of the LGBQT perspective—should be aware that to be among those who think negatively about Old Testament Law is to be out-of-step with much of historic Christianity, with the Apostle Paul, and with Christ who said of Himself, “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….’”