Same-Sex Marriage, Non-Trinitarianism, and Non-Creedalism: an Advent Christian crisis
by Tom Loghry
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States. In response to this ruling, the Executive Council of the Advent Christian General Conference has put a forward a statement on marriage that defines marriage as a strictly heterosexual union. Having now gone through the conferences, it is almost certain that it will be added to the Advent Christian Declaration of Principles. Whatever your opinion might be on the tactfulness of attaching this to the Declaration of Principles, we should all agree that this is a good and right stance for our denomination to take on marriage. While the statement does not say that churches who support same-sex marriage will be cut off from the denomination, it does seem to at least suggest that such beliefs have no place in our denomination. Most of us would agree and go so far as to say that our denomination should not have fellowship with any church that supports same-sex marriage. .
That being said, we would be remiss if we forgot that the Advent Christian tradition has taught us that we are to have, “No creed but the Bible”. On the surface, this does not seem to present any problems since same-sex unions appear to be unequivocally condemned throughout the Bible. However, this sense of ease overlooks one of the basic implications that result from adhering to the statement, “No creed but the Bible.” In the preface of his book Resurrection Hope, Dr. David A. Dean offers a brief commentary on the principles that stand behind the Declaration of Principles. At one point he writes,
While the latter sentence attempts to shore up the implications of the first by portraying this as a mere matter of details, the gravity of the first sentence cannot be overestimated. To extend “freedom of interpretation so long as one is appealing to the written Word for doctrine” is to legitimate any possible interpretation so long as it is argued from the Bible. What is the implication of this for the issue of same-sex marriage?
It is here that things get complicated. The traditional test of Advent Christian fellowship has not been adherence to doctrinal statements but rather the measure of a person’s “Christian character.” While all sorts of questions could be asked about what this means, it is assumed that its basic meaning is that one must live a moral, or at least repentant, life for there to be continued fellowship. Thus at a larger level, if a church were to endorse an immoral act like same-sex marriage, there would appear to be grounds for breaking off fellowship with them.
However, when it comes to the issue of marriage, the very question at hand is the morality of same-sex unions. Taken to the Bible, it is a matter of interpretation. To assume its immorality in this context is to beg the question of interpretation. According to non-creedal standards, if one appeals to the Bible in support of same-sex marriage, then freedom ought to be recognized on this point. Because the highest authority to which one can appeal is the Bible, no outside arguments could be introduced that would supersede any argument made from the Bible. If there is any doubt that serious arguments for the legitimacy of same-sex marriage have been made from the Bible, a quick search for relevant books on Amazon will prove otherwise. The result is that by this standard we ought to have continued fellowship with churches that support and conduct same-sex marriages.
My guess is that the majority of you reading this believe that this should not be the case and that at this point we ought to make some sort of exception. But how can any exception be made? It does not matter that you think same-sex marriage can be proven to be wrong; the only requirement for fellowship is that persons must appeal to the Bible for their belief. That this does not matter has been proven time and time again in our denomination when in the face of both Biblical and historical support for the doctrine of the Trinity, we have continued to have fellowship with non-Trinitarians. For Advent Christians, it has been clear that ultimately only the source material matters to us; there is no committed concern for meaning.
Frankly, it is to our shame if it is only when we are confronted by same-sex marriage that we might desire an exception. Is it the case that we have greater concern for properly defining marriage than we have for properly defining the nature of God? Or rather, is it simply the case that it is easier for us to forbid the error without than the error within?
Ask yourself: If the churches were switched and we had churches that supported same-sex marriage rather than non-Trinitarian churches, would we be just as reluctant to cut ties?
It is an interesting thought experiment, but what we are dealing with here is no experiment. The faith with which we have been entrusted is no game; it is not some form of recreational religion of which the aim is to give everyone time on the field. We have been commissioned to share the good news of the Kingdom, that God became a man in the person of His Son to redeem mankind from sin and death. If we are confused on this point, we have gone astray. If the Advent Christian denomination is nothing more than a Bible interpretation club, then we have no part in the Church. If this is the case, then we ought to abide with churches that support and conduct same-sex marriages, just as we abide with non-Trinitarian churches.
However, if we insist that we have a share in the Church, then we must start giving answers. Together we must go to the text, interpret with the illumination of the Spirit, and state our belief. When questions arise, we must return again and again to this inspired rule of faith so that we might be true to the revelation of Christ. This does not demand comprehensive agreement, but fundamental agreement on those beliefs essential to the Christian faith, beliefs that have been successfully outlined in the proposed Statement of Faith. We do this not for our own self-congratulation, but so that we might draw closer to God and call all people to repentance in Christ.
Apart from this we are no Church.
Apart from this, we are nothing more than a sad book club.