Upon "Hearing from the Moderates"
by Cedric Parsels
In a relatively recent article published online for The Christian Courier, Pastor Adrian deLange reports on a conversation he had this last summer with four of his fellow Christian Reformed (CRC) ministers. Their conversation, like many conversations that happen among CRC ministers these days, centered around the CRC’s current controversy over human sexuality and, in particular, same-sex marriage. According to deLange, he and his fellow ministers are ‘moderates.’ “All [the pastors in the conversation reported] feeling stuck,” deLange writes, “between revisionist and traditional voices in the CRCNA....
Due to their general sense of feeling ‘stuck’ and because they all also feel “alienated” by some aspects of the CRC’s Human Sexuality Report [HSR], deLange would like Synod 2022 take at least two actions next June. On the one hand, they would like Synod 2022 to reject the HSR’s recommendation to declare the traditional understanding of Christian sexual ethics as already having confessional status. On the other hand, they believe Synod 2022 should place the HSR’s findings in the category of “pastoral guidance”; thus giving the report some level of institutional authority. In this way, they hope that Synod 2022 will carve out time for CRC members to learn how to better hold deep disagreements with each other over human sexuality “in tension.”
From what deLange says in his article, it is unclear exactly what he and his fellow ministers have against the revisionist position. The most that deLange says is that he believes that “God’s best for Christian marriage is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman, with Christ as their head.” What deLange does not leave unclear, however, are his disagreements with the HSR. Unfortunately, as I read through deLange’s criticisms of the HSR, it became pretty clear to me, pretty quickly, that his grievances reflect a pretty grievous misrepresentation of what the report says.
deLange’s primary theological criticism of the report is that it teaches that every Christian should get married to a person of the opposite sex and have children. If true, that would be pretty damning, because, as deLange points out, we serve a celibate savior. But it’s not true. The HSR never claims what deLange says it does. In fact, the HSR repeatedly claims the exact opposite of what deLange says it does.
According to the HSR, Jesus teaches us that “[celibacy] is not only a way of life of unexcelled honor; it is a way of anticipating the glorious reality of the future kingdom of God” (27). Accordingly, the report goes on to rebuke those who “view marriage as the best life for Christians” (37) and calls upon our CRC churches to repent of our “overemphasis on marriage and family” (129). To that end, the report counsels pastors and elders to “preach about celibacy and singleness, holding up Jesus and the apostle Paul as examples for Christians to follow” (129). If the HSR wants all Christians everywhere to get married and to get busy producing new covenant children, as deLange says it does, it sure has a counterintuitive way of going about persuading us to do so.
The only place in the report that I could find which might have lend something to deLange’s criticism is a statement the HSR makes in describing the Old Testament view of marriage. According to the report, after the Fall in Genesis 3, the Old Testament Scriptures make it clear that “every man and every woman is still expected to marry, to be fruitful and to multiply” (20). If this is the origin of deLange’s criticism, however, then it represents a failure on his part to interpret this statement in its proper context, because the HSR makes it very clear that this expectation was one that pertained only to the period of the Old Testament.
Moving forward to the New Testament, the HSR argues that Jesus’ teaching has brought “liberation from Old Testament expectations regarding marriage and procreation” (24). Accordingly, marriage and children, the report claims, should no long be “definitive and all-encompassing for a person’s identity” (24). Rather, what should chiefly matter is that all people “honor God with their bodies” in anticipation of “the glorious reality of the future kingdom of God” (27).
Once it is seen that deLange’s primary criticism completely misrepresents the report, most of his other theological criticisms of the report fall by the wayside. According to deLange, “[the report] confuses heterosexual marriage with sanctification.” It doesn’t. Instead, it merely agrees with the Apostle Paul that marriage can be an instrument for sanctification (see, 1 Cor. 7:8-9; HSR, 34). According to deLange, “[the report] minimizes single people only as hurting.” Again, it doesn’t. As shown above, the report says that single people are in a special position to share in Christ’s example and to remind the church of “the glorious reality of the future kingdom of God” (27). In fact, the report goes on to say further that, “it might even be said that those who choose the path of celibacy [or chastity in singleness] for the sake of the kingdom, such as Jesus and Paul [did], are able to anticipate this ultimate reality in a particularly focused way (1 Cor. 7:32-35)” (37). Does this sound like a report that, according to deLange, “ignores what families with heterosexual parents might learn from those struggling with same-sex attraction”? Hardly.
The only one of deLange’s criticisms that could arguably have any foundation in the HSR is his claim that the report “assumes the primary end of marriage is childbirth.” Unfortunately, deLange never explains why we should view this as problematic. I, for one, believe that the primary end of marriage is procreation. But, even if I am wrong, that is nothing against the report which makes a solid case that the Bible views procreation as, at the very least, one of the chief purposes of marriage.
Perhaps, deLange includes this point about procreation as a criticism, because he is concerned about the implication that such a teaching might have for “infertile couples” and for “those [married couples] who have chosen not to have children.” If so, all I can say is that these are good questions to ask, but they are not strictly criticisms of the HSR, since the committee that wrote the HSR wasn’t tasked with answering every ethical question that might ever arise in conversation over what God teaches us in the Scriptures about His will for human sexuality and marriage. Instead, the study committee’s task was to “articulate a foundation-laying biblical theology of human sexuality” (Acts of Synod 2016, 919). And that is what they have done.
Upon hearing from the moderates, I remain persuaded that there are really only two options before the CRC at Synod 2022. Either Synod 2022 will continue to permit the leaven of revisionist sexual ethics to spread throughout our community or it will cleanse it out by requiring our pastors, elders, and deacons to live and to speak the truth (see, 1 Cor. 5:6-8). Whichever option Synod chooses, many churches (perhaps even entire classes) will withdraw from the denomination. Even churches that choose to stay in the CRC and abide by Synod’s decision are likely to experience some loss of membership. Inevitably, that means that the CRC will likely experience a significant contraction of its ability to engage in broader service to the world. But if that is the cost required in order to abide in Christ, then so be it. “For God has not called us to impurity, but to holiness” (1 Thess. 4:7). And “what does it profit a person if they gain the whole world, but lose their soul” (Matt. 16:32)?