Why can't Christians agree to differ?

By Sam Allberry

The Bible allows for disagreements on a number of issues. In Romans 14, Paul speaks about “disputable matters” and calls on his readers to be convinced in their own mind what they think (Romans 14:5). But Paul also argues that there are some issues that are non-negotiable, where the gospel is at stake. In 1 Corinthians 15, he reminds his readers of the “matters of first importance” that he had earlier taught them and which stood at the heart of their gospel faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). Into which category does homosexuality fit? Does it affect the gospel?

Two passages indicate that homosexuality is a gospel issue. 

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul’s reference to homosexual practice comes in the context of warning his readers that the unrighteous will not enter the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). In this category he includes those who practise homosexuality. Along with all who are unrighteous, such people are heading for destruction. Their only hope is the gospel, the outworking of which will include a new identity and repenting of their former lifestyle. To deny this has huge consequences. A church leader who teaches that even certain kinds of homosexual activity are OK is actually encouraging people towards destruction. It is not the same order of disagreement as Christians have over, say, baptism, or the role of women in church leadership. In the case of homosexual practice, the gospel is very much at stake. We need to recognise, too, that homosexuality is not unique in this regard. Paul lists it alongside greed, and adultery. It is very serious, but it is not the only kind of sin that is.

In the case of homosexual practice, the gospel is very much at stake

In Revelation 2, Jesus rebukes the church in Thyatira for their tolerance of a false teacher:

“I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practise sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.” (Revelation 3:20-21.)

This is someone whose teaching leads others in the church into sexual sin as well. Jesus promises judgment on her and any of her followers who do not repent (see verse 22). But the responsibility lies not just with them. The church – including the many who do not follow her – are rebuked for tolerating her. We are not to tolerate in our churches those whose teaching leads people into sexual sin. If we allow this to be a matter of acceptable disagreement within our fellowships, Jesus will hold it against us. Some forms of tolerance are sinful. It behoves us, as Christians, to do all we can to engage with such teaching where we come across it; to be at pains to understand it carefully; but ultimately to seek to persuade people that such teaching does not agree with the Bible and is therefore not appropriate in church.

These two biblical passages, 1 Corinthians 6 and Revelation 2, both show that sexuality is a hugely important issue in the Bible. In the Bible sexuality is part of the architecture of the gospel, because heterosexual marriage is designed to point us to the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32). It is why the Bible insists on marriage being between a man and a woman (and sex being designed exclusively for this context), and on Christians having to marry fellow-believers.

But the importance of this issue should not blind us to other issues that are similarly serious. There is no excuse for Christians singling out homosexuality for special condemnation. The Bible insists we are all sinners, and all sexual sinners. We all alike are hopeless apart from the grace of God.