The Christian who agrees that homosexual unions are sinful still faces the question of how he or she is to relate to homosexuals, and this comes to a head when the invitation to his or her wedding arrives. The challenge is particularly acute when the person inviting one to celebrate such a marriage is a close relative. Is there any advice from Scripture on such an issue? Very much.
Holiness for God’s People
In the Old Testament, God’s missional purpose is to form a righteous people. This is stated clearly when Israel is formed as God’s people at Mt. Sinai:
Exodus 19:5-6 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites."
This calling requires Israel, and the foreigners sojourning in her midst, to separate from the practices of her neighbours:
Leviticus 18:1-4 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: I am the LORD your God. 3 You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not follow their statutes. 4 My ordinances you shall observe and my statutes you shall keep, following them: I am the LORD your God.
The call to be different from Egyptians and Canaanites, to observe God’s ordinances and statutes, involved, among a number of practices, not having sex with one’s father’s wife and not engaging in same-sex acts:
Leviticus 18:8 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife; it is the nakedness of your father.
Leviticus 18:22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Beyond the prohibition from doing such things is the stated penalty for Israel, a theocracy, to enforce should anyone break such laws. Two chapters later, Leviticus rearranges the laws of chapter 18 in a new way, around the penalties. The penalties mentioned are (1) being cut off from God’s people—ostracism—(2) the death penalty, (3) burning to death; (4) ‘punishment’, and (5) dying childless. In the case of the two laws noted above, the stipulation calls for the death penalty (Leviticus 20.11, 13).
The rationale for such a law code is that God’s people are to reflect God’s holiness:
Leviticus 20:7-8 Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the LORD your God. 8 Keep my statutes, and observe them; I am the LORD; I sanctify you.
Paul turns to these laws when dealing with a case that arose in the church of Corinth. He uses the actual wording of Leviticus and, therefore, leaving us wondering if the man’s lover was his actual mother or a second wife of his father:
1 Corinthians 5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife.
Paul also applies the penalty for this sin, but not literally. He says,
1 Corinthians 5:5 … you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
Instead of a literal death penalty, Paul suggests a ‘death’ for the man’s ‘flesh’—his sinfulness—and an ostracism from the church by turning the man over to the realm of Satan. (After all, the church is not a governing authority in society that can mete out a death penalty!) There are two reasons for Paul’s teaching on this matter to the church: (1) the holiness of God’s people; and (2) the man’s own need for the Church’s redemptive judgement. The second concern is seen in the passage just cited, 1 Cor. 5.5. Paul understands that the man will not be encouraged to repent of his sin if the church continues to accept him as a brother in Christ. He needs the church’s judgement so that he might realise that what he is doing will be judged ‘in the day of the Lord’. By being put out of the church, there is a hope that the person will repent of his sin and wish to be restored to God’s people. Thus, Paul interprets the penalty for this sin in Leviticus metaphorically: not the destruction of the person’s actual life through the death penalty but the destruction of the person’s ‘flesh’ in a moral sense—his sinfulness. An example of such a process of judgement by the church and subsequent restoration appears in Paul’s following letter to the Corinthian church—whether or not this is the same case:
2 Corinthians 2:5-8 But if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but to some extent -- not to exaggerate it -- to all of you. 6 This punishment by the majority is enough for such a person; 7 so now instead you should forgive and console him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.
As to the second concern for the holiness of the church, God’s people, Paul says, should
1 Corinthians 5:7-8 Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
This comports well with the repeated concern in the Holiness Code in Leviticus and throughout the Old Testament for Israel: they are to be a holy people (cf. Lev. 20.7-8, quoted above).
So, if Paul applies Leviticus 18.8 to the situation in Corinth of a person living with his father’s wife, he most certainly would have made the same sort of argument from Leviticus 18.22 were he dealing with someone in the church who continued in a homosexual relationship. He would have said that this person needs to be judged by the church and put out of the church into the realm of Satan for the destruction of his ‘flesh’—meaning his sinfulness. He would have said that the church, as God’s people, was to be holy, as Leviticus 20.7-8 said, and therefore the church needed to cleanse itself by putting the person out of the church. For both the sinner’s and the church’s sake, then, judgement needed to be enacted. And, once the person repented, he would have encouraged the church to forgive the person and receive him back into fellowship.
Relating to Sinners Inside the Church and Outside the Church
The previous section addressed the issue of a person continuing in sin in the church. Paul makes a distinction in 1 Corinthians 5 between a sinner claiming to be a Christian who is part of the church and someone who does not claim to be a Christian and is not part of the church. He says,
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons -- 10 not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister1 who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? 13 God will judge those outside. "Drive out the wicked person from among you."
From this passage, we can see that Paul draws a clear line between believers and unbelievers. If one should not fellowship with a person ‘who bears the name of brother or sister’ in Christ and continues in some sin, certainly Paul would not have endorsed any attendance of a homosexual celebrating his or her union or ‘wedding’ with someone of the same sex. The problem is not only ‘fellowship’ but also ‘celebration’ of something that is a sin.
But what of someone who is not a believer? After all, Paul says that he is not saying Christians should not associate with the sexually immoral who are unbelievers. He does not tell believers not to eat with such a person. Would he say, then, that believers may celebrate their homosexual ‘wedding’? Certainly not.
Paul does not say, in the paragraph quoted above, that believers can share in the unbeliever’s sinful practices. He does not say, ‘Go with your friend to her temple’ or ‘Get drunk with your unbelieving friend’ or ‘Help your neighbour who is a thief if he needs somewhere to hide his goods’. Just because Paul allows association with unbelieving sinners, he certainly does not encourage changing one’s own ethic when doing so.
In fact, we have Paul’s words on such subjects. In a passage that may have in mind attendance of an unbeliever’s temple for some idolatrous worship but that is written in general terms such that it might have broader applications, Paul says,
2 Corinthians 6:14 - 7:1 Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship is there between light and darkness? 15 What agreement does Christ have with Beliar? Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we1 are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be your father, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." 7:1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.
Note the use of the Old Testament again in Paul’s counsel (cf. Ezekiel 37.23, 27). This passage, Ezekiel 37, pictures the people of God who were dead in their sins—a valley of dry bones—coming to life with the Spirit of God. Christians as people of the Spirit are not to enter into the celebration of someone’s sinful acts. The issue is not simply attending another religion’s worship service; it is also avoiding a context that defiles the people of God were they to share in a sinful celebration.
In light of all this, we can see that Paul would follow Old Testament reasoning about sin and God’s people in advising us about any attendance of a homosexual ‘wedding’. First, he would say that this is a sin to be judged in the church rather than celebrated. Anyone continuing in a sinful relationship who claims to be a brother or sister needs to be put out of the church not only because the church is called to holiness but also for the person’s sake, that he or she might realize that this is sin that neither the church nor God will accept. Even fellowship with such people is to be withheld. Two passages by other New Testament authors concur with this:. 2 John 10-11; Jude 12).
Jude 1:12 These are blemishes on your love-feasts, while they feast with you without fear, feeding themselves.
2 John 1:10-11 Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching [that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh]; 11 for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.
Second, Paul would allow fellowship with unbelievers, but not participation in their sin—let alone celebration of their sin in a homosexual ‘wedding’. As John says, ‘to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds’ (2 John 1.11). Paul would not have approved any such interaction of Christians with unbelievers in their sins: eating meals in temples during a celebration, for instance (1 Corinthians 8.10; 10.19-21). One might eat in an unbeliever’s home, even if the food has been sacrificed to an idol (1 Corinthians 10.27). In such a case, there is no celebration—no temple context, no idolatry. Similarly, one might eat a meal with a homosexual ‘couple’, we might reason from Paul, but a believer should not join in the celebration of their sin, such as in attending their so-called ‘wedding’.
The challenge for believers engaging an increasingly post-Christian world will be to do what one can to act ‘for the glory of God’ (1 Corinthians 10.31). The toleration of unholy, sinful persons in a church because one is trying to be gracious is nothing more than, as Jude says, perverting the grace of God into licentiousness and denying our only Master, the Lord Jesus Christ (Jude 4). To celebrate sin with unbelievers is likewise a denial of God’s glory, a distortion of divine grace. Be assured, God does not approve the sin of homosexual ‘marriage’: we cannot imagine Jesus celebrating such a sinful act in any way as he did celebrate the couple marrying in Cana (John 2.1-11). By stating that one will not attend the wedding of two homosexual unbelievers, one can testify to the holiness of God—his glory. They may not want to hear it, but such a witness is the calling of God’s people in the world:
Isaiah 66:18 For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory….
Isaiah 2:3 Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.