More than tradition

A response to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States of America

by Keith Bassham

First thing. The issue at hand is marriage, its essence and definition, the efforts to upend the traditional model, and our response to those efforts. Keep that in mind as we move forward.

Within a day or so after the five to four vote, when the Supreme Court changed, from a legal standpoint, the definition of marriage in this country, the leadership of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International (BBFI) tasked me with writing and publishing a response for our Fellowship. Technically, there can be no single authoritative response from the Baptist Bible Fellowship given our structure and nature, our emphasis on the autonomy and primacy of the local churches, and the worldwide scope of our Fellowship. Therefore, I am writing more to our Fellowship than for it. Also, note that this article is not intended to address the many complex issues associated with homosexuality — the Tribune has done that elsewhere, and will again.

The Supreme Court’s decision, while not unexpected by those of us who have been watching this issue closely, was disappointing. But the disappointment was not solely because we dissent from the ruling announced in June. We are disappointed as much, if not more, that marriage itself had already been so devalued by American culture. Whether that devaluation came as a result of laws allowing easy divorce, lack of spousal faithfulness, the seeming carelessness of “living together,” the clamor for absolute sexual freedom, or the embracing of a loose sense of morals overall, the idea of traditional marriage — one man/one woman/one lifetime — has been in trouble for a very long time. Or as another published response put it, “the institutionalizing of same-sex marriage did not redefine marriage; rather, it is the fruit of a redefinition of marriage.”

In the face of legal challenges and cultural shifts so astonishingly rapid and profound, we who participate together in the Baptist Bible Fellowship International are called by God to a biblical model in human relationships — emotional, spiritual, and physical — and we therefore look to God and His Word rather than to courts and culture for guidance to determine our own behavior and attitudes regarding those relationships.

Fundamental to that pursuit is the example and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose teaching was informed by his intimate knowledge of the Father and the Creation narrative of Genesis. He consciously referred to both when he said, “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:4-6).

The Book of Genesis, rather than any innate feeling no matter how deep, should be the starting point for any discussion of marriage. Using that source, Jesus gave a biblical definition of marriage (a man and a wife) and the complete catalog of God-ordained genders (only two — male and female), while rightly pointing us to the story and purpose of Creation itself as his authority. New York City pastor and author Tim Keller writes, “In Genesis 1 you see pairs of different but complementary things made to work together: heaven and earth, sea and land, even God and humanity. It is part of the brilliance of God’s creation that diverse, unlike things are made to unite and create dynamic wholes which generate more and more life and beauty through their relationships. As N.T. Wright points out, the creation and uniting of male and female at the end of Genesis 2 is the climax of all this. That means that male and female have unique, non-interchangeable glories — they each see and do things that the other cannot. Sex was created by God to be a way to mingle these strengths and glories within a life-long covenant of marriage.”

It is against this background of Creation truth that God announces prohibitions against all sexual activity outside the marriage covenant, including several named forms of fornication — adultery, same-sex sexual acts, incest, and bestiality to name but a few — and faithfulness to God and His Word demands that the people of God obey these prohibitions.

But we also note, since the marriage definition comes to us, in Jesus’ words, “at the beginning,” the definition is meant for all humanity and not limited only to His covenant people. And though God’s covenant people have not always been so faithful and careful with the institution of marriage as they ought, we believe the definition continues to be valid despite the mistakes of humanity and the faulty judgments of courts.

The position of the Baptist Bible Fellowship International on these things, then, is that reflected in Article V of the BBFI Twenty Articles of Faith, appropriately in the section titled “Of The Creation:”

V. Of The Creation

We believe in the Genesis account of creation and that it is to be accepted literally, and not allegorically or figuratively; that man was created directly in God’s own image and after His own likeness; that man’s creation was not a matter of evolution or evolutionary change of species, or development through interminable periods of time from lower to higher forms; that all animal and vegetable life was made directly and God’s established law was that they should bring forth only “after their kind.” Since God created mankind into genders distinctly male and female, we believe that the only legitimate marriage is that between a man and a woman. He has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of marriage. We believe that any form of homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, fornication, adultery and pornography are sinful perversions of God’s gift of sex. We believe that God rejects any attempt to alter one’s gender by surgery or appearance.

Noting again that the BBFI is a fellowship of pastors and not an association of churches per se, let alone an association with a denominational structure, while at the same time recognizing the partnership in the Gospel shared by our pastors, missionaries, churches, and colleges participating in the BBFI, our entire Fellowship is urged to:

  1. Continue to believe that human government is an instrument designed by God for the good of humanity, and that the American system of representative government and democratic processes, with all its flaws and failures, is still to be prayed for and respected, with the hope that a biblical culture of morality may yet be instilled among our citizenry.
  2. Continue to believe that it is possible to live in civil harmony even with those who disagree with us on these important issues, and that it is our responsibility to love our neighbors, and perhaps even more so when disagreements arise, remembering that all humans are created in the image of God and therefore ought to be treated with dignity (a primal idea in the Supreme Court’s decision). Keep that in mind, whether in face-to-face conversation or on social media, always remembering the goal is to win your neighbor with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  3. Continue to affirm the Creational archetype of biblical marriage, the normative ideal set for us in Genesis and reaffirmed by our Savior in his teaching during his earthly life, speaking the truth about marriage whenever and however we are able, and modeling the truth about marriage in our own families and homes and churches. It is especially important that we model biblical marriage before our children who are often taught quite another thing outside the home.
  4. Keep the perspective that millions of Christians have gone before us, living and dying and winning people to Christ, most without the advantages we have had living in this country with its freedoms and generally favorable treatment of the people of God since its founding. Do not squander the blessing that comes with citizenship in a land with a democratic process. Use your privileges well.
  5. Related to the above, while a majority of American citizens are said to believe in God, we observe a majority of Americans do not hold to a biblical morality, and it is futile to expect them to behave as though they do. Some of those people are outspoken in their hostility to the Gospel and to God, and are even pleased to consider themselves enemies. Many, many more, though, are not our enemies in any sense, and should be viewed as broken humans in need of help. John MacArthur has urged us to “be careful not to replace patience, love, and prayer with bitterness, hatred, and politics.”

Now is not the time for people of God to panic, to “check out,” or to head for a remote location. Rather, let us be confident in the sovereignty of God and in His Word, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9).

Let us determine to be faithful to the entire Word of God even if it puts us into the margins of society, remembering the words of Jesus who said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Let husbands love their wives and wives their husbands, and let us cherish and teach our children the truth as often as possible, and to the generations following.

And while we continue to have respect for authorities ordained of God (Romans 13:1-7), we strongly disagree with the court’s ruling, and therefore let us pledge that we will not disobey God (Acts 5:29) nor violate the Scriptures for the sake of cultural approval, financial advantage, or any other expedient.

May God bless all our BBFI partners as we communicate the truths of the Word of God with faithfulness to Him and love toward others.

Editor’s Note: Prior to publication, this article was reviewed by the officers of the BBFI and deemed to accurately reflect the position of the elected and appointed leaders, agencies, and colleges of the BBFI.