by John Battle
Today, June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage must be legalized and practiced in all fifty states, regardless of existing state laws.
Recent incidents of Christian businesses refusing to go along with same-sex marriages and celebrations, and the penalties that followed, have put us on our guard.
The time may come soon when those of us who follow biblical principles will be tested. Homosexual couples may seek to join our churches, or be employed in our churches, schools, or organizations. We may be asked to conduct a homosexual marriage service.
Preachers may be afraid to preach on this topic from the Bible. Church sessions may be afraid to discipline members who offend in this way. The hostility and aggressiveness of the “gay lobby” are palpable; witness the loud demonstrations outside churches, often accompanied by vandalism.
Today one of our seminary graduates phoned me and asked what we should do now. Several thoughts came to mind: pray, work for new political leaders, show our people how to witness to the truth in love. I’m sure we will be discussing this and making plans for some time.
Another important matter is for our churches to be prepared. As a Reformed seminary, we follow the Bible and the Reformed confessions—in particular, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. We believe those documents summarize the teachings of Scripture very well; they have stood the test of time. The Confession clearly states, “Marriage is to be between one man and one woman” (WCF 24:1).
Same-sex marriage, imposed by the government, was never envisioned by the men who wrote those confessions, even as it never was envisioned by the inspired writers of Scripture. The Bible’s teaching on homosexuality is clear, and many individuals and church bodies have prepared excellent summaries of those teachings. What is immediately relevant for our churches is that our church standards speak quite clearly on the topic as well. For example, the Larger Catechism lists “sodomy, and all unnatural lusts” as sins forbidden by the seventh commandment.
The Westminster Standards speak to this issue in several chapters of the Confession and in several questions from the Catechisms. One in particular stands out today. Chapter 22 of the Confession is entitled, “Of Lawful Oaths and Vows.” It clearly states, “No man may vow to do anything forbidden in the Word of God” (WCF 22:7).
Marriage is a set of vows, taken by the man and the woman, before God. These vows promise lifelong fidelity in love, including sexual union. By its very nature, same-sex marriage would be a sinful vow.
What is the church’s attitude toward sinful vows? For one thing, they are very sinful. To be engaged in sin is bad enough, but to vow to continue in sin is an aggravation of that sin. If the vow is made in the name of God, which is what lawful vows do, then people are involving the name of God in their sin.
What about people who have been “married” in this way? Is their marriage valid? Our churches would say “No.” Christians should not keep sinful vows they may have made in the past. It was a sin to make the vow, and it would be a continual sin to keep it. This issue came up during the Reformation when people foolishly had made “Popish monastical vows,” which the Confession calls “superstitious and sinful snares” (WCF 22:7). When Martin Luther and Katherine von Bora were converted from Roman Catholicism, they saw the biblical teaching and married each other, in spite of the vows of perpetual single life they both had taken.
What we see in same-sex marriage is a far worse case of a sinful vow than were the monastical vows of the Roman Catholic Church. Those vows did not necessarily require sin on the part of the person, but this vow does. We as individual Christians cannot approve it or take part in it. Neither can our churches.