Gay ‘Church’ Finder Reveals America’s Uncertainty about What Defines a Church
More than 6,000 United Methodist churches have left the denomination as of July 6 due to the UMC’s stance on ordaining gay-identifying clergy. As the biblical role of LGBT-identifying people in the church continues to fracture protestant denominations, a website called GayChurch.org promotes churches solely on the basis of LGBT inclusion.
GayChurch.org provides a directory to help LGBT-identifying Americans locate “gay-affirming” churches near them. While the church finders offered by the Gospel Coalition or 9 Marks seek to connect Christians with gospel-believing churches, this one identifies churches that “do not view homosexuality in and of itself as a sin.”
The website, run by a small volunteer organization called “God’s Agape Love (put) Into Practice,” holds that “affirming” congregations will ordain LGBT-identifying people to ministry and perform same-sex marriages. The “church” finder limits its scope to “Christian” churches, defining “Christian” using the words of the Nicene Creed.
The “Affirming Church Directory” raises an important theological question. What makes a church a church? Is the purpose of a church to affirm its members’ lifestyles without questioning if it’s biblical, as GayChurch.org seems to think?
Can a version of Christianity which denies God’s design for marriage be Christian at all?
The Protestant Reformers thought about similar questions, concluding a “true church” has three marks: right preaching of the gospel, right administration of the sacraments — the Lord’s Supper and baptism — and right church discipline.
“The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing sin,” Article 29 of the Belgic Confession states.
A true church is “managed according to the pure Word of God,” while “all things contrary” are rejected, and “Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church,” Article 29 goes on to say.
A false church, as defined by the Belgic confession, “ascribes more power and authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit itself to the yoke of Christ.”
True churches reject ideas contrary to the Bible, such as same-sex marriage, while false churches take the power to determine right and wrong into their own hands, regardless of what the Bible ordains.
Rosaria Butterfield, a Christian author who formerly identified as a lesbian, condemns churches who allow unbiblical ideas from the world to enter the church. She writes that Christ lovingly forgives all sin by granting the gifts of repentance and sanctification to those who believe.
“A genuine Christian will not make peace with sin, for doing so scorns the atoning blood of Christ,” Butterfield wrote.
The Word of God expresses a clear view of homosexuality (Lev. 18-22, Jude 1:7, Rom. 1:26-28). Marriage, according to God’s Word, is between a man and a woman, who become “no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:6-9).
According to the Reformers, true churches are meant not to affirm any kind of sin, but to point members to the promises of the “pure Word of God,” including the power of the blood of Christ to wash away all sin, with no exceptions.
The “Affirming Church Directory” is not pointing to a different kind of church, but something that is not a Christian church at all.
Elizabeth Troutman is a senior at Hillsdale College studying politics and journalism.