The Issue of Gay Marriage

Once again the “what to do with homosexuals” question has emerged of late to the forefront of people’s attention. As an act of solidarity with those who have same-sex attractions, many on facebook have changed their profile pictures to the image of an equal sign as a show of support.

There are many issues wrapped up in this one, and all too often things get muddled very quickly. There is the issue of rights, Scripture, tradition, marriage, civil unions, and so forth.

The matter of civil rights is an important one. It has been established previously that legally one cannot be discriminated against for personal beliefs or activities or be persecuted for their personal choices. This is a strong legal and philosophical argument, one that will probably win the day in this particular issue eventually. Nevertheless, the question does become one of which civil rights are more primary – religious views (in which case opponents are within their rights to disagree with and refuse to participate in pro-same-sex matters) or civil freedoms (in which case the proponents of same-sex unions would have the upper hand).

Civil rights isn’t really my concern. I believe that for matters of taxation and inheritance and equal protection under the law, we should support civil unions.

Ahh, but what are civil unions? They are not “marriage,” or matrimony. We must firmly distinguish between civil unions, which exist as a matter of the state for purposes of inheritance, rights, and taxation, and matrimony, which exists as a binding oath which two people, one man and woman, take before God and the Church as their witnesses. The one is not like the other. It is perfectly legitimate for same-sex couples to have equal protection under the law. It is entirely irrational, cruel, and bizarre to want to oppose this.

But the jurisdiction of the Church should be re-asserted with regards to matrimony. As Thomas Kidd has helpfully written, the Church should stop performing marriage ceremonies for anyone who does not match the criteria, hetero or homo. Unless they are members of your church or come with a letter of recommendation from another church they should be refused a marriage service. Send them down to the courthouse for a domestic partnership.

This keeps the jurisdictions between the state and the church clear, allows the Church a clear moral stand on the issue of same-sex behavior, and allows support of same-sex civil unions all at once.

So am I going to post an equals sign on my facebook wall? No, because there is no getting around Scripture’s position on this matter. But will I support their right to inherit and be fully protected under the law? Certainly.

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Was Jesus a Hermaphrodite?

This may strike some as an odd question, but it has now been raised by feminist theologian Suzannah Cornwall, who proposed the possibility in response to the Episcopal Church’s debates on women’s ordination.

Many of an evangelical bent will simply see the title, roll their eyes, and move on with their lives, but the issue is a important one, upon which my thoughts have turned from time to time.

Now, it must be stressed, as Cornwall’s critics have, that in the Greek Jesus is always referred to and spoken of in the masculine, and never in the feminine or neuter. Likewise, that he was circumcised on the eighth day, and that he is described as a “boy” when lost in Jerusalem. The question of whether Jesus was physically an hermaphrodite is a relatively simple one: no, He wasn’t.

But this is not the end of the story. What interests me is the possibility that Jesus served as a sort of “alchemical” or “philosophical” hermaphrodite. By this is meant that a person is able to re-integrate the divided pieces of the cosmos into themselves. One can remain physically male or female but transcend such divisions within the soul and spirit. It is the idea of the “wedding of contraries,” referred to as the “alchemical marriage.” Many alchemists saw Christ as the great “philosophical orphan,” the “philosopher’s stone” itself, in His person.

But to back up for a moment, it is important to see that the presentation of creation in Genesis is one of division and the establishment of contraries. God begins by making “Heaven” and “earth.” He continues separating the world into contraries; night and day, land and water, waters above and waters below, the field and the land, etc. Other contraries are created later, like the distinction between Jew and Gentile. Later, he makes a single person, Adam, and then separates humanity into male and female. In this sense, it can be said that before the creation of Eve, Adam was himself a “philosophical hermaphrodite,” containing both male and female traits. The characteristics of the feminine were then extracted when God fashioned woman out of Adam’s rib. But they are brought back together again in marriage; the division of male and female is broken down and they become “one” in a glorified way.

A number of theologians have observed that the book of Revelation resolves the contraries established in Genesis. Heaven and earth is spanned by the enthroned Incarnation, the division between them overcome. The land and the waters are reunited, the night and day, waters above and waters below. Jew and Gentile is broken down, as are slave and free, male and female, etc. All of the “barriers” between elements are thrown down in Christ and the contraries resolved. So in this way it can be said that the story of Scripture is one of overcoming the divisions of the world in various ways.

Christ is the linchpin of all this resolution of divisions. He spans heaven and earth, He produces the elixir of life (salvation). He speaks to the powerful and the slave in the same way, and the Church has always insisted that the rich adn the poor be treated the same. In His earthly life He is not beset by the same problems communicating with and dealing with women. Remember, one of the key problems in the Bible is of men dealing with women. The men of the Old Testament, however godly and righteous, still didn’t really know how to approach and deal with women; they married a bunch of them, they laughed at them, raped them, sold them. Only Jesus actually seems to understand women, which is why they flocked to Him. He is the point from which all of the contraries of the world begin (ever so slowly) to be resolved and reconciled. He broke down the barrier between Jew and Gentile.

So in a very real sense, we can say that He contained within Himself, all of the resolved contraries of the cosmos. He is, in this very carefully qualified sense, an alchemical, or philosophical, hermaphrodite, having resolved within his person the contraries of male and female, slave and free, rich and poor, heaven and earth. He is the philosopher’s stone.

Infant Baptism

The following is an excerpt from something I wrote to a friend who was asking questions about the matter of infant baptism:

Every covenant God makes He makes with believers and their children together. God promises Abraham this, that He will bless him and his children with him (Gen. 17:7-9); this promise is reiterated in every other covenant (Isa. 65:23; 59:21; Ezek. 37:24-26; Mal. 2:15; Psa 102:25-28; Deut. 5:9-10; Psa. 103:17-18; Luke 1:48-50; Acts 2:37-39). Look those passages up and notice in all of them how God promises to love their children, offspring, seed, as well as them. Mary assumes this is the case when she sings the Magnificat, when she says “His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation,” (Luke 1:50). Peter preaches the gospel in Acts 2, then declares salvation is by baptism (Acts 2:38), then says, “For the promise [of salvation] is to you and your children,” (Acts 2:39). This is why every baptism from this point on in the Scriptures is household baptism. Salvation is promised to the entire household (Acts 11:14). The woman Lydia came to believe and “she was baptized, and her household as well,” (Acts 16:15). Paul says this, “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas,” (1 Cor. 1:16). The author of Hebrews tells us that Noah built an ark “for the saving of his household,” (Heb. 11:7); and Paul tells us that “the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you,” (1 Pet. 3:20-21). Thus, the saving of Noah’s household was by baptism. So it isn’t so much about infants or not infants, but about children, whatever the age they are. Salvation is for you and your house, however many there are, and however old they are. Your children get baptized. Paul tells us that children of believers are holy (1 Cor. 7:14); that is, set apart, in the covenant. Jesus tells us that infants have real faith: “whoever causes one of these little ones *who believe in me* to sin,” (Matt. 18:6). The word for “little one” here means “suckling baby.” Jesus also declares “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” (Luke 18:16); the Kingdom of God belongs to little children, that is, infants. If they possess the Kingdom and believe in Jesus, they can be baptized.

If you’re looking for a single text that teaches children are baptized, Paul speaks of the Exodus crossing of the red sea by saying, “our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ,” (1 Cor. 10:2-4). What Paul is saying is that all of Israel, everyone who went through the Red Sea, was baptized, every last one. Out of two million Jews, all raising families, do we imagine there wasn’t a single child present? In fact, children are mentioned in Exodus as part of the group; those who departed Egypt were “about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children,” (Ex. 12:37).

Baptism *is* the New Testament circumcision, as Colossians explicitly states: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism,” (Col. 2:11-12). Here baptism is identified with circumcision.

Almost every time the NT speaks of baptism, it speaks of it being the point of entry into the New Covenant, and as the rite which gives you full membership and participation in the blessings of the New Covenant. Jesus himself says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” (John 3:5). Water and the Spirit together, united. Peter clearly states “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 2:38). The two things offered here by the Apostle as the blessings of baptism are forgiveness and receiving the Holy Spirit. In baptism we are forgiven (Acts 22:16); we are cleansed (Eph. 5:26); we are regenerated and renewed (Titus 3:5); buried and raised with Christ (Rom. 6; Col. 2:11-12); we are circumcised in our hearts (Col. 2:11-12); we are joined to the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13); we are clothed with Christ (Gal. 3:27); we are justified and sanctified (1 Cor. 6:11); we are saved (1 Pet. 3:21); we are ordained as high priests with Christ in the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 10:19-22). Of course, you can choose to reject this identity (Rom. 11).

The covenant is for households, for “you and your children with you,” as I noted above. These children were not asked for permission before being baptized. The children crossing the Red Sea were not asked for a profession of faith before being allowed across. God simply saved them, delivered them from slaughter, and expected them to be taught to grow into their new identity as His people. So for those of a self-conscious age, yes, baptism takes place after faith. But for the infants, for those of the household, those Jesus said really did believe in Him (though in an immature, child-like way), baptism precedes conscious, full faith. Infant baptism is a profound illustration of our salvation, since we cannot save ourselves and God must do everything for us, just as with a parent to her child. Consider too the other implications of “conscious faith only” teaching. What about mentally handicapped who are unable to profess such faith? Do they go to hell because they can’t “understand enough?” to make a profession? What about folks with Alzheimers, who once could profess but now cannot? What sort of God do we worship; a God who extends much grace and mercy to those who cannot understand as much as we, or a God who punishes those who cannot understand enough? Does that sound like a God of grace or a God of works to you? Does God hold the innocent and helpless at arm’s length or does He draw them near and embrace them as his own, along with their parents? “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God,” (Luke 18:16).

One final issue. The word baptizo does not mean “submersion in water.” Some have thought it refers to dipping in water, but even this is not total submersion. “Baptizo” is used in the Greek LXX translation of the Old Testament to refer to the Temple purification washings, all of which were sprinkled or poured, not immersion, rites. John’s baptisms were not immersions, because they were the OT purification rites (sprinkled or poured), and Jesus was not immersed either. I don’t see anything wrong with immersion, but in Scripture, ground water is stagnant water, water that symbolizes the primordial chaos and the great dark deep. Sprinkling or pouring, on the other hand, symbolizes heavenly rain, clean water poured out from the heavenly sea above the firmament that stands in front of God’s throne (Rev. 4:6, etc.).