On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 7: God save us from the “red-letter Christians”

June 25, 2015

This is the seventh part of my discussion of fellow United Methodist pastor Paul Purdue’s recent post, “The Bible and Homosexuality.” For links to previous posts on this topic, click here.

Continuing with his post, Rev. Purdue writes:

I wonder can we generally agree that:

  1. Christ frees us from the Old Testament Law. Pork Barbeque is from God! Stoning is evil.
  2. We see some of Paul’s teaching on issues of slavery and women in a new non-literal light. Women are called to preach, despite what the Apostle Paul sometimes says! Slavery is evil.
  3. We allow that any practice essential to Christian lifestyle is mentioned directly by Jesus Christ or seen in Christ’s lifestyle and practice. Christians follow Christ, and the essential elements of Christianity are found in Christ’s teachings and practice.”

My response: I reject all three points. Let me take them one by one.

1. Purdue asks us to buy into the heretical idea that the Old Testament Law, with its dietary laws and civil penalties, was wrong. But as I argued in my previous post, the Law was exactly right for its time, and as Paul says in Romans, the Law accomplished the purpose for which it was given. Because Christ fulfilled the Law, we Christians are no longer bound by the ceremonial and civil aspects of it. Its ethical imperatives are perfectly good, however, and they remain in effect.

2. He’s confused about the meaning of “literal,” as I’ve said before. We do take Paul’s teaching on women and slavery literally. That’s a question of good exegesis. How these passages apply to us today is a question of good hermeneutics. See this post for more. Why does Purdue think we Christians today are morally superior to St. Paul? Can we have some humility?

3. God save us from the “red-letter Christians”! I don’t use the word heresy lightly. But as with Point 1, Purdue veers closely to antinomian Marcionism, which really is one of the Big Ones.

Purdue writes: “We allow that any practice essential to Christian lifestyle is mentioned directly by Jesus Christ or seen in Christ’s lifestyle and practice.” How to respond?

First, Jesus doesn’t mention lots of things! Not a direct word from him about incest, bestiality, polygamy, slavery, polyamory, or pederasty, for instance. Does that mean these sins are open to discussion, too? On what basis wouldn’t they be? I’m guessing Purdue would argue against at least some of these practices by citing the principles underlying Jesus’ words in Matthew 19. But as I’ve already argued, here and here, it’s on the basis of these same principles that Jesus rules out homosexual practice.

Second, if Purdue really follows this “red-letter” standard, on what basis does he affirm gay marriage? As I pointed out earlier, he agrees with me that Jesus’ words about marriage in Matthew 19/Mark 10 affirm only heterosexual marriage, yet gay marriage is still on the table for him because, after all, Jesus and the Bible don’t mention it. In other words, because the Bible presents no alternative to male-female marriage, Purdue can say, “The Bible doesn’t condemn it.” Pure sophistry, as I said earlier. The Bible presents no alternative to male-female marriage, because the definition of marriage rules it out.

No… if Purdue is right that we can only practice what is “mentioned directly by Jesus Christ,” then we can’t affirm gay marriage. Jesus’ “silence” on gay marriage rules out gay marriage. (I’m not endorsing Purdue’s argument, I’m only showing that he’s contradicting himself.)

Third, as I’ve said in response to Rev. Wade Griffith’s sermon, it’s theologically troubling to assert that Jesus doesn’t say anything about homosexual practice. Why? Because within 20 or 30 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit—the very Spirit of Christ—inspired the apostle Paul to write what he wrote about it in Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. Moreover, this same Spirit guided the authors of the Old Testament.

Or didn’t he? This is why the debate in the United Methodist Church about LGBT issues always comes back to the authority of scripture. The orthodox understanding of the inspiration of scripture rules out the privileging of Jesus’ “red letter” words over other parts of scripture.

I’ll say more on Purdue’s blog post later.

11 Responses to “On Rev. Purdue’s post, Part 7: God save us from the “red-letter Christians””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, as you might expect, I basically agree with what you are saying here. The only real question I have relates to Purdue’s statement that “Stoning is evil.” Is he correct about that? That question seems to me to relate to the “moral” laws of the OT as opposed to dietary and ceremonial. It occurs to me that there are at least four possible answers: (a) No, not evil–in fact, we should still be practicing that, though we are not; (b) Not evil at the time, because it related to Israel as a theocracy, but we aren’t a theocracy anymore, so we don’t still do that; (c) Jesus overrode some “punishments” (a la the woman taken in adultery, or in the Sermon on the Mount) or (d) we have now developed a “different” sense of what punishments should go with what “crimes,” so for that reason we don’t still stone, but impose other punishments (a la Purdue). I don’t like the fourth option very much, as you might expect; however, it seems to me that there is a chunk of Christendom that would think that way if they ever gave such an issue any serious consideration. And the second gives me pause–is that really a “theocracy” issue? Finally, did Jesus really intend to “override” the punishment aspects of the OT in the “woman” incident, or was he calling for mercy and humility in issuing our “edicts” as to punishment (as might also be asked as to the Sermon on the Mount–but see, “not one jot or one tittle)? So, should we still be practicing stoning for the “moral” crimes? Any thoughts along these lines?

    • brentwhite Says:

      I utterly reject choice (d), but I also think Jesus’ example and atoning death rule out (a). As to “one jot or tittle,” I think Jesus’ fulfills the requirements of the Law on our behalf, so that, as I say in the post, the ceremonial and civil requirements or the Law, which applied to Israel, no longer apply today. And, just as importantly, I believe that on the cross, Jesus suffers the “death penalty” for our sins on our behalf. By all means, adultery deserves stoning (or any kind of death penalty)—but Jesus paid that penalty. That’s how I see it.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        That’s certainly a good response and probably correct. I think, though, that this still leaves open the question of what the “civil” law should be and how much it should track the OT moral laws. The famous “Blackstone Commentaries” on which much of U.S. law was based (at least until recently) relied heavily on scriptural laws as their predicate. Obviously we must have some “laws” that impose “punishments” for some crimes. In fact, adultery was once a “crime” in American history. So, while I don’t purport to have the answer, I think it remains an open question of to what degree are we still “bound” by the OT insofar as it should be a “guide” to what our civil laws should allow and disallow, and what punishments should follow for what is “disallowed.” We don’t still “follow” that “guide” for adultery (or now, more recently, homosexuality). Do we have a reasoned basis for why not? I’m not sure about that.

      • brentwhite Says:

        I think I see what you’re saying: If the OT specifies “just” punishments, then they are just, regardless of the shifting sands of culture. We reflexively reject these punishments today as “too harsh,” without examining our reasons for doing so. Rejecting them as “too harsh,” however, is precisely wrong. In fact, you might say, these punishments are not too harsh; they’re just right. If we, following Christ’s example, want to show mercy above and beyond this just punishment, we may do so, or maybe we’re required to. But let’s recognize the justness of the punishment. Otherwise, slowly and over time (as is the case today), we become like Rev. Purdue in the original blog post, among many others, who undermines the authority of scripture, believing that it’s “wrong.”

        If that’s what you’re saying, I totally see what you mean.

        Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to live under a legal system that punishes in a more merciful way, or withholds punishment in many cases (because God knows I am a sinner!), but this shouldn’t detract from the fact that what I do deserves to be punished—even severely.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Exactly correct, and I have the same sentiments of seeking mercy! “Mercy triumphs over justice.”

      • brentwhite Says:

        Another side effect of failing to appreciate “just deserts,” is that we risk minimizing the cross: Why does God get so worked up about our sin that he needs to send his Son to die on a cross? What’s the big deal? Live and let live!

  2. Grant Essex Says:

    Well, the Supremes have spoken. No surprise here. Another case of the “law of man” being at odds with the law of God. Abortion wasn’t made acceptable to God by Roe v. Wade, and “same sex marriage” (still a non-sequiter) will not be made acceptable to God by this ruling either.

    These are certainly sinful times we live in. Every one of the Ten Commandments is now regularly violated, by the congregants, with hardly a peep from most pulpits. I’m not talking about the world. I’m talking about the flock.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Don’t read the statements from the various bishops of the UMC regarding the decision. It will make you want to punch a wall or something. Lindsey Davis’s was the only one I saw that strongly affirmed our church’s stance—without apology. It was a breath of fresh air.

  3. Grant Essex Says:

    Where do I go to read those?

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