Church, Tradition, and the Burden of Proof (The Bible and Christian Ethics, Part Five)

Developing a clear understanding of how to apply the Bible to morality requires us to get clear on a few more preliminary matters before we enter into a discussion of the morality of same-sex intercourse and marriage and of gender fluidity. Otherwise we will be talking past each other. It is not as easy as looking in a concordance to find texts relevant to the topic under discussion.


There is no use in quoting the Bible as an authority on moral issues to people who do not accept its authority. Hence the first clarification we must make is about the community to which we are speaking. Are we speaking to the Christian community, the church, or to the world? In other words, are we speaking to people who accept the authority of the Bible for their faith and practice, so that we can believe they are committed to accepting its moral teaching once they become clear what it is? Are we speaking to people who want to be part of that body and benefit from its faith, collective experience, and reflection? Otherwise we are wasting our time engaging in searching the scriptures for their teaching and engaging in exegesis and interpretation. Why expend energy working to understand the Bible’s moral teaching with people who don’t care what it says unless it confirms their preconceived opinions. We may find ourselves having serious disagreements even with those who say they affirm Scripture’s authority.

In this series, I am speaking to the Christian community. In this essay I am speaking to believers who hold to the traditional understanding of the moral status of same-sex intercourse…to encourage and strengthen you.


As I hinted above, simply agreeing that the scriptures are “authoritative” (or “inspired,” “inerrant” or “infallible”) does not settle the issue of what the scriptures actually teach on a moral issue. Even people who claim to accept biblical authority differ on some issues. How, then, do we discover what the Bible teaches? Let’s remember what the goal of Christian ethics is: to articulate the moral rules the Christian church is obligated to live by and teach to its young and its converts. A Christian ethicist cannot merely speak from her or his wisdom or private opinion. They speak to, for, and with the Christian community about what that community is obligated to practice and teach. The church existed, lived, and taught about morality long before our generation. It has spent 2,000 years reflecting on what it means to live as a Christian according to the scriptures. Many wise, brilliant, and good Christian people have lived and thought about moral issues. The knowledge and wisdom of the church—what has been called “the mind of the church”—about the nature of the Christian life is embodied in its tradition. If the church is confronted by a Christian ethicist who wishes to argue against the consensus of its moral tradition—that is, what it has believed for 2,000 years is the teaching of the scriptures—the church is fully justified to place on such a person a heavy burden of proof.

On the issues of same-sex intercourse and marriage and gender fluidity, the church is fully justified in being extremely skeptical of the argument made by some individuals that it has been wrong all these years in its understanding of what is right and good and of its understanding of the teaching of the scriptures. The church does not bear the burden of proof here. And if you are unmoved by the arguments for the Christian legitimacy of same-sex marriages and for blurring the distinction between male and female, you are not obligated as a Christian to accept diversity of opinion and practice on these issues. If you wish to trust the 2,000 year consensus of tradition—and the plain meaning of the scriptures—on these issues above the sophistic exegesis and interpretation and appeals to emotion of its critics, you have every rational, theological, and moral right to do so. Do not be intimidated. You are not obligated to refute the critic’s arguments or prove tradition correct before you can continue to believe and live as you have been taught by the church.

3 thoughts on “Church, Tradition, and the Burden of Proof (The Bible and Christian Ethics, Part Five)

  1. Dr Jonne Smalhouse

    Hi Ron.
    Thanks for clearing up that you are addressing the christian community!
    Although, you mention a definition (as you define the term christian ethics) that is unclear to me because you use the word ‘church’ as in ‘christian church’; i’ve searched extensively and believe the general consensus that ALL of christian ethics’ primary code is based in part or wholly upon the One New Covenant,
    a) love your God etc.
    b) love others in a similar way etc.
    -as i have referenced in my reply to your last issue. This of course, is valid if we like to think of the community as the body of Christ. Please explain why you’ve changed it, or used words that i don’t quite understand? Thanks, it’s important to me, see next.
    You’ve mentioned the considerable experience of the “church” as a weight or body of proof, and used the expression “mind of the church”…
    As a christian i’m very interested in the “mind of christ”! As St Paul says. Is there a difference between these two Ron?
    I believe that it’s the mind of Christ that appears in our hearts when we read the record of Christ’s spoken words { God writing on our hearts}.
    And yes, i like the notion of Christ as the bride, and head of this church community (either metaphorically or literally)- but i cannot rationalize your idea, Ron, of the burden or weight of ‘right and good’ interpretation of scripture by “the church” as being wholly ethical or moral all of the time. Let me say why. You’ve made a sweeping generalization about this.
    The reason for this, is that over the last 2000 years, the church (be it catholic, anglican, orthodox or any other) has in fact been guilty of wholesale warfare, murder, rape, slavery, abuse, torture, genocide or mass murder, abortions and much worse, and of doing it in the name of God and scripture; so which head of the ethical christian church is responsible??? Mankind or Jesus?
    You seem to want to defend this record of the church with your ‘no defence required’ weight of evidence? It doesn’t work in general or in part. You’re wrong.
    From where i’m standing the polity of the church does not have a worthy Curriculum Vitae. It is a fact that the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches apologize to individuals and societies on an almost weekly basis for such wretched attrocities. And it is not compatible with the primary moral code. Do you really mean to say that it does (all of the time)? I’m worried by that…
    There is a crisis in the church, and it’s also in the christian church- before blaming the head of this “church” that i recognize as the head of the christian community (Christ), i’m personally going to begin by questioning myself first, and the organization, and then history ( as you’ve done in your brilliant new book Ron) and yes, then my primary beliefs– before i blame God. I was quite clear that this is an individual choice for any Christian (in my last reply).
    It is not my intention to ever use the word of God, against God. God forbid i should even think it! And i believe that when God cautions me “do not use my Word against me” – that He means against His people, His son, His ‘church’ (and you too Ron!) and His ethos. So however obvious it is that another christian has got something awry, either in their reasoning, their thinking and saying, their behaviour, or even their pronouncements- it remains for me to be very careful and very wary that they are STILL beloved of God.

    Thank you for listening.
    And though i do it a lot- apologies if this has offended any one. That’s not my intention. I’ve simply applied knowledge and wisdom that i believe comes from the primary code.
    It’s all about sin Ron? Looking forward to your next lectures.


  2. ifaqtheology Post author

    I agree that the church is the body of Christ and that we ought to be concerned with the mind of Christ rather than a consensus of human believers. But I am arguing against an individualist view of the church. We have to learn to read and understand the Bible from someone, and we are born into an ongoing “tradition” of understanding of the meaning of the scriptures and the Christian way of life. Without being taught we could make heads nor tails of the Bible. The church must make some decisions corporately. It cannot simply allow everyone to “do what is right in their own eyes” or to be a teacher. How do we decide? I am simply arguing that we (I) am not obligated to accept “every wind of doctrine.”

    Of course people have done and taught evil and crazy things in the name of the church. Still, collective wisdom and long term experience is in general a more reliable guide in discerning the meaning of the scriptures and the “mind of Christ” than individual wisdom. There are times when an individual may need for conscience sake go against the collective mind. There have been “Here I stand” moments. But it ought not to be done lightly. Perhaps I my future essays will make my meaning clearer. Thanks!


  3. Dr Jonne Smalhouse

    Thank you very much for clarifying that Ron. I really mean that.
    A pentecostal evangelist or reformed methodist might refer to:-
    “The Significance of the Holy Spirit for Christian morality.”
    1st January, 1955. (Barnette). Ref Barry and Smeaton.
    Lastly, the role of the teacher is in my opinion absolutely vital in Christianity! The aramaic words for Christ as “master” and Christ as “teacher” are often interchanged in the bible. And it also warns of the great responsibility (and risks) of teaching in the NT. One friend of mine told me that the job of the teacher is simply to facilitate learning (not to instil by repetition) and another once told me, after a long sermon- “i’m going to talk with the under tens now; i learn much more from them than any sermon!”
    For me, information has always been something to be disseminated with great love, sincerity in giving and above all, a firm Christian agenda for the needs of others (see Phillipians); once a personal agenda enters into an individual or a ‘body’, the unconditional aspect of the gift is lost or worse…
    Blessings Ron.
    Thank you for your blog, and the wonderful gift of your christian love.



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