First, Carey reminds us that “The church has always been counter-cultural,” and here he has a few good things to say. For example, he reminds us that:
If you think about it, regardless of your theological position, all your views as a Christian are counter-cultural and always will be. If your views are cultural, you’re probably not reading the scriptures closely enough.
We’re at our best when we offer an alternative, not just a reflection of a diluted or hijacked spirituality.
I agree. We need not fear that our culture is forcing us to actually be as counter-cultural as we are called to be, nor to be seen as such. But, as we shall see, Carey doesn’t remain faithful to such an understanding in what follows, since his advice begins to sound more like something one would hear in our culture than what one would derive from Scripture.
Second, Carey asserts that “It’s actually strange to ask non-Christians to hold Christian values,” and it is here that he begins to get off track, so I will spend some time quoting portions of this section of the article and offering my responses as I go.
The question Christians in a post-Christian culture have to ask themselves is this:
Why would we expect non-Christians to behave like Christians?
If you believe sex is a gift given by God to be experienced between a man and a woman within marriage, why would you expect people who don’t follow Christ to embrace that?
Why would we expect people who don’t profess to be Christians to:
Wait until marriage to have sex?
Clean up their language?
Stop smoking weed?
Be faithful to one person for life?
Pass laws like the entire nation was Christian?
Most people today are not pretending to be Christians. So why would they adopt Christian values or morals?
My counter-question for Carey is, “Why would God expect people created in His image to behave like it? Seriously? Why?” But to ask the question is to answer it. It is because He made them, right? So He has the right to expect them to live as the moral creatures He created them to be, and He has the right to judge them when they don’t. Surely Carey must know this. Surely he must understand that all men are under the judgment of God precisely because they fail to live up to His moral standard. And surely he must know that “Christian values or morals” are not just standards we have chosen to adopt from some list of our own making but rather are the very standards that God has revealed in His Word as what He expects of all men everywhere. In fact, such an understanding of God’s right to hold all men accountable for their sins against Him and His own standard of righteousness is presupposed in the early preaching of the Gospel as seen in the New Testament. For example:
NKJ Acts 17:22-31 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. 25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. 26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. 30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”
Thus Paul preached repentance from sin in the light of God’s sovereign right to judge all mankind. He clearly said that God “now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained,” namely Jesus Christ our Lord. This was the same message that the Apostles had preached to the religious Jews (Acts 2:22-39; 3:12-19). Indeed, when Paul later stood trial before Herod Agrippa, he spoke of his Gospel ministry this way:
NKJ Acts 26:19-20 Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.
Thus the Apostle Paul had no problem telling pagan Gentiles that God as their Creator had the right to call them to repentance for their sins, and we know that among such sins Paul included the sin of homosexuality (e.g. 1 Cor. 6:9). In fact, when Paul wrote to the Roman Christians in order to explain his preaching of the Gospel to them (Rom. 1:9-15), he spent a great deal of time showing how he taught that all men, including pagan Gentiles, are guilty of sin before God and in need of forgiveness and salvation, and he specifically confronted the rampant homosexuality of his day:
NKJ Romans 1:16-27 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man– and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. 24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
Thus there can be no doubt that Paul saw the confrontation of sin and the need for repentance from sin as necessary to a proper preaching of the Gospel. And there can be no doubt that the sins he confronted included the sin of homosexuality. Paul clearly believed that God, the Creator of all mankind, has the right to challenge their sin and to call them to repentance from sin and to faith in Christ. He did not give any indication in any of his writings that he thought it pointless to call men to “adopt Christian values or morals,” because he clearly saw such values as God’s values by which all men are judged. How can Carey possibly not know these things? They are basic to a Biblical worldview and to a Biblical preaching of the Gospel.
It is also worth pointing out that there may be some category confusion for many believers who read Carey’s post. For example, although writing to suggest how we should respond to a U.S. Supreme Court decision concerning gay marriage, Carey also asks questions about whether or not we should expect non-Christians to “clean up their language” or “pass laws like the entire nation was Christian.” Yet Carey must know that there is a significant difference between issues like using foul language on the one hand and completely rebelling against God’s intention for men and women as He created them on the other. That he would even ask such questions so indiscriminately, treating such issues as though they belong in the same category, reveals an apparent lack of understanding in Carey of just how serious an issue gay marriage really is. In addition, we must be clear that Christians who take a strong stand against the sins of homosexuality and gay marriage are not trying to “pass laws like the entire nation was Christian.” We are not, for example, trying to require everyone to attend church on Sundays, regularly read the Bible, or take part in the Lord’s Supper. We understand full well that there are certain practices we take part in that are unique to us as Christians and that we would not expect non-Christians to take part in (indeed, we would refuse to allow them to take part in the Lord’s Supper). But human sexuality and marriage are not among such things. They are common to all human beings. Yet Carey makes it sound as though we are expecting people to “behave like Christians” when we are simply expecting them to behave like human beings created in the image of God, something which God Himself expects of them.
Please don’t get me wrong.
I’m a pastor. I completely believe that the [sic] Jesus is not only the Way, but that God’s way is the best way.
When you follow biblical teachings about how to live life, your life simply goes better. It just does. I 100 percent agree.
I do everything I personally can to align my life with the teachings of scripture, and I’m passionate about helping every follower of Christ do the same.
But what’s the logic behind judging people who don’t follow Jesus for behaving like people who don’t follow Jesus?
Why would you hold the world to the same standard you hold the church?
So, the real reason people should follow Christ is that their lives will “go better”? Not because they are sinners who deserve judgment and can only find forgiveness and salvation through repentance and faith in Christ? Does Carey think following Christ is like joining a country club? Can anyone who takes the Bible seriously really say something like this?
In addition, that Carey would even ask such a question as “Why would you hold the world to the same standard you hold the church?” reveals a postmodern mindset that is foreign to a Biblical worldview. It appears to assume that values are determined by groups of people and that we should not expect others to adopt our values unless and until they have decided to join our group, and then because they want a life that “goes better.” Such a mindset certainly doesn’t sound like anything that our Lord Jesus would accept.
First, non-Christians usually act more consistently with their value system than you do.
It’s difficult for a non-Christian to be a hypocrite because they tend to live out what they believe.
Once again Carey reveals a mindset that is foreign to a Biblical worldview. After all, how can he possibly say that “It’s difficult for a non-Christian to be a hypocrite because they tend to live out what they believe” unless he refuses to accept what Paul says when he asserts that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). How could anyone possibly be more hypocritical than to “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”!?
Chances are they are better at living out their values than you or I are. Jesus never blamed pagans for acting like pagans.
But he did speak out against religious people for acting hypocritically. Think about that.
Really? “Jesus never blamed pagans for acting like pagans”? Then why, after His resurrection, and as the time approached to take the Gospel to the pagan Gentiles, did Jesus teach His disciples that repentance from sin should be preached to them? For example:
NKJ Luke 24:44-47 Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” 45 And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. 46 Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
Why would Jesus think it necessary to preach “repentance and remission of sins” to all the pagan nations if He didn’t blame them for “acting like pagans”? Or why did Jesus use the pagan Gentiles as examples of sinful behavior to be avoided if He did not blame them for “acting like pagans”? For example:
NKJ Matthew 6:7-8 And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
NKJ Matthew 6:31-32 Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
NKJ Matthew 20:25-28 But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave– 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Again, does Carey really think that Jesus didn’t blame the pagan Gentiles for the sinful attitudes and actions that make them such bad examples to follow?
We must also take into account the teaching Jesus gave that refers to universal standards for all men everywhere, such as when He cited the creation passage from Genesis regarding God’s intention for marriage:
NKJ Matthew 19:3-6 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” 4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ [Gen. 1:27] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh ‘? [Gen. 2:24] 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Does Carey really think that Jesus wouldn’t blame pagan Gentiles for “acting like pagans” in denying God’s intention for marriage between one man and one woman? As we have seen above, the Apostle Paul — who learned His Gospel preaching from Jesus (Gal. 1:11-12) — certainly didn’t understand our Lord’s teaching this way. Thus I would suggest that Carey is the one who should take some more time to “think about that” before he takes it upon himself to advise the rest of us.
Third, Carey reminds American “church leaders” that “You’ve been dealing with sex outside of traditional marriage for a LONG time.” Here again I will quote at some length a portion of Carey’s article and offer my own response.
If you believe gay sex is sinful, it’s really no morally different than straight sex outside of marriage.
Be honest, pretty much every unmarried person in your church is having sex (yes, even the Christians).
I know you want to believe that’s not true (trust me, I want to believe that’s not true), but why don’t you ask around? You’ll discover that only a few really surrender their sexuality.
Not to mention the married folks that struggle with porn, lust and a long list of other dysfunctions.
If you believe gay marriage is not God’s design, you’re really dealing with the same issue you’ve been dealing with all along—sex outside of its God-given context.
You don’t need to treat it any differently…
By the way, if you don’t deal with straight sex outside of marriage, don’t start being inconsistent and speak out against gay sex.
And you may want to start dealing with gluttony and gossip and greed while you’re at it…
At least be consistent…humbly address all forms of sex outside of marriage.
There is a sense in which Carey makes a good point here. If we believe that gay sex and gay marriage are both sins against God, we should treat them as such and should not fail to deal with other sins that also violate God’s intentions for human sexuality and marriage. But he doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that this is precisely what most of us conservative Evangelicals — who are more interested in allowing the Bible to dictate our approach than he seems to be — are actually doing, despite the fact that there is great pressure being exerted on us not to do so.
Furthermore, Carey is simply wrong when he asserts of “gay sex” or “gay marriage” that “it’s really no morally different than straight sex outside of marriage.” For not only does “gay sex” violate God’s moral standard for sex between a man and a woman in marriage, but it also violates His intention in creating them male and female in the first place. Thus it is not simply the same thing, especially given the fact that there has not been a large movement among sexually promiscuous heterosexual people to redefine marriage as properly being between two men or two women rather than only a man and a woman. Yet this is precisely what has happened due to those who argue for so-called “gay rights.”
Fourth, Carey asserts that “The early church never looked to the government for guidance.” Although I might take issue with the way Carey states a few things in this section of the article, I have no problem with the main idea and thus will move on to the final point.
Fifth, Carey asserts that “Our judgment of LGBT people is destroying any potential relationship.” Here Carey again gets way off track, as the following assertions clearly demonstrate:
Even the first 72 hour of social media reaction [after the June 2015 Supreme Court decision] has driven a deeper wedge between Christian leaders and the LGBT community Jesus loves (yes, Jesus died for the world because he loves it).
Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy.
People don’t line up to be judged.
If you want to keep being ineffective at reaching unchurched people, keep judging them.
Judging outsiders is un-Christian. Paul told us to stop judging people outside the church.
Jesus said God will judge us by the same standard with which we judge others.
Once again we hear the same basic idea that most unbelievers like to point out to us, namely that Christians aren’t supposed to judge. But Carey fails to grasp — as do most unbelievers who say essentially the same thing — that there is a difference between sinful judgment of others from a standpoint of arrogance and hypocrisy and a righteous judgment based on God’s Word. In fact, he fails to see that we aren’t really judging the LGBT community at all — God’s Word is judging them, and we are simply declaring what His Word says, as we have been called to do.
Carey also provides a couple of links to Scripture in the text cited above, and both are misapplied by him. First, he links 1 Corinthians 5:12 to the words to stop judging people outside the church. To be sure, in this verse the Apostle Paul writes, “For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?” But a look at the larger passage will show that Carey is taking these words out of context. Here is the whole passage:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles– that a man has his father’s wife! 2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner– not even to eat with such a person. 12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”
Even a cursory reading of this passage will reveal what most Bible scholars and commentators agree to be true about it, namely that it is dealing with a matter of church discipline. Thus, when Paul says that we do not “judge” those who are “outside” (vss. 12-13) — i.e. who are not named among the brethren (vs. 11) — he means that we do not adopt the disciplinary practice of avoiding them as we would avoid a sinning brother (vss. 9-11). Paul isn’t dealing at all with whether or not we should make moral judgments about the sins of unbelievers, something which he himself does in this very passage when he refers to them as “sexually immoral” (vs. 9). Nor is Paul dealing with whether or not we should tell such immoral people the truth about their sins and call them to repentance, something which we have already seen above that Paul clearly did as a regular part of his Gospel preaching.
Second, Carey links Matthew 7:1-2 to the words God will judge us by the same standard with which we judge others. Good grief! Has he really adopted the same ridiculous misinterpretation of this verse that so many unbelievers seem to have adopted whenever they ignorantly remind us that “Christians aren’t supposed to judge”? As with the preceding passage, a look at this passage in its larger context will reveal that Carey is once again wrong. Here is the whole passage:
NKJ Matthew 7:1-5 Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
Notice that Jesus is not saying that we should refuse to make moral judgments about the actions of others or refuse to confront their sins. In fact, He assumes that we must make such moral judgments if we are to properly confront their sins. Thus when He says, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye,” He assumes that we will indeed seek to remove the speck from our brother’s eye. Jesus is warning us against hypocritical judgment of others that refuses to take our own sin into account when we seek to correct them, but He assumes that we ought to try to correct them if we love them. I’m sure that Jesus would agree with the Old Testament teaching in this regard about how to truly love our neighbor:
NKJ Leviticus 19:17-18 You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Now, I suppose someone like Carey might try to argue that this passage is directed to Israelites whose neighbors were expected to share their same moral values and thus that it doesn’t apply to the way in which we are to love pagans. But I would simply point out that he should not, then, try to apply a passage about taking a speck out of your brother’s eye to pagans either. However, if the principle of judgment that Jesus teaches is aptly applied to our treatment of pagans, then I fail to see how the principle of confrontation of sin contained in the Old Testament command to love our neighbor should not apply.
I will finish by agreeing with Carey about one important thing, namely that “the LGBT community” are among those whom “Jesus loves (yes, Jesus died for the world because he loves it).” However, Jesus also said to His earthly brothers that “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil” (John 7:7). And He warned His disciples that, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18-20). Carey apparently thinks that we could not possibly be loving the people of the world as we ought to if they ever feel judged by us or hate us, but our Lord Jesus would most definitely disagree with him! Carey apparently also thinks it possible to be “counter-cultural” without being hated by the world, but, again, our Lord Jesus would most definitely disagree with him!
In conclusion, then, I would simply say that Carey ought not seek to advise “church leaders” here in the U.S. — or anywhere else for that matter — until he has learned his Bible a lot better. After all, some of us do know how to read the Bible, and we can tell when someone is distorting its teaching.
Update 7 July 2017
I ran across this post by Paul Carter today, and it also has some good points made in response to Carey’s “advice.”
5 thoughts on “Carey Nieuwhof Offers Some Bad Advice to American Pastors Regarding Same Sex Marriage”
Even the word “marry” is a religious term. See e.g., Institute of Marriage Research & Studies (www.IOMRAS.info), their Etymology page.
Thank you for a reasoned article.
Thank you for your encouraging reply.
Thank you very much for writing this article very informative!!!
Excellent arguments, but is near impossible to tell who is saying what with the way you have formatted this. I had to guess. Could you edit this and make it clear what are the quotes from Nieuwhof?