An international controversy has blown up in the Anglican church over an ACNA Bishop’s Statement published in January. The topic of the Bishop’s Statement was regarding the use of language on sexual identity. The statement recognized the reality of our fallen nature and the effects of sin. The statement also upholds the Biblical categories of men and women, particularly with regards to marriage. Another important point the Statement acknowledged is the understanding that faithful Christians struggle with sin and that we need to show compassion to our brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction. Those within the Anglican communion who have reacted harshly to the Bishop’s Statement recognize these basic Biblical truths as well. So, what is the controversy?
Much has been written on the controversy, which you can read here, so I won’t spend much time rehashing the points of debate. Instead, my purpose is to bring a theological aspect to this social debate. That’s not to say others have not been theological. In fact, the Bishop’s Statement displayed both the pastoral care and the theological understanding of sin and our union in Christ in a way that is to be applauded. Still, others have reacted negatively to ACNA’s admonishing against redefining “the image of God in humanity as predominantly one of sexual orientation and behavior.” In other words, our identity is in Christ, not in our sins, which is ultimately the problem with the term “gay Christian.”
There are those who say that it is not a sin for a “gay Christian” to be celibate. However, the Bible tells us that our very nature is corrupt. Any desire that goes against God’s purpose for humans is a result of our sinful flesh. As one who finds the form of a woman’s body to be desirable, I empathize with my fellow brothers and sisters who struggle with this particular sin. I also do not wish to see them trapped in their identity with their sinful flesh any more than I would want someone who struggles with the sin of lying to identify themselves as a “lying Christian.”
Paul says, “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.” (Rom. 7:5) According to Dutch theologian Herman Ridderbos, “To be ‘in the flesh,’ to be ‘carnal,’ and the like mean to sin, indeed to be under the power of sin.” If to be “in the flesh” means to be “in sin,” then flesh and sin are tautologies when the word “sin” is used as a noun. Therefore, identifying with sin, even if one chooses to not actively sin, is in itself sin because it’s a recognition of union with the flesh and our fleshly desires. What this notion of flesh as sin also points to is the universality of sin in all people, which brings us to our first father Adam, the headship of all creation. Paul writes of this Adam in his letter to the Romans. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) What Paul is showing is the imputation of sin from one man to all of his posterity. Our federal headship sinned, corrupting the human nature of all who came from Adam. Yet, this superficial view is an inadequate expression of the truth Paul is stressing in his letter. When Paul writes “through one man sin entered the world,” he is saying that the entire human race is included in Adam. When Adam sinned, all sinned. Like a page that is placed inside a book, whatever happens to the book happens to the page. By being in Adam, all of humanity is like a page placed in a book. What happens to Adam, happens to us. One who is born in the flesh has his identity with Adam.
However, Christ’s resurrection and death forms the basis of the believer’s union with Christ and all the benefits associated with that union. “Even when we were dead in our wrongdoings, [God] made us alive together with Christ …and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:5, 6) This shows, as many other passages in Paul’s writings, a sudden death to life in union with Christ. It also shows that what is future to human chronology is now in Christ. In contrast to our identity with Adam as the federal head of all creation, Christ as the second Adam is the federal head of all those who are united in Him. Paul in I Corinthians 15:20 ff. speaks of Christ as being the first fruits of the dead. “First fruits” in this sense are not temporal. First fruits imply a whole. If something is first, it must be prior to a whole or a continuity of a whole. Since Christ resurrected as the first of the fruits from the dead as the federal head, it is a necessary consequence that those who are part of that whole share in his resurrection.
Because Christ died to sin, those united in Christ have also died to sin. Because Christ was raised from the dead, those united in Christ and share in his resurrection are also raised from the dead. There is a solidarity between Christ and believers, an inseparability of a shared experience. Since this is true, the Christian identity is not found in our flesh, which we were once slaves to (cf. Rom. 7), but because we are new creatures in Christ, it grieves my heart to see my brothers and sisters fighting to be identified with the flesh instead of recognizing the richness of their unity with the God who created us and redeemed us from our identity with Adam through Christ’s own blood. Yes, Christians still sin. Yes, we still struggle with sin. These are realities of living in our corrupt bodies. However, the Bible tells us that’s not our identity. Our identity is in the love and freedom of Christ.
Full disclosure: I am a deaconess candidate in the United Episcopal Church of North America, but because of geography I regularly and happily attend a church in the ACNA Diocese of Fort Worth.