He said in order for American churches to grow we need to abandon scripture’s teaching and embrace “reason and experience.”
“Churches will continue hemorrhaging members and money at an alarming rate until we muster the courage to face the truth: We got it wrong on gays and lesbians,” Thomas writes.
The Apostle Paul warned us about these kinds of messages in his second epistle to Timothy.
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,” (2 Timothy 4:3, ESV).
Those people, Paul warned, “will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths,” (2 Timothy 4:4, ESV).
Timothy instead was to “be sober-minded,” “endure suffering,” and “do work of an evangelist” instead, (2 Timothy 4:5).
Oliver appeals to “reason and experience,” but “reason and experience” show us that mainline Protestantism, with its rejection of the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture (among other doctrines), is in decades-long decline and that decline has been more pronounced in recent years.
In fact, Ed Stetzer wrote two years ago in The Washington Post if the trend continues mainline Protestantism only has 23 Easters left (now 21, but he acknowledges that the trend will probably slow).
If the church resembles the world, why would the world want to attend? They don’t and they haven’t.
Yet that is what we are exhorted to do in the pages of USA Today.
Thomas writes, “The most difficult challenges arise when the teachings of Scripture are contradicted by reason and experience.”
He uses slavery as an example. Seriously? History is rife with examples of people who cherry pick, misinterpret, and misapply scripture in order to justify what they believe. That doesn’t make scripture wrong. Scripture did not describe race-based, chattel slavery. Scripture actually placed limits on slavery that was common in biblical times.
Gavin Ortlund, writing at The Gospel Coalition, made this point that “practices like slavery, polygamy, and divorce were common in antiquity. Biblical instruction that allows them in certain contexts isn’t necessarily biblical approval. We must interpret them in relation to everything else the Scriptures say.”
I think it’s fair to say that southern slaveowners did not do that.
Thomas also conveniently leaves out that many (if not most) of the abolitionists were Christian and fought against slavery out of response to the Gospel.
He also notes, “We don’t impose the death penalty on adulterers, and rebellious children. Nor do we chase women from God’s house because they are menstruating or exclude men because of their physical handicaps.”
Thomas surely understands that those commands were given to the nation of Israel, not the Church, but he’s probably banking that most of his readers don’t.
Thomas in his appeal to the world wants to become more like it. Jesus promised that the world would hate us (or more specifically our message).
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you,” (John 15:19, ESV).
Why do we expect any different? An appeal to itching ears is not gospel witness regardless of what Thomas says.
There are problems within the evangelical church, our outreach to those who identify as LGBT can and should improve, but biblical teaching on sexual ethics is not one of those problems.