Destroying God’s Temple

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy that person; for God's temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV)

The Church of England is often described in positive terms as a “broad church,” meaning that people with different views can find a home within the same denomination. In some ways this is true. The Church of England has not formally pronounced on every doctrinal issue and required its members to subscribe to its view. However, the church does have a confession of faith in the Thirty Nine Articles, which you’ve been hearing about if you’ve been in our morning services. These articles are affirmed by the clergy and referred to in canon law as the basis of our belief under Scripture.  We may be a broad church, but only within these parameters.

This sort of breadth is a good thing. Too often Christians have divided from each other over trivial and non-central issues, undermining the unity and witness of the church. However, when breadth means those within the local churches and denominations are denying central Christian truths, then that kind of “breadth” is disastrous. Why?

The verses above from 1 Corinthians 3 contain a very striking description of the church as God’s temple. The temple in the Old Testament was the building where God was with his people. In the New Testament, the building is not significant (it was destroyed in AD70), but the people are. In this passage Paul describes the church (i.e. the Christians) in Corinth as the temple of God, because the Spirit is in their midst.

That makes the church (remember that’s Christians!) very precious to God. Paul describes it as sacred! So if someone attacks and destroys his church, God does not treat it lightly. In fact, God makes the punishment fit the crime. If someone destroys his temple, he will destroy them (which is a way of speaking of eternal destruction in hell). The shock of this passage is that Paul seems to be saying that there are those in the church community in Corinth who are actually destroying the church.

Sadly, this is the way that it has often been and why we need to be wary in a “broad church,” for we will almost certainly find destroyers within. In Corinth that showed itself in a number of ways, for example in divisiveness and factions over trivialities and personalities (1:10-12), rejection of basic Christian ethics (e.g. sexual immorality and homosexuality 5:1; 6:9), lack of care for the poor (11:21) and rejection of basic Christian truth (e.g. the resurrection 15:12).

In the “broad” Church of England, we have to be honest and say that we face many of the problems of Corinth. I think in particular we see increasing evidence of the rejection of basic Christian truth and morality and at this time we see it particularly in the debates about sexuality.

The Bible is clear, despite efforts to suggest otherwise, that sexual relationships are only for marriage and marriage is between a man and a woman. We find both positive teaching affirming heterosexual marriage (e.g. Genesis 1:28; 2:24; Mark 10:6-8) and negative teaching condemning homosexual relationships (e.g. Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9). Therefore, to promote same-sex sexual relationships within the church is one way of destroying God’s temple (to use Paul’s language). It is a sign of our rejection of God and his judgement on us (Romans 1:24-27) and as a consequence people are being led away from the kingdom of God from within the church (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Because this is an important current issue, I will include some articles in future magazines explaining this biblical position in more detail.

This should not be read as suggesting that homosexual sin is different in sort to any other sin. For example, any sex outside of marriage - homosexual or heterosexual - is sin in the Bible. Nor should it be read as suggesting that those in same-sex relationships are outside the reach of God and his forgiveness. The gospel of grace is for anyone who will repent of their sin and put their trust in Jesus. However, following the OT, Jesus and Paul, I am saying that homosexual sex is sin to be repented of.

There is increasing pressure on the bishops and synods of our church to accommodate same-sex relationships despite the clear teaching of the Bible. In recent days, the General Synod has been involved in shared conversations about sexuality. It is likely that by the next synod in February the bishops of the Church of England will recommend a course of action for the Church. A number of parts of the Anglican communion, including the Episcopal Church of Scotland, have accepted same-sex relationships and it is possible, even likely, that the Church of England will be encouraged to do the same. To do so would be to change the gospel message (by changing the definition of sin) and would be seeking to destroy the church.

What should we do? Can I make three suggestions:

1. Pray for ourselves and our churches to stand firm on the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, especially in those areas where there is current pressure to compromise.

2. Pray for our denomination especially the bishops and synods who will be making decisions over the next few months. Pray they too would stand firm on the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, especially in those areas where there is current pressure to compromise.

3. Pray for those within the church who have already compromised, either in their belief or their actions. Pray especially that they would repent and receive God’s forgiveness and so not face destruction.

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