John MacArthur recently gave some horribly, unbiblical advice.
MacArthur, a prominent and respected leader in the Christian church, was presented with a very pertinent question from one of his followers concerning homosexuality. MacArthur’s answer to the question was a wonderful example of how Scripture is repeatedly taken out of context within the discussion on homosexuality.
Let me explain.
A reader posed the following question to MacArthur: “My child just came out of the closet,” they asked. “What do I do?”
MacArthur’s response can be found here:
In the video MacArthur states that if your adult child comes out to you and they are a Christian, then this requires “confrontation of the sternest kind”. MacArthur then goes on to say that, in following the model of Matthew 18, he must be put out of the church.
“You have to alienate them,” MacArthur states, “You have to separate them. You can’t condone that. It’s inconsistent with the confession of Christ. So you isolate them. You don’t have a meal with them. You turn them over to Satan…as Scripture says.
…That’s how you deal with that.”
And there you have it. In responding to the question of homosexuality MacArthur crossed a line into gross misapplication of Biblical sources, one that seems to be increasingly and ironically common among people who hold the Bible to be infallibly authoritative.
Because MacArthur cites Matthew 18 as his support for the abrasive separation of the homosexual child along with all the other actions he recommends to parents. The verses MacArthur are referring to here are Matthew 18:15-17:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
First of all, what is important to note is that although the NIV (which is likely MacArthur’s translation of choice) states “if your brother or sister sins” many manuscripts and translations feature this sentence as “if your brother or sister sins against you” (emphasis mine). While the textual research for this variation isn’t definitive (which is why two reputable translations such as the NIV and ESV can have differing phrasings and still be completely authoritative) what is clear is that this passage is talking about disputes between two Christians in which one has sinned against the other. This is further evidenced by verses 19-20 (“For where two or three are gathered in my name..”). Inasmuch, this verse has absolutely nothing to do with sexual sin (be it homosexuality, heterosexuality, bestiality, whatever) but everything to do with disputes between believers.
Exhibit A: MacArthur has taken this verse drastically out of context.
But hold on; it gets worse.
Because remember that MacArthur cites Matthew 18 as his support for “isolating” children practicing homosexuality and “turning them over to Satan”? In this tidbit of advice MacArthur is cherry picking from 1 Corinthians 5 in which Paul says not to associate with the sexually immoral. Okay, so it makes sense MacArthur would use that to denounce homosexuality right?
Sort of but no. Because nowhere in the Corinthian passage does Paul specifically refer to homosexuality. He refers to numerous other specific sins by name but homosexuality is not mentioned. Rather, the sexual sin he was condemning the Corinthian church for tolerating was one that wasn’t tolerated “even among the pagans” (1:1) meaning the church was ruining its societal reputation merely by association with this sexual practice. Hm. Okay. Does that sound like homosexuality in our culture? No. While this isn’t necessarily a case against this verse’ condemnation of homosexuality, it certainly isn’t a case for it. At least not to the excessive level MacArthur takes it.
So MacArthur nitpicks the support for his message from two Bible verses both of which he takes out of context to support his thesis.
But here’s where MacArthur’s advice really gets me, and the irony seethes like pus in a festering wound. In citing Matthew 18 as support for isolating a homosexual relative, MacArthur had to have noticed Matthew 18:17 “if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector”. Okay, so now it makes sense why he would say we should shun them, isolate them, and alienate them. Because that’s exactly how Jesus treated the tax collectors and pagans (which, by the way, is the same word often translated as “Gentiles”, which by the way, if you’re reading this means that unless you can prove your Jewish heritage, are circumcised and eat Kosher… that’s you). Right? I mean, that’s how Jesus treated Zacchaeus the tax-collector and the pagan women at the well, the one with a reputation for sexual sin. Right?
Actually, it’s the quite the opposite of that.
What MacArthur’s fallible and erroneous implementation of Matthew 18 ignores is the fact that immediately preceding this verse Jesus does address the proper way to deal with a homosexual child: it’s called “The Parable Of The Lost Sheep”(Matthew 18:12-14).
If your child, your friend, your co-worker… whoever is living in sin (whether that be sexual sin, greed, idolatry or a slew of other sins that were featured in 1 Corinthians 5 which MacArthur conveniently overlooked) then here’s how you deal with it:
You love them as Christ loved them. That does not mean you affirm their sin, but it certainly doesn’t mean you kick them to the street. It does not mean you encourage them into sin, but it does mean you love them through it, providing for them as Hosea did for his wandering spouse, as God did for the Israelite nation, as Christ did for us. Though rebuke may be in order listening comes first. A lot of listening. Especially with an issue as complex and weighted as this one listening is the first step to Christ-like wisdom.
For people like MacArthur who claim the way to confront someone in sin is via alienation, I’d really love to understand how they saw Christ isolating us when he shed his heavenly crown to come and die for us. Such notions water down of the gospel to the most atrocious degree.
Furthermore, any true student of the Bible would be quick to point out that it is not Christ we imitate when we promote rigid moralistic codes, rather it’s the Pharisees. In fact, the correlation between MacArthur’s advice and the practices of the Pharisees are uncanny. The Pharisees kicked people out of the temple when they disagreed with them (John 9). The Pharisees were the first to call down judgment upon people, particularly for their sexual sins (Luke 7:39). The Pharisees were notorious for knowing the Scriptures enough to mix and match it to fit their own regimental system of religion, all the while missing the fulfillment of Scripture standing before them (John 5:39-40).
And Jesus had some harsh words for the Pharisees. He called them children of Satan (John 8:44).
Inasmuch, John MacArthur needs to think twice before encouraging his followers to isolate and separate the homosexual in their midst. There is a time for confrontation and there is Biblical precedence for removing the hand of fellowship (specifically in the letters of Paul), but MacArthur fails to make that case with his misleading use of “scriptural” support. Instead, his argument illuminates the hypocrisy that all to often pervades this discussion. I hope that MacArthur begins to check his himself and his exegesis before he encourages parents to do something so unloving, so against the message of Christ, as to put out their own child. Such advice does not stem from the real gospel.
For the real gospel tells us the story about a Savior who was surrounded by followers whom the religious leaders of the age had thrown out. The real gospel is about a Jesus who associated with the sexually questionable of his age, who sought the broken and downtrodden. The real gospel is about a Jesus who came to all of us when we all should have been isolated, cut off and thrown out and, instead of that, died for our salvation. The real gospel removes the urgency from our rhetoric and transplants it into our love: real, active love with hands, feet and scraped knees, love that involves getting dirty with those who spend their lives in the dirt.
Any gospel that promotes a message other than this gospel is no gospel at all.
There is a way for Christians to deal with the increasingly pervasive topic homosexuality among our peers, friends, co-workers and yes, even our children. But it is not the manner MacArthur suggests. And MacArthur, if he really believes in the authority of Scripture, would be wise to check himself before he misquotes it in promotion of such a “gospel” again.