We believe that Biblical principles apply to our daily lives just as much today as they did 2,000 years ago when Jesus explained them to His disciples. We believe in a direct personal experience with God through baptism with the Holy Spirit. The term Pentecostal is derived from Pentecost, the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks. For Christians, this event commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Jesus Christ, as described in the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
Statement of fundamental faith and truth
The Bible is our all-sufficient rule for faith and practice. This Statement of Fundamental Truths is intended simply as a basis of fellowship among us (i.e., that we all speak the same thing, 1 Corinthians 1:10 KJV; Acts 2:42 KJV). The phraseology employed in this Statement is not inspired nor contended for, but the truth set forth is held to be essential to a full-gospel ministry. No claim is made that it covers all Biblical truth, only that it covers our need as to these fundamental doctrines.
- The Scriptures Inspired
- The One True God
- The Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ
- The Fall of Man
- The Salvation of Man
- The Ordinances of the Church
- The Baptism in the Holy Spirit
- The Initial Physical Evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit
- The Church and Its Mission
- The Ministry
- Divine Healing
- The Blessed Hope
- The Millennial Reign of Christ
- The Final Judgment
- The New Heavens and the New Earth
The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct.
- 2 Timothy 3:15-17 KJV
- 1 Thessalonians 2:13 KJV
- 2 Peter 1:21 KJV
The one true God has revealed Himself as the eternally self-existent “I AM,” the Creator of heaven and earth and the Redeemer of mankind. He has further revealed Himself as embodying the principles of relationship and association as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- Deuteronomy 6:4 KJV
- Isaiah 43:10,11 KJV
- Matthew 28:19 KJV
- Luke 3:22 KJV
THE ADORABLE GODHEAD
a. Terms Defined
The terms “Trinity” and “persons” as related to the Godhead, while not found in the Scriptures, are words in harmony with Scripture, whereby we may convey to others our immediate understanding of the doctrine of Christ respecting the Being of God, as distinguished from “gods many and lords many.” We therefore may speak with propriety of the Lord our God who is One Lord, as a trinity or as one Being of three persons, and still be absolutely scriptural.
- Matthew 28:19 KJV
- 2 Corinthians 13:14 KJV
- John 14:16-17 KJV
b. Distinction and Relationship in the Godhead
Christ taught a distinction of Persons in the Godhead which He expressed in specific terms of relationship, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but that this distinction and relationship, as to its mode is inscrutable and incomprehensible, because unexplained.
- Luke 1:35 KJV
- 1 Corinthians 1:24 KJV
- Matthew 11:25-27 KJV
- Matthew 28:19 KJV
- 2 Corinthians 13:14 KJV
- 1 John 1:3-4 KJV
c. Unity of the One Being of Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Accordingly, therefore, there is that in the Father which constitutes him the Father and not the Son; there is that in the Son which constitutes Him the Son and not the Father; and there is that in the Holy Spirit which constitutes Him the Holy Spirit and not either the Father or the Son. Wherefore the Father is the Begetter, the Son is the Begotten, and the Holy Spirit is the one proceeding from the Father and the Son. Therefore, because these three persons in the Godhead are in a state of unity, there is but one Lord God Almighty and His name one.
- John 1:18 KJV
- John 15:26 KJV
- John 17:11 KJV
- John 17:21 KJV
- Zechariah 14:9 KJV
d. Identity and Cooperation in the Godhead
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are never identical as to Person; nor confused as to relation; nor divided in respect to the Godhead; nor opposed as to cooperation. The Son is in the Father and the Father is in the Son as to relationship. The Son is with the Father and the Father is with the Son, as to fellowship. The Father is not from the Son, but the Son is from the Father, as to authority. The Holy Spirit is from the Father and the Son proceeding, as to nature, relationship, cooperation and authority. Hence, neither Person in the Godhead either exists or works separately or independently of the others.
- John 5:17-30 KJV
- John 5:32 KJV
- John 5:37 KJV
- John 8:17,18 KJV
e. The Title, Lord Jesus Christ
The appellation, “Lord Jesus Christ,” is a proper name. It is never applied in the New Testament, either to the Father or to the Holy Spirit. It therefore belongs exclusively to the Son of God.
- Romans 1:1-3,7 KJV
- 2 John 3 KJV
f. The Lord Jesus Christ, God with Us
The Lord Jesus Christ, as to His divine and eternal nature, is the proper and only Begotten of the Father, but as to His human nature, He is the proper Son of Man. He is therefore, acknowledged to be both God and man; who because He is God and man is “Immanuel,” God with us.
- Matthew 1:23 KJV
- 1 John 4:2 KJV
- 1 John 4:10 KJV
- 1 John 4:14 KJV
- Revelation 1:13 KJV
- Revelation 1:17 KJV
g. The Title, Son of God
Since the name “Immanuel” embraces both God and man in the one Person, our Lord Jesus Christ, it follows that the title, Son of God, describes His proper deity, and the title, Son of Man, His proper humanity. Therefore, the title Son of God, belongs to the order of eternity, and the title, Son of Man, to the order of time.
- Matthew 1:21-23 KJV
- 2 John 1:3 KJV
- 1 John 3:8 KJV
- Hebrews 7:3 KJV
- Hebrews 1:1-13 KJV
h. Transgression of the Doctrine of Christ
Wherefore, it is a transgression of the Doctrine of Christ to say that Jesus Christ derived the title, Son of God, solely from the fact of the incarnation, or because of His relation to the economy of redemption. Therefore, to deny that the Father is a real and eternal Father, and that the Son is a real and eternal Son, is a denial of the distinction and relationship in the Being of God; a denial of the Father, and the Son; and a displacement of the truth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.
- 2 John 9 KJV
- John 1:1 KJV
- John 1:2 KJV
- John 1:14 KJV
- John 1:18 KJV
- John 1:29 KJV
- John 1:49 KJV
- 1 John 2:22,23 KJV
- 1 John 4:1-5 KJV
- Hebrews 12:2 KJV
i. Exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord
The Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, having by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; angels and principalities and powers having been made subject unto Him. And having been made both Lord and Christ, He sent the Holy Spirit that we, in the name of Jesus, might bow our knees and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father until the end, when the Son shall become subject to the Father that God may be all in all.
- Hebrews 1:3 KJV
- 1 Peter 3:22 KJV
- Acts 2:32-36 KJV
- Romans 14:11 KJV
- 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 KJV
j. Equal Honor to the Father and to the Son
Wherefore, since the Father has delivered all judgment unto the Son, it is not only the express duty of all in heaven and on earth to bow the knee, but it is an unspeakable joy in the Holy Spirit to ascribe unto the Son all the attributes of Deity, and to give Him all honor and the glory contained in all the names and titles of the Godhead except those which express relationship (see Distinction and Relationship in the Godhead, Unity of the One Being of Father, Son and Holy Spirit , and Identity and Cooperation in the Godhead) and thus honor the Son even as we honor the Father.
- John 5:22,23 KJV
- 1 Peter 1:8 KJV
- Revelation 5:6-14 KJV
- Philippians 2:8,9 KJV
- Revelation 7:9-10 KJV
- Revelation 4:8-11 KJV
The Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. The Scriptures declare:
His virgin birth,
- Matthew 1:23 KJV
- Luke 1:31 KJV
- Luke 1:35 KJV
His sinless life,
- Hebrews 7:26 KJV
- 1 Peter 2:22 KJV
- Acts 2:22 KJV
- Acts 10:38 KJV
His substitutionary work on the cross,
- 1 Corinthians 15:3 KJV
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 KJV
His bodily resurrection from the dead,
- Matthew 28:6 KJV
- Luke 24:39 KJV
- 1 Corinthians 15:4 KJV
His exaltation to the right hand of God.
- Acts 1:9 KJV
- Acts 1:11 KJV
- Acts 2:33 KJV
- Philippians 2:9-11 KJV
- Hebrews 1:3 KJV
Man was created good and upright; for God said, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness.” However, man by voluntary transgression fell and thereby incurred not only physical death but also spiritual death, which is separation from God.
- Genesis 1:26,27 KJV
- Genesis 2:17 KJV
- Genesis 3:6 KJV
- Romans 5:12-19 KJV
Man’s only hope of redemption is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
Conditions to Salvation
Salvation is received through repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ. By the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, being justified by grace through faith, man becomes an heir of God, according to the hope of eternal life.
- Luke 24:47 KJV
- John 3:3 KJV
- Romans 10:13-15 KJV
- Ephesians 2:8 KJV
- Titus 2:11 KJV
- Titus 3:5-7 KJV
The Evidence of Salvation
The inward evidence of salvation is the direct witness of the Spirit.
- Romans 8:16 KJV
The outward evidence to all men is a life of righteousness and true holiness.
- Ephesians 4:24 KJV
- Titus 2:12 KJV
BAPTISM IN WATER
The ordinance of baptism by immersion is commanded by the Scriptures. All who repent and believe on Christ as Saviour and Lord are to be baptized. Thus they declare to the world that they have died with Christ and that they also have been raised with Him to walk in newness of life.
- Matthew 28:19 KJV
- Mark 16:16 KJV
- Acts 10:47,48 KJV
- Romans 6:4 KJV
The Lord’s Supper, consisting of the elements –bread and the fruit of the vine– is the symbol expressing our sharing the divine nature of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:4 KJV), a memorial of his suffering and death (1 Corinthians 11:26 KJV), and a prophecy of His second coming (1 Corinthians 11:26 KJV), and is enjoined on all believers “till He come!”
All believers are entitled to and should ardently expect and earnestly seek the promise of the Father, the baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire, according to the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the normal experience of all in the early Christian Church. With it comes the enduement of power for life and service, the bestowment of the gifts and their uses in the work of the ministry.
- Luke 24:49 KJV
- Acts 1:4 KJV
- Acts 1:8 KJV
- 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 KJV
This experience is distinct from and subsequent to the experience of the new birth.
- Acts 8:12-17 KJV
- Acts 10:44-46 KJV
- Acts 11:14-16 KJV
- Acts 15:7-9 KJV
With the baptism in the Holy Spirit come such experiences as:
- an overflowing fullness of the Spirit, John 7:37-39 KJV, Acts 4:8 KJV
- a deepened reverence for God, Acts 2:43 KJV, Hebrews 12:28 KJV
- an intensified consecration to God and dedication to His work, Acts 2:42 KJV
- and a more active love for Christ, for His Word and for the lost, Mark 16:20 KJV
The baptism of believers in the Holy Spirit is witnessed by the initial physical sign of speaking with other tongues as the Spirit of God gives them utterance.
- Acts 2:4 KJV
The speaking in tongues in this instance is the same in essence as the gift of tongues, but is different in purpose and use.
- 1 Corinthians 12:4-10 KJV
- 1 Corinthians 12:28 KJV
Sanctification is an act of separation from that which is evil, and of dedication unto God.
- Romans 12:1,2 KJV
- 1 Thessalonians 5:23 KJV
- Hebrews 13:12 KJV
The Scriptures teach a life of “holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.”
- Hebrews 12:14 KJV
By the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to obey the command: “Be ye holy, for I am holy.”
- 1 Peter 1:15,16 KJV
Sanctification is realized in the believer by recognizing his identification with Christ in His death and resurrection, and by the faith reckoning daily upon the fact of that union, and by offering every faculty continually to the dominion of the Holy Spirit.
- Romans 6:1-11 KJV
- Romans 6:13 KJV
- Romans 8:1,2 KJV
- Romans 8:13 KJV
- Galatians 2:20 KJV
- Philippians 2:12,13 KJV
- 1 Peter 1:5 KJV
The Church is the Body of Christ, the habitation of God through the Spirit, with divine appointments for the fulfillment of her great commission. Each believer, born of the Spirit, is an integral part of the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven.
- Ephesians 1:22,23 KJV
- Ephesians 2:22 KJV
- Hebrews 12:23 KJV
Since God’s purpose concerning man is to seek and to save that which is lost, to be worshipped by man, to build a body of believers in the image of His Son, and to demonstrate His love and compassion for all the world, the priority reason for being of the Assemblies of God as part of the Church is:
- To be an agency of God for evangelizing the world.
Acts 1:8 KJV
Matthew 28:19,20 KJV
Mark 16:15,16 KJV
- To be a corporate body in which man may worship God.
1 Corinthians 12:13 KJV
- To be a channel of God’s purpose to build a body of saints being perfected in the image of His Son.
Ephesians 4:11-16 KJV
1 Corinthians 12:28 KJV
1 Corinthians 14:12 KJV
- To be a people who demonstrate God’s love and compassion for all the world.
Psalms 112:9 KJV
Galatians 2:10; 6:10 KJV
James 1:27 KJV
The Assemblies of God exists expressly to give continuing emphasis to this reason for being in the New Testament apostolic pattern by teaching and encouraging believers to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. This experience:
- Enables them to evangelize in the power of the Spirit with accompanying supernatural signs.
Mark 16:15-20 KJV
Acts 4:29-31 KJV
Hebrews 2:3,4 KJV
- Adds a necessary dimension to worshipful relationship with God.
1 Corinthians 2:10-16 KJV
1 Corinthians 12 KJV
1 Corinthians 13 KJV
1 Corinthians 14 KJV
- Enables them to respond to the full working of the Holy Spirit in expression of fruit and gifts and ministries as in New Testament times for the edifying of the body of Christ and care for the poor and needy of the world.
Galatians 5:22-26 KJV
Matthew 25:37-40 KJV
Galatians 6:10 KJV
1 Corinthians 14:12 KJV
Ephesians 4:11,12 KJV
1 Corinthians 12:28 KJV
Colossians 1:29 KJV
A divinely called and scripturally ordained ministry has been provided by our Lord for the fourfold purpose of leading the Church in:
Evangelization of the world.
- Mark 16:15-20 KJV
Worship of God.
- John 4:23,24 KJV
Building a body of saints being perfected in the image of His Son.
- Ephesians 4:11-16 KJV
Meeting human need with ministries of love and compassion.
- Psalms 112:9 KJV
- Galatians 2:10; 6:10 KJV
- James 1:27 KJV
Divine healing is an integral part of the gospel. Deliverance from sickness is provided for in the atonement, and is the privilege of all believers.
- Isaiah 53:4,5 KJV
- Matthew 8:16,17 KJV
- James 5:14-16 KJV
The resurrection of those who have fallen asleep in Christ and their translation together with those who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord is the imminent and blessed hope of the church.
- 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17 KJV
- Romans 8:23 KJV
- Titus 2:13 KJV
- 1 Corinthians 15:51,52 KJV
The second coming of Christ includes the rapture of the saints, which is our blessed hope, followed by the visible return of Christ with His saints to reign on earth for one thousand years.
- Zechariah 14:5 KJV
- Matthew 24:27 KJV
- Matthew 24:30 KJV
- Revelation 1:7 KJV
- Revelation 19:11-14 KJV
- Revelation 20:1-6 KJV
This millennial reign will bring the salvation of national Israel,
- Ezekiel 37:21,22 KJV
- Zephaniah 3:19,20 KJV
- Romans 11:26,27 KJV
and the establishment of universal peace.
- Isaiah 11:6-9 KJV
- Psalms 72:3-8 KJV
- Micah 4:3,4 KJV
There will be a final judgment in which the wicked dead will be raised and judged according to their works. Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels, the beast and the false prophet, will be consigned to the everlasting punishment in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
- Matthew 25:46 KJV
- Mark 9:43-48 KJV
- Revelation 19:20 KJV
- Revelation 20:11-15 KJV
- Revelation 21:8 KJV
“We, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness.”
- 2 Peter 3:13 KJV
- Revelation 21 KJV
- Revelation 22 KJV
Statement on homosexuality, marriage, and sexual identity
Increasing political and religious advocacy for homosexual1 practices, same-sex marriage, and alternate sexual identities has prompted us to clarify our position on these critical issues. We believe that all matters of faith and conduct must be evaluated on the basis of Holy Scripture, which is our infallible guide (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Since the Bible does speak to the nature of human beings and their sexuality, it is imperative that the Church correctly understands and articulates what it actually teaches on these matters which have now become so controversial and divisive.
A reaffirmation of biblical teachings has become all the more urgent because writers sympathetic to the LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender)2 communities have advanced revisionist interpretations of relevant biblical texts that are based upon biased exegesis and mistranslation. In effect, they seek to set aside almost two thousand years of Christian biblical interpretation and ethical teachings. We believe these efforts are reflective of the conditions described in 2 Timothy 4:3, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”3 (See also v. 4.)
It should be noted at the outset that there is absolutely no affirmation of homosexual activity, same-sex marriage, or changes in sexual identity found anywhere in Scripture. Male and female genders are carefully defined and unconfused. The consistent ideal for sexual experience in the Bible is chastity4 for those outside a monogamous heterosexual marriage and fidelity5 for those inside such a marriage. There is also abundant evidence that homosexual behavior, along with illicit heterosexual behavior, is immoral and comes under the judgment of God.
We believe, in light of biblical revelation, that the growing cultural acceptance of homosexual identity and behavior (male and female), same-sex marriage, and efforts to change one’s biological sexual identity are all symptomatic of a broader spiritual disorder that threatens the family, the government, and the church.
This paper is a brief exposition of salient biblical teachings on homosexuality and the application of those teachings to marriage and sexual identity.
I. HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOR IS SIN
Historically, homosexuality often has been defined as an emotional (psychological) or organic (physiological) problem. In recent years, some have lobbied mental health organizations to have homosexuality removed from the list of classified diagnostic pathologies, and many have come to see it as nothing more than a morally neutral personal preference or a naturally occurring aspect of human biological diversity. In making moral judgments, we must remember scriptural warnings against depending on our own reasoning or even personal experience to discern truth (Proverbs 3:5–6).
A. HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOR IS SIN BECAUSE IT IS DISOBEDIENT TO SCRIPTURAL TEACHINGS.
When God called Israel to be His people in a distinctive sense, He miraculously delivered them from Egyptian bondage. But God did more. He entered into a covenant relationship with them and provided the Law, predicated on love for God and neighbor, by which they could order their lives as a holy people. That law included specific prohibitions of homosexual practice, such as that of Leviticus 18:22: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” Lest the previous injunction be misunderstood, Leviticus 20:13 provides a restatement, “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.” “Detestable,” used in both verses, is a strong word that indicates divine displeasure with sin.6
The Christian church has historically understood that although the ceremonial provisions of the Old Testament law were no longer in effect after the atoning death of Christ, the New Testament interpretation and restatement of its moral law continues in effect. On the subject of homosexuality, both the Old and New Testaments speak with one voice. The moral prohibitions against homosexual behavior in the Old Testament are pointedly repeated in the New Testament.
To those who witnessed on a daily basis the sexual license of imperial Rome, Paul depicted the results that followed in the lives of those who rejected God and “worshiped and served created things rather than the Creato…. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations7 for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations8 with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:25– 27). Paul is referring to both male homosexuality and lesbianism.
In Paul’s day, the city of Corinth was especially notorious for sexual immorality. It was not only a crossroads of commerce, but of all kinds of vice. Because the church was being established in this city, it was important that new Christians come to understand God’s moral order. The record is explicit. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?” Then he continued, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral10ians 6:9–10 [NIV, 1984]). In this case, Paul is understood to identify male homosexuals in both active and passive homosexual behavioral roles.11
Paul wrote, “Law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals”12 (1 Timothy 1:9–10, NASB).13
An unbiased study of these passages makes it clear that Scripture consistently identifies homosexual behavior as sin. Not only do the Scriptures condemn more flagrant examples of homosexual violence and promiscuity, they also provide no support for the popular modern idea that loving and committed homosexual relationships between two long-term partners, even if legally married, are morally acceptable. Homosexual activities of every kind are contrary to the moral commandments God has given us.
B. HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOR IS SIN BECAUSE IT IS CONTRARY TO GOD’S CREATED ORDER FOR THE FAMILY AND HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS.
The first chapter of the Bible says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). After God had created the male, He indicated it was not good for him to live alone (Genesis 2:18). So God created a companion for him (Genesis 2:18). It should be noted that the male’s aloneness was not to be remedied by the creation of another male but by the creation of a female. God created two sexes, not just one, and each for the other.
When God brought the woman to Adam, Adam said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” Scripture then states, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:23–24).
In creating humankind God established the order of sexuality by which the race was to develop. Psychologically, the relationship is sound. Physically, the relationship is natural. Sociologically, it establishes the foundation for the family. The biblical order for human sexual expression is that of an intimate physical relationship to be shared exclusively within a lifelong marriage covenant—a heterosexual and monogamous relationship.
When people choose to engage in homosexual behavior, they depart from the God-given nature of sexuality. Their unnatural sexual behavior is a sin against God, who established the order of sexuality (Romans 1:27). And the social unit they seek to establish is contrary to the divine instruction for the man to leave father and mother and be “united to his wife” (Genesis 2:24).
In Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees, He reiterated the order of sexuality that God established in the beginning: “Haven’t you read… that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” (Matthew 19:4–5). He pointed out that the only alternative to heterosexual marriage is celibacy for the kingdom of heaven’s sake (Matthew 19:10–12).
C. HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOR IS SIN THAT COMES UNDER DIVINE JUDGMENT.
The name of the ancient city of Sodom14 has become a synonym for homosexual behavior. While other evils existed in this community, sodomy was prominent. The homosexuals of Sodom were so depraved that they threatened homosexual rape of Lot’s guests. “Bring them [“the men who came to you”] out to us so that we can have sex15 with them,” Lot was told (Genesis 19:5). The biblical record indicates that the mob became violent and tried to break down the door of Lot’s house. Only divine intervention spared Lot and his household from their evil intentions, and God subsequently destroyed both Sodom and the neighboring city of Gomorrah (Genesis 19:4–11, 24–25).
God’s punishment of these cities was of such severity that it is used as an illustration of divine judgment by both Peter (2 Peter 2:6) and Jude (7). Jude’s commentary is particularly apt, “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”
The Book of Judges (19:1–30) records an incident in the ancient Benjamite city of Gibeah that has many similarities to the sin of Sodom. Certain “wicked men of the city” (19:22) sought to force a visiting Levite male into homosexual acts16 with them. Denied their insistent requests, the attackers finally settled for vicious sexual abuse and gang rape17 of the Levite’s concubine that resulted in her death (19:25–30). The other tribes of Israel found the crime so repugnant that when the tribe of Benjamin refused to surrender the offenders, they eventually went to war—decimating the Benjamites (20:1–48).
These are particularly notorious examples of homosexual expression that undoubtedly most homosexual persons today would repudiate. It should be understood that while expressing abhorrence at such rapacious perversion, the biblical writers do not imply that heterosexuals are not capable of sexual atrocities nor that most homosexuals are as depraved as the residents of those ancient cities. Nor should modern Christians draw those implications. It is important to note, however, that wherever homosexuality occurs in the biblical record it is an occasion of scandal and judgment. Homosexuality is never viewed in a positive light.
The biblical writers make it clear that practicing homosexuals, along with sexually immoral heterosexuals and all other unrepentant sinners, will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). Paul also described homosexual conduct as one evidence of God’s judgment for humankind’s corporate rebellion against Him (Romans 1:26–27). Jesus himself was explicit that at the end of the age “the Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:40–42).
II. HOMOSEXUAL BEHAVIOR IS SIN FOR WHICH RECONCILIATION IS POSSIBLE
While Scripture makes it clear homosexual behavior is sin and comes under the judgment of God, it also indicates that those who are guilty of homosexual behavior or any other sin can be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:17–21).
In the church at Corinth were former homosexuals who had been delivered from the power of sin by the grace of God. In 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul listed homosexuals along with immoral heterosexuals as those who cannot inherit the kingdom of God. His grammar implies continuing sexually immoral activity until their conversion.
Verse 11 follows with a powerful contrast, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” They had been homosexuals in orientation and behavior, but now the power of God’s Spirit had radically transformed their lives, and the lives of their fellow heterosexual sinners.
Scripture makes clear that the efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ is unlimited for those who accept it. There is no sin, sexual or otherwise, that cannot be cleansed. John the Baptist announced, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
The apostle Paul wrote, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, people, regardless of the nature of their sin, can be made new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). God’s plan of salvation is the same for all. The practicing homosexual who wants to be delivered from the penalty and power of sin must come to God in the same way all heterosexual sinners must come to God, in the same way all who are now His children have come for deliverance from their sins.
The act of turning to God for salvation includes both repentance and faith. Jesus is both Savior and Lord. He is the one who forgives our sin as we believe in Him and repent. Repentance represents a change of mind in which there is a turning from sin in both attitude and behavior.
Jesus is also the One whose lordship we affirm in holy living. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5).
Like the Philippian jailer who asked what he had to do to be saved, those desiring salvation must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:30–31)—believe that He can save from the power as well as the penalty of sin. Obedient faith, like repentance, is a condition of salvation.
III. RESULTANT AFFIRMATIONS
In view of the clear biblical teachings on homosexuality and the application of these teachings to contemporary sexual practices, the Assemblies of God Fellowship makes the following affirmations:
A. WITH REGARD TO SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
The Assemblies of God defines marriage as the permanent, exclusive, comprehensive, and conjugal “one flesh” union of one man and one woman, intrinsically ordered to procreation and biological family, and in furtherance of the moral, spiritual, and public good of binding father, mother, and child. (Genesis 1:27–28; 2:18–24; Matthew 19:4–9; Mark 10:5–9; Ephesians 5:31–33).
B. WITH REGARD TO SEXUAL IMMORALITY
The Assemblies of God believes that sexual acts outside of marriage are prohibited as sinful. Sexual acts outside of marriage include but are not limited to adultery, fornication, incest, bestiality, pornography, prostitution, voyeurism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, sodomy, polygamy, polyamory, or same-sex sexual acts. (Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 18:7–23; 20:10–21; Deuteronomy 5:18; Matthew 5:27–28; 15:19; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9–13; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 4:17–19; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Hebrews 13:4).
C. WITH REGARD TO SEXUAL IDENTITY
The Assemblies of God believes that God created humankind in His image: male (man) and female (woman), sexually different but with equal personal dignity. The Fellowship supports the dignity of individual persons affirming their biological sex and discouraging any and all attempts to physically change, alter, or disagree with their predominant biological sex—including but not limited to elective sex-reassignment, transvestite, transgender, or nonbinary “genderqueer” acts or conduct. (Genesis 1:26–28; Romans 1:26–32; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11).
D. WITH REGARD TO SEXUAL ORIENTATION
The Assemblies of God affirms the sexual complementarity of man and woman and teaches that any and all same-sex sexual attractions are to be resisted. Consequently, believers are to refrain from any and all same-sex sexual acts or conduct, which are intrinsically disordered. (Genesis 1:27; 2:24; Matthew 19:4–6; Mark 10:5–9; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11).
IV. A WORD TO THE CHURCH
The Assemblies of God believes that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and should seek redemption through confession, repentance, baptism, and faith in Jesus Christ. Our Fellowship welcomes and treats with respect, compassion, and sensitivity all who experience same-sex attractions or confess sexually immoral acts and are commited to resisting sexual temptation, refraining from sexual immorality, and transforming their behavior in the light of biblical teachings. (Matthew 11:28–30; Romans 3:23; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Ephesians 2:1–10; Hebrews 2:17–18; 4:14–16)
Believers who struggle with homosexual temptations and sexual identity confusion must be encouraged and strengthened by fellow Christians (Galatians 6:1–2). Likewise, they should be taught that while temptation to sinful behaviors is universal, temptation itself is not sin. Temptation can be resisted and overcome (1 Corinthians 10:13; Hebrews 12:1– 6).
The moral imperatives of Scripture are incumbent upon all persons. However, believers should not be surprised that unbelievers do not honor God and do not recognize the Bible as a rightful claim on their lives and conduct (1 Corinthians 1:18). Peter writes clearly of the conflict and contrast between believer and unbeliever in his first letter:
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:1–5).
As Christians we must both exhort believers to live in moral purity and express in word and deed Christ’s love for the lost. Aware of the claims of God on every aspect of our lives, we must emphasize that we are called to holiness. To unbelievers we must reach out with compassion and humility. We must hold no malice toward, or fear of, homosexuals and those struggling with sexual identity—such attitudes are not of Christ. At the same time we must not condone sexual behavior, homosexual or heterosexual, that God has defined as sinful.
Christians should also do all they can to assist the person who has struggled with homosexual behaviors and desires to change and find deliverance. Change is not always easy but it is possible. It may require the help of others in the body of Christ, such as counselors and pastors, as well as a supportive church fellowship. Christian organizations are also available to help those who seek to change their lifestyles.
We desire all to be reconciled to God—to experience the peace and joy that stems from the forgiveness of sin through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. God does not want any to perish in their sins; He invites all to accept His offer of eternal life (John 3:16). As part of His church, we issue that invitation to life in Christ to everyone.
- The term homosexuality is frequently used to describe both orientation and behavior. In this paper, homosexual orientation is understood to mean sexual attraction to other members of the same sex. Homosexual behavior is understood to mean participation in sexual activity with another of the same sex. Homosexual orientation may pose temptations to lustful thinking and behavior, like heterosexual temptations, that are not necessarily acted upon and that may be resisted and overcome in the power of the Holy Spirit. Only homosexual lust and homosexual behaviors are understood in this study to be sinful.
- Some sexual preference groups may prefer a different designation but, in the absence of a universally agreed-upon term, LGBT, generally understood in contemporary circles, is used here to include all “nonstraight” communities.”
- All biblical citations are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
- Here meaning to refrain from illicit sexual activity.
- Here meaning sexual faithfulness and exclusivity in marriage.
- The Hebrew word found here, to’ebah, is also used in this chapter of Leviticus for various abominable sexual practices of Israel’s pagan neighbors (18:26–27,29–30). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, it denotes such repugnant practices as idolatry, human sacrifice, and witchcraft. See R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), 2:976–77. It is not uncommon for revisionists to attempt to explain away the plain meaning of the text by assuming the homosexual acts to be judged wrong only because they were associated with pagan religious practices forbidden to Israel. However, nothing in the passages cited supports this interpretation and the fact that homosexual practice is implicitly or explicitly condemned wherever it appears in the biblical text negates this interpretation.
- “[N]atural intercourse,” New Revised Standard Version (NRSV); Greek chresis has to do with sexual intercourse in such contexts. See A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd edition, revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1089.
- Greek aschemosyne, “shameless deed.” See A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 147.
- It is important to note that Scripture is even-handed in condemning heterosexual sins as well. Along with homosexuality, the apostle Paul includes such heterosexual sins as adultery, fornication, and prostitution. (See also such passages as Galatians 5:19–21 and 1 Timothy 1:10.) The Assemblies of God stands against all sexual immorality, heterosexual or homosexual, and calls all participants to repentance.
- “[M]ale prostitutes” is translated from the Greek plural of malakos; “homosexual offenders” is translated from the plural of arsenokoites. The terms are defined respectively as “the passive male partner in sexual intercourse” and “the male partner in sexual intercourse” in Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd edition (New York: United Bible Societies; 1988, 1989) 1:772. See also the respective entries in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.
- Plural of arsenokoites.
- New American Standard Bible.
- Some modern interpreters claim that Sodom was condemned in Scripture only for its general wickedness, not for a reputation of pervasive homosexual behavior. They also conclude from Hebrews 13:2 (“some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it”) and Matthew 10:14–15 (“shake the dust off your feet”) that the sin of Sodom was nothing more than inhospitality. It is further claimed that even if the references to Sodom describe homosexual behavior, it is actually male rape, not consensual homosexual relations, that are denounced. While the Genesis account does not answer all our questions, it is clear from the story itself and the many references in both Testaments that promiscuous and violent homosexuality is in view.
- “[H]ave sex” is in this context an accurate translation of the Hebrew yada’, which means “to know” but is frequently used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse (Genesis 4:1, NRSV). The word is also used to denote sodomy (Genesis 19:5; Judges 19:22) and rape (Judges 19:25). See Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 1:366.
- Hebrew yada’. See previous note.
- Hebrew yada’. See previous notes.
Statement on transgenderism, transsexuality, and gender identity
According to Scripture, when God created human beings, He created them “male and female” and blessed their marital union (Genesis 1:26–28; 2:20–25). Later authors of Scripture interpreted this twofold act of creation and blessing to entail moral norms such as the mutual cultivation of intimacy between husband and wife and the prohibition of sexual immorality and divorce (c.f., Matthew 19:4–9; Mark 10:5–12; 1 Corinthians 7:12–20; Hebrews 13:4). The prophet Moses, Jesus the Messiah, and the apostle Paul are united in common witness to the goodness of humanity’s biological complementarity and the moral norms that should govern male-female sexual behavior.
Recent decades have witnessed the steady erosion of biblical moral norms governing sexual behavior. As these norms regarding, among others, nonmarital sexual intercourse, homosexual activity, marital fidelity, procreation, and divorce have given way in the broader culture to more permissive understandings, new, more fundamental challenges have emerged to the very notion of biological complementarianism itself. This “transgender moment,” as it has been called—in which a person can select a gender identity at variance with their biological sex—requires a biblical and theological appraisal.
How, then, should the Assemblies of God respond to transgender persons?
In this position paper, we set out to answer that question by first understanding the experience of transgender persons in social-scientific terms. Then, we turn to a theological evaluation of the matter in light of what the Bible teaches about the sanctity of the body and about transgender behavior. Finally, we offer guidelines for the church’s ministry to people who struggle with gender identity, a struggle that is difficult for the vast majority of persons—Christian or otherwise—to understand.
A SOCIAL-SCIENTIFIC ANALYSIS OF TRANSGENDERISM
Gender Identity versus Sexual Identity. “Transgender” is represented by the “T” in the popular initialism LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, with the “+” standing in for any other designation). While the demographics are difficult to come by, transgenderism may be the smallest group within the larger LGBTQIA community. For comparison, homosexuality may represent 1–2 percent of the US population (with men outnumbering women), bisexuality 2–4 percent (with women outnumbering men), intersex 1–4 percent, asexuality 1 percent, and transgenderism at 0.6 percent based on a broad definition of the term (though some researchers have it even lower than 0.1 percent).1
“Transgender” can refer to any individual whose gender identity (culturally defined as an internal sense of gender) differs in some way from their birth or biological sex. The term “transsexual” is typically used for those who seek medical assistance to change their biological or birth sex. A significant step in the modern conception of transgenderism was the separation of gender as a social construct from biological sex as a given at birth. To be born female no longer meant someone was limited as a woman according to the expectations of society. As this understanding developed, its fluidity offered significant explanatory power for the transgender experience of gender incongruence (experiencing an internal sense of gender that is at odds with one’s birth or biological sex).
Even though by definition transgenderism is not the same thing as homosexuality, there is enough overlap between the two that some regard transgenderism as homosexuality by another name. For example, if a transgender individual is biologically male but perceives his identity to be female, and is sexually attracted to men, it would be considered a homosexual attraction for those who see the individual as male. On the other hand, that same person might count it as heterosexual because of the identification as female. But what would be the determination if the transgender individual had undergone a sex reassignment surgery? Our culture does not agree on the answer.
Regardless of their inclusion within the LGBTQIA+ initialism, shared political benefits, and the overlap between the transgender and gay communities, transgenderism remains culturally distinguishable from homosexuality, as the former deals with gender identity (identifying as male, female, or other) while the latter deals with sexual orientation (sexual attraction to the same sex). While the overlap between the transgender and homosexual community is recognized, it is important to remember that those who identify as transgender are not necessarily homosexual.
Today “transgender” is typically used as the umbrella term for the myriad of ways in which individuals can experience and express incongruence between their birth sex and their gender identity. “Transgender” has been applied to individuals as varied as children struggling with their sense of gender, drag queens, and intersex individuals born with both male and female traits that do not allow easy identification (though for the reason that they were born without a clear birth sex, many intersex individuals will not accept the trans label). Cross-gender behavior may also cover a variety of expressions ranging from secretly cross-dressing to undergoing sex reassignment surgery. There is no one-size-fits-all explanation of transgenderism, nor a one-size-fits-all response to the pain experienced by transgender individuals.
Understood as a Medical Condition. A common assumption among some doctors is that there is a biological basis for transgenderism, but years of research and debate within the medical community regarding the cause of transgenderism have been inconclusive. Even if a biological basis for transgenderism could be proven, is that basis determinative or does it only provide a disposition for transgenderism that must also take environmental and cultural factors into account? Some recent studies have questioned whether any biological basis can be found for gender as something other than birth sex. Those studies do not suggest that those who experience gender incongruence with their birth sex have chosen that experience, but that factors that seem out of their control in regards to their sense of gender have a psychological and cultural cause along with, or rather than, a biological cause.
Today mental health professionals work to help individuals with their experience of gender incongruence rather than the gender incongruence itself. The third edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) first defined “Gender Identity Disorder” as a mental disorder in which someone identified with a gender other than one’s birth sex. By the fifth edition of the DSM (2013), “Gender Identity Disorder” was replaced with “Gender Dysphoria” to remove the stigma associated with the word “disorder.” The diagnosis has shifted from gender incongruence as a mental disorder signified by behavior to the discomfort or dysphoria experienced by an individual due to their gender incongruence. Under the new classification, not all people who would be identified as transgender would also be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, such as someone who no longer reported a sense of dysphoria after a sex reassignment surgery. Considering that 41 percent of individuals who experience gender dysphoria will attempt suicide, this tendency in the mental health field to focus on distress is understandable.2
There are four possible outcomes for those seeking treatment for gender dysphoria: (1) gender dysphoria might remain unresolved, (2) it might be resolved in favor of birth sex, (3) it might be managed with intermittent cross-gender behavior (e.g., cross-dressing), or (4) it might be resolved by choosing to fully adopt their preferred gender over their birth sex (including medical options such sex reassignment surgery).
While some studies of transgender individuals have shown a short-term psychological benefit to sex reassignment surgery, other studies have also shown that the rates of suicide are still abnormally high among those who have fully transitioned. Some blame the cause of continued psychological distress after surgery on the lack of full acceptance by society, but that theory alone may not account for the high number of suicides. Treatment that emphasizes a resolution toward preferred gender could mask problems that resolution alone does not solve. A few mental health professionals have questioned the morality of sex reassignment surgery, especially in light of the lack of hard evidence for a biological cause to transgenderism. An invasive surgical response, involving the disposal of healthy organs, may not be the ethical solution to what may be a deep-rooted psychological condition. In that case, it may not solve the root problem in the long run. Because of these concerns, some hospitals no longer permit sex reassignment surgeries.
In children diagnosed with gender dysphoria, the treatment options include a wait-and-see approach, encouraging the child to identify as their birth sex, or encouraging the child to identify in accordance with their gender incongruence. This last option may even include providing hormone blockers to delay puberty so that children will have time to enter adolescence before they make the choice of how to resolve their gender incongruence. This last treatment seems irresponsible considering the potential risks of sterility, the impact on bone mass and brain development, and that the majority of children diagnosed with gender dysphoria will not carry that diagnosis into adulthood.
Gender dysphoria does occur throughout the transgender community and brings with it some negative and dangerous behaviors, from body harming activities such as cutting to suicide. To say that it is a psychological condition in need of treatment does not take away from the spiritual dimension of gender dysphoria specifically, or transgenderism in general. This spiritual dimension also calls for help. According to Dr. Mark Yarhouse, an evangelical psychologist, transgender individuals should not be seen as soldiers in a culture war, but rather as its victims. The question that needs to be answered is how the church should respond to the issue of transgenderism and to transgender individuals in a way that is fully in line with God’s redemptive plan for all.
A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE
In light of the body. Beyond certain behaviors that can be interpreted as reflections of transgenderism, Scripture does not specifically address a contemporary understanding of gender as a socially constructed concept different from biological sex. A Christian response to transgenderism is better established through a biblical theology of the body rather than by combing the Scriptures for applicable proof texts in light of specific behaviors.
At the heart of the transgender experience is gender incongruence, an internal sense of gender at odds with one’s birth sex. A common way to deal with that incongruence is to show a preference for one’s internal sense of gender as representing one’s true self over against one’s body. Some within the church have argued in support of a range of expressions of transgenderism by saying that one’s inner self, identified with the soul, should determine gender rather than the body. In other words, if someone with male genitalia has an internal sense of being female, then he should be properly understood as she. The body does not have the vote.
A biblical theology of the body, however, argues for the essentiality of the body in determining our identity. The scriptural witness of the sanctity of the body remains regardless of the shifting cultural understanding of gender. Scripture does not speak about transgenderism as it is understood today, but it still speaks to the transgender community and the church. A biblical theology of the body can aid the church in developing a response to the issue of transgenderism that respects God’s intention for and redemption of human beings.
A biblical theology of the body necessarily involves three central Christian doctrines—the creation of humanity, the incarnation of Jesus, and the resurrection of believers. Through these doctrines the scriptural witness about the human body can be fully appreciated. These doctrines also serve as a background for understanding passages which apply more directly to behaviors related to transgenderism.
Genesis 1:26–31 is the record of God creating, blessing, and commanding humanity as male and female. Humans are created in the “image of God” as male and female. The “image of God” refers at least to the role of humanity over creation as representatives of the authority of God. God’s blessing of humanity, like God’s other blessings throughout Genesis, pertains to continuance, which in this case, means procreation. If humanity is meant to represent God over the earth, then human beings must fill the earth. Hence, God’s first command to humanity is to be fruitful and multiply. Creation as male and female makes human fruitfulness, and by extension the calling to act as God’s image, possible.
In all of this, the bodily aspect of maleness and femaleness is paramount. To be female and male makes possible the ability to reproduce sexually. Even after the fall of humanity, reproductive ability remains credited to God who created humans as male and female (Genesis 4:1), as does humanity’s ongoing status as creations in God’s image (Genesis 5:1–3; 9:6). God’s creation of humanity as male and female is, at least, because God intends for humans to reproduce.
At most, God’s intention for humanity to be female and male may be related to human incompleteness apart from a sexually differentiated other. Genesis 2:18–25describes the initial relationship between woman and man with God’s recognition that “it is not good for the man to be alone.” The “building” of woman from man leads man to recognize himself as male just as he recognizes her as female. Until verse 23, the Hebrew for “man” is adam, related to the Hebrew word for ground, adamah. “Man” is formed from the dust of the earth in Genesis 2:7 and is named in relationship to the ground. After the creation of woman, ishshah, man is identified for the first time as “ish,” for woman, ishshah, came out of man, ish. Man as male remains incomplete without his biologically sexual other, without whom neither she nor he could be known or know themselves as female and male. As many theologians since at least Karl Barth have noted, God may intend humanity to be in His image as male and female together because it makes humans necessarily relational beings who, not finding completeness apart from each other, also realize their incompleteness apart from God. Our gendered bodies serve as testimonies to our responsibility to live as God’s image and to our incompleteness in ourselves individually.
The biblical recognition of two distinct human sexes, female and male, from the creation of humanity as male and female in Genesis 1:26–27, is affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6. The Old Testament also narrates the role that sin plays in corrupting human nature, beginning in Genesis 3. The New Testament affirms this corruption of humanity even to the extent of affecting sexual desires (Romans 1:18–32). There is not one aspect of being human or the human experience that is unaffected by fallen-ness, including, but not limited to, biology, reason, spirituality, self-identity, and the relations between all aspects of humanity. The relationship with the Creator and the rest of creation, including other human beings, is also affected by human fallen-ness. Salvation, found in Christ, includes a healing of the effects of fallen-ness so that no aspect of being human or the human experience should be unaffected by God’s redemption through the incarnate Lord.
The human body receives no greater honor than in the doctrine of the Incarnation. That the Word of God would become flesh and dwell among humanity (John 1:14) shows that the human body as created by God can embody the presence of God. Jesus was born, lived, and died a fully human life as God in the flesh, yet without sin. His resurrection was a bodily resurrection as a human being, the firstfruits of all those whom God will raise (1 Corinthians 15:20–23).
Jesus lived with all the experience of a human body and all the differentiation a human body possesses in comparison with other human bodies. Jesus grew to a certain height with specific features that made Him identifiable to all who knew Him. He was born with an ancestry that marked Him as Jewish within Israel and the greater Roman world. He had a sexual makeup that identified Him as male. Even the scars on His body, which helped identify Him as the Risen Lord to His followers, remain part of His bodily life after the Resurrection. Jesus experienced all the limitations of a human body, including sleep, hunger, sweat, and pain. While not everything about the body of Jesus is described (His height, weight, complexion, hair color, eye color, etc.), what is described reveals Jesus as a fully embodied human with all that goes with a body, from a genetic heritage to daily hunger.
Jesus remained a fully embodied human being after His resurrection. Jesus is the only concrete example of a final human resurrection. If Jesus rose from the dead with a body that was identifiable, not only as human but as Jesus still bearing the scars of the Crucifixion, then all bodies will be redeemed in the resurrection and still be identifiable. The body then will be continuous with the body now, though made different by the resurrecting power of God.
The full extent of the redemption of fallen humanity, and thus true human identity, is understood in light of the resurrection of the body. The most significant teachings on the resurrection of the body in the New Testament come from the resurrection accounts of the Gospels and 1 Corinthians 15. Both sources highlight the continuity and discontinuity between human bodies before and after the resurrection, but embodiment itself is assured. In Luke 24 and John 20, Jesus must prove that His resurrection is neither the resuscitation of a corpse nor the apparition of a spirit. Jesus shows He is not an apparition by offering His body to be touched by the disciples and by eating in front of them; His scars prove that He is the same Jesus who was crucified (Luke 24:37–43, John 20:20–27). Proof of His resurrection depends on His continued embodiment, which in turn becomes the guarantee of our physical resurrection. Jesus is no less incarnate as the Risen Lord.
According to many commentators, Paul explains the doctrine of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 because some within the Corinthian church were denigrating the body to the point of denying the truth or necessity of the Resurrection. He defends the teaching in light of the proven resurrection of Jesus (vv.1–11), which guarantees the future resurrection of humans (vv.12–34). In the last half of the chapter, Paul describes the resurrection through comparison with the body’s present expression. Resurrected bodies will be continuous with present bodies like a plant is continuous with the seed from which it springs. While the former bodies are perishable, weak, and “dusty,” the resurrected bodies will be imperishable, powerful, and “spiritual.” It is the “flesh and blood” of the current bodies that cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but God will grant glorified bodies that can. The difference between the natural and glorified bodies is a difference of mortality, not a difference of embodiment.
The doctrine of the resurrection establishes the continuation of the human body as the intention of God in the salvation of humanity. The God who created humans as whole beings (comprised of body and an immaterial nature) intends for life in the age to come to be as whole beings. Redemption is not complete until bodies are raised to life. While this does not mean that there is no experience of God between physical death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:6–8), it does mean that wholeness is not expressed without bodies. The Bible presents human beings as whole unities, as bodies of dust initially enlivened by the breath of God (Genesis 2:7) who will one day become bodies of glory vitalized by the Spirit of God. No account of heaven that makes the final resurrection anticlimactic can be considered a Christian view of the afterlife.
True human identity is what is being realized in relationship with Christ, body and an immaterial nature, which will culminate in the Resurrection. No account of humanity that asserts the interior life as the true self over against the body is a biblical understanding of humanity. The true self is a whole being, redeemed and restored through the work of Christ to a glorious resurrection that reflects God’s final intention for embodied humanity. That resurrection involves the whole body, because gendered bodies were part of God’s good creation and not a result of the Fall, because humanness will not be less as redeemed than it was as fallen, and because the assumption from the Gospels’ accounts is that Jesus was still recognized as a whole being after His resurrection.
One biblical teaching of Jesus that may call this into question is found in Matthew 22:23–32 and Mark 12:18–27. The Sadducees had challenged the belief in the resurrection by offering Jesus a case concerning one woman who, in accordance with the law of Moses, had married seven brothers in turn but outlived them all without producing children. Their question as to whose wife she would be in the resurrection was intended to show the problems introduced by a literal resurrection for their belief in the eternal validity of the Law. Jesus responded by challenging their knowledge of both the Law and the power of God. He teaches that in the resurrection humans will be as the angels in neither marrying nor giving away someone in marriage (Matthew 22:30; Mark 12:25). Some have taken this to mean that resurrected bodies will be like angelic bodies, with the assumption that if angels are not gendered, then neither will we be gendered in the resurrection. However, Jesus is only saying that the institution of marriage will not exist after the resurrection any more than it exists among the angels. The purpose served by marriage in this age will not be needed in the age to come. This passage should not be taken to mean that the body will be lacking in the resurrection in comparison to the present body.
The promise of the resurrection serves as a focus for a developing identity in Christ, for completed humanity in Christ will be fulfilled at the resurrection of the body. It is the resurrection even more than the doctrine of creation that highlights the sanctity of the body, as it is clear that God’s final intention for humans is existence as embodied beings. This theology of the body as essential to our true self cannot be denied when dealing with gender incongruence no less than the pain of gender incongruence can be ignored when ministering to those who suffer from gender dysphoria. The desire on the part of many who suffer gender incongruence to find resolution by changing their body is a sign of the importance of the body to human identity.
True sympathy must be extended to those in pain even if a solution that so completely prioritizes the interior over the exterior cannot be embraced because of belief in the sanctity of the body and the wholeness of human beings. This does not mean that those who struggle with gender incongruence are sinning, nor does it mean that attempts to resolve the incongruence against the body should be regarded as intentional rebellion against God rather than as a fight for survival. A community in which 41 percent of its members attempt suicide is a community of people in pain. While the Bible does not directly address transgender identity or a transgender lifestyle as such, it does recognize that individuals may make choices that are purposely at variance with their birth sex. No one has a full understanding of what causes gender incongruence, but certain behaviors which reflect a transgender identity are morally inappropriate in accordance with a Christian theology of the body. This is not to say that there should be an entirely rigid and unreasonable standard for expressing a particular gender based on cultural stereotypes. Not all behaviors carry the same meaning regardless of culture or context. However, the absence of any standards or boundaries, and the refusal to recognize our collective bodily human existence as male and female as the intentions of our Creator, leads to a confusion that negatively affects our culture as a whole.
In light of behavior. The most commonly cited verse on cross-gender behavior is Deuteronomy 22:5, “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the Lord your God detests anyone who does this” (NIV). This verse is found in a section of Deuteronomy 22 which focuses on the respect for both human and animal life (verses 1–8). Verses 9–11 remind people not to mix what should remain distinct while the last half of the chapter covers regulations for protecting the integrity of marriage and individuals wronged by others sexually. Read together, these laws are concerned with the protection of life both within nature and within marriage. Life and sex go hand in hand, and protection of the former calls for protection of the latter. If, as many commentators believe, Deuteronomy 12 through 26 should be understood as ordered in light of the Ten Commandments, then Deuteronomy 22 contains laws pertaining both to the sixth and seventh commandments, prohibiting murder and adultery.
The judgment on cross-dressing in verse 5 is that it is a “detestable thing” (toebah) or an abomination to God. The Hebrew toebah is used throughout the Old Testament for ritual and ethical activities that God detests including idolatry (Deuteronomy 7:25) and sexual immorality (Leviticus 18:29), but also for other violations of proper order including unethical business practices (Deuteronomy 25:13–16) and troublemaking (Proverbs 6:16–19). Cross-dressing in this verse has been interpreted to be a reference to homosexuality (cross-dressing understood as a kind of sexual role-play) or a reference to transvestite behavior found in the pagan worship of other Ancient Near Eastern cultures, as in the cult of Ishtar or Canaanite fertility cults. It may be in that context that any behavior which dissolved distinctions between the sexes offered support for pagan versions of prostitution or goddess worship. However, even if prostitution or goddess worship is no longer the context, the text does not support behavior which disrespects a biologically based gender.
When read within the context of both Genesis 1:26–27 and Deuteronomy 22 as a whole, this behavior is prohibited because it does not respect the sanctity of human bodies as male and female, for whatever reason those distinctions are dissolved. It is not a prohibition against a culturally specific form of dress, but a prohibition against cross-dressing as cross-dressing, the intended dressing as the opposite sex as understood within that culture without respect for a biologically based gender. Like other laws in Deuteronomy, this law is written in light of the practices of surrounding nations because Israel is called as a people set apart by God. Witnessing to the good order of God’s creation represents a significant way that Israel can stand apart among the other nations. Humanity survives and thrives as female and male. Otherwise, humanity cannot fill the earth and thus fulfill God’s command to act as God’s image over all creation, which includes the care of all life, animal as well as human (Deuteronomy 22:1–8). Israel is called to represent the order of creation (Deuteronomy 22:9–11). Deuteronomy 22:5 must be read in light of the call for humanity to act as God’s image and for Israel to reflect God’s order to other nations.
A final verse in Deuteronomy that is sometimes referenced by critics of transgender behavior is Deuteronomy 23:1, “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 23:1–8 deals with those who may not enter the assembly of Israel, either in the context of worship or the context of leadership. Eunuchs were made such in the Ancient Near East for both religious reasons and certain forms of political service. That particular restriction is abolished by the time of Isaiah (Isaiah 56:2–5). As the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 makes clear, eunuchs are acceptable to God through Jesus. To apply the restriction of eunuchs from the assembly of God’s people in Deuteronomy 23 to transsexuals today, regardless of the weakness of that application, is meaningless in light of the lifting of that restriction in Isaiah 56 and the example from Acts 8. Jesus himself declares one can become a eunuch for the sake of God’s kingdom in Matthew 19:12 (a reference to the abstention from marriage for the sake of service to God).
Another passage cited against transgender behavior is 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 where Paul lists a series of “wrongdoers” who will not enter the kingdom of God including malakos and arsenokoites. While the latter term denotes a homosexual as one who lies with a man as with a woman, there is debate over the meaning of the first term, which can be translated “soft one.” Most scholars believe it refers to the passive partner in a homosexual relationship, with arsenokoites referring to the active partner. Some argue that malakos is a reference to effeminate men or men who in some significant way play the part of a woman. Under this interpretation, transgender behaviors like cross-dressing are condemned by Paul. As malakos comes between two words for sexual wrongdoers, it is safer to assume sinful sexual behavior is what Paul intends by this word rather than behaviors we might associate with transgenderism.
The latter half of 1 Corinthians 6 may be more instructive in regards to certain behaviors associated with transgenderism. Paul rebukes members of the Corinthian church for visiting prostitutes. Many commentators assume that their rationalization for this behavior was an overly spiritualized or dualistic understanding of Christianity whereby actions committed by the body did not matter in light of the importance of the soul. Paul responds by highlighting the centrality of the body as part of our Christian identity. The physical body is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, as that body will be resurrected by God. If the body is a member of Christ, then it cannot become one flesh with a prostitute. Paul stresses the sanctity of the physical body. It was paid for by God, united with Christ, and is now a temple of the Holy Spirit. The body is no longer one’s own to do with as one pleases. Even though Paul’s command to glorify God with the body is in response to sexual immorality, the justification he gives for that command covers more than avoidance of sexual immorality. If the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, belonging to God, which will be one day resurrected, it should not be rejected or devalued in the meantime.
Finally, 1 Corinthians 11:2–12 is sometimes cited with the assumption that cross-dressing is the problem Paul is seeking to address. Paul commands women to pray with their heads covered while men should pray with their heads uncovered in respect to their gender in the context of worship. One contested explanation of this passage has been that worship within the pagan temples of Corinth involved cross-dressing, and Paul is concerned to distinguish Christian worship from pagan worship by ensuring gender distinction is respected. Regardless of the background, Paul clearly argues for the respect of gender distinction in worship.
Paul stresses the importance of woman and men respecting their nature in the course of their worship and ministry to the church, for men and women need one another (see again Genesis 2:18–24). Differences of gender do not restrict women from praying or prophesying any more than men. The call is to value each one’s gender so that the community will be complete by respecting the differences therein, but in communion with each other. Dissolving those distinctions disrespects one sex as much as it does the other, and may disrespect the body overall. The call is to glorify God with the body (1 Corinthians 6:20) and to respect their identities as male and female in the context of worship and Christian community (1 Corinthians 11:2–12).
A PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF THE THEOLOGY OF THE BODY
How should the Assemblies of God respond to transgender persons?
The question should be reframed in terms of the Great Commission, which is to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Framed this way, the Church’s ministry to transgender persons is essentially the same as its ministry to all persons: evangelism that leads to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, symbolized by baptism, and discipleship that teaches converts to obey the commandments of Jesus Christ in ever-increasing measure.
This is not to deny that transgender persons present unique discipleship challenges. For example, how should children’s ministers respond—both to the child and to his or her parents—when a child in the church expresses gender dysphoria? If a transgender person (who has undergone surgery and hormone treatment to acquire the external appearance of a member of the opposite sex) comes to faith in Jesus Christ, what does repentance look like for him or her?
Given the theology of the body articulated in the preceding paragraphs, it should be clear that the Church’s ministry to transgender persons should help them experience increasing integrity between their birth sex and their gender identity. This is a long-term discipleship goal. However, it is not the only discipleship goal, nor even the first issue that needs to be addressed in the lives of transgender persons. The most fundamental issue in the lives of all persons, after all, is whether they are “in Christ,” to use the apostle Paul’s term. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The practical question, then, is how to create an optimal environment for transgender persons to experience new life in Christ.
The first characteristic of such an environment is self-examination. Jesus’ famous saying regarding the speck and the plank (Matthew 7:3–5) is germane. Bible-believing churches rightly critique contemporary society’s warped understandings and immoral practices when it comes to sex. However, there is often a failure to address unloving attitudes toward people with views and practices that are different. Ministry to transgender persons—and LGBT persons more generally—acknowledges and repents of unloving words and deeds that have been spoken or done toward them.
Hospitality is the second characteristic. Social science indicates that transgender persons experience elevated levels of violence, rejection, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts. Contemporary political discourse—which treats transgenderism as a front in the culture war over sexual mores—exacerbates their feelings of alienation and unwelcomeness. A pastoral response to transgender persons cannot even begin if they experience an unloving, unwelcome environment in the local church. Hospitality, by contrast, welcomes people at the point at which they are met. The Pharisees and scribes said of Jesus, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2). Shouldn’t the Church follow Jesus’ lead in this regard?
A third characteristic of an optimal environment is holism. The temptation pastors must face down is the reduction of transgender persons to their gender dysphoria and related behaviors, as if the adjective transgender exhausted the meaning of the noun person. Gender dysphoria is a discipleship issue to be sure, but so are lack of faith, prayerlessness, biblical illiteracy, theological error, the deeds of the flesh, etc. Pastors who neglect to address these issues are failing to help transgender persons develop a relationship with Jesus Christ, a biblical worldview, spiritual practices, and a gospel-centered narrative that will in turn help those persons address their gender dysphoria and related behaviors.
A final characteristic is patience. Gender dysphoria is shaped over a lifetime by complex causes. Experience teaches that feelings of incongruity between one’s birth sex and gender identity usually do not instantly disappear when a transgender person converts. Of course, the same is true for besetting sins, bad habits, and long-term struggles such as substance addiction. While there are genuine testimonies of instantaneous deliverance, these are rare. Discipleship usually consists of “a long obedience in the same direction,” as one writer has described it. And, as transgender persons undertake this long obedience, a pastoral response to them must be patient, encouraging, correcting, and forgiving of them all along the way. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
ALL SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS ARE FROM THE NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION OF THE BIBLE.
- Statistics on the population of LGBTQIA population in the United States and in the world are notoriously difficult to estimate. See Gary Gates, “How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender?” The Williams Institute, April 2011; “A Survey of LGBT Americans: Attitudes, Experiences and values in changing times” from the Pew Research Center, June 13, 2013; “Sexual Orientation and Health Among U.S. Adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2013,” National Health Statistic Report, June 14, 2014; “How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis,” American Journal of Human Biology 12:151–166; and “How Many Adults Identify as Transgender in the United States?” The Williams Institute, June 2016.
- See “Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults: Findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey,” The Williams Institute, January 2014.