The Church of Scotland is now moving toward allowing same-sex marriage, dismissing arguments about the Bible's reference to homosexual acts as sin as being "framed in cultural contexts."
The Kirk's General Assembly debated a report introduced by the Theological Forum, which said that while the Bible says engaging in homosexual acts is sin, that reference was made in cultural contexts that are different from today's culture, The Christian Institute reported.
"Scriptural condemnations of same-sex sexual activity were framed in cultural contexts very different from our own and referred to individual acts rather than committed and faithful people willing to enshrine their relationships in vows before God," the report said.
"As committed and faithful partnerships between equal persons of the same sex were largely unknown in the ancient world, neither St. Paul nor any other biblical writer could have had such partnerships in mind when they condemned same-sex sexual activity."
The report also said that there is a distinction between "the living Word of God," which it defiined as Jesus Christ speaking in people's conscience, and the written Word of God or the Bible.
"We owe our allegiance to Jesus Christ the Word made flesh rather than adherence to the literal words of Scripture, and, for that reason, if people believe that Jesus is now calling the Church to a new understanding of how faithfulness may be displayed in human relationships, this should be taken seriously as a contemporary form of obedience," the report argued.
Those in the General Assembly who were in support of biblical marriage put forward a series of amendments, but these were not approved.
At the meeting's conclusion, the Kirk instructed Church officials to explore possible changes to church law in order to legally allow ministers to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.
A spokeperson for the Presbyterian Church in Ireland said in a statement that the developments in the Church of Scotland are "so obviously at variance with the traditional biblical understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman."
"The Presbyterian Church in Ireland affirms that clear position, which is based on the teaching of Scripture, and as a result, our ministers are not permitted to conduct, or to assist in leading, services of marriage for same-sex couples," the statement said.
The head of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Dr. Frank Sellar, also expressed alarm and disappointment over the Church of Scotland's move to deviate from the biblical definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the U.K. where same-sex marriage is not legal.