Our country is somewhat on edge this week as the gay marriage debate heats up in the press, social media, the blogosphere and conversations everywhere. The Supreme Court is currently hearing two different cases related to the issue and everyone knows the potential for the high court to deliver a game changer.
In all of this rancor, how is the church to respond? How are people of the Christian faith to interact with this culture shift? It's here and it's real. The shift has already dramatically affected the thinking for my son's generation (he's sixteen). Just get them talking about it and listen for awhile.
As a pastor, I have a sacred duty to think deeply about how I am going to engage this issue and how I will lead the people to whom God has granted me leadership. What will I say to them? I have a diverse congregation; I have people all across the political and social issues spectrums. Nevertheless, a good leader leads from strong conviction. So the following is what I want to say to my flock. As a preacher, it only seems fitting to put my thoughts down in the form of points. I have four.
1. We must have a clear source of authority.
The debate over gay marriage is happening on many levels - legal, moral, philosophical, practical, etc. Some of the arguments for gay marriage are persuasive. The analogies that many use to support the ideas that homosexuals ought to be a legally protected class of people make sense to a lot of people. American individualism seems to reign supreme in our collective postmodern mindset. However, everyone must clarify on what authority his or her opinion rests. For Christians, this is particularly important.
The Christian faith is a specific worldview. It is unique and makes specific and exclusive claims about truth. This in itself is in increasing tension with our postmodern world. My source of authority is the Bible. The testimony of historic Christianity is that the Bible is God's revelation. It is old; it is progressive in nature; it is the product of thousands of ancient copies compared, compiled and translated into English; it is testimony from those who were there for us today. The Old and New Testaments are equally inspired, although very different. Some of what we find in the Old Testament has been fulfilled and made obsolete, yet it's principles and precepts concerning God's character and his moral expectations are unchanging. The New Testament tells us how to connect the Old to the New. It tells us the Good News of Jesus and gives the church instructions for faith and practice.
Yes, people disagree over a great many things about the Bible and concerning what's in the Bible. There is room for agreeing to disagree on numerous non-gospel issues, therefore, different evangelical traditions have developed. However, the Bible also speaks clearly in its totality to many issues as well, homosexuality being one of these. It's not that the Bible does not give us clear instruction on the gay marriage issue, it's really about if we are going to allow the Bible to have authority on the issue. I choose to be a consistent Christian and let the Bible be my authority. I urge my flock to do the same.
The Bible both sets up as example for marriage a heterosexual relationship and condemns homosexual behavior. Genesis 1-2 describe the creation of man and woman as sexual companions, created in the image of God for oneness with the command to produce children. The very definition of marriage biblically is between a man and woman. If we want to recognize gay marriage, then Christians have to concede we are redefining the biblical model.
The Law of the Old Testament explicitly tells us of God's disapproval of homosexual behavior (Lev. 18:22; 20:13). Homosexuality is also is mentioned as an example of the wickedness of the men of Sodom. From that it's a logical inference that God's Word cannot endorse gay marriage. Where homosexuality is mentioned in the New Testament, consistent with the Old, it is condemned as sin (Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim 1:8-10; Jude 7).
Many point to the fact that in the Gospels that Jesus is never quoted teaching anything about homosexuality. Many infer that his silence (although he may have spoken to it, not everything he said is recorded) is tantamount to his approval of the behavior. He didn't speak directly to child sexual abuse either, but no one would suggest Jesus would approve of that!
The whole of the Bible is God's revelation or it is not. This is what Christians must clarify. It is absurd to believe we can simultaneously be Bible-believing Christians and support gay marriage. You must choose what your authority will be on this issue. My authority is the Bible on this issue and every issue of faith and morality. I urge my church to make sure of the same authority.
2. We must have a firm commitment.
I choose to make my mind and heart captive to God's Word, not the opinions of men. I must know what the Bible teaches and then be resolute to the end. I desire the Christians in my congregation to be deeply commitment to the study of the Bible, discover it's truths on matters, and then dig in their heels and not be moved.
This world will attempt to persuade you, shout you down, and shame you. If you stand firm with me, be ready to be called a Pharisee, bigot, hater, and ironically unchristian. You will be pressured to compromise God's Word and back peddle. But with a clear conscience and a sincere faith, you must stand your ground. This world does not need Christians who tuck and run when they are opposed. This world needs light and salt even though it may most often reject it.
3. We must show love to opponents.
The call to follow Christ takes resolve. Jesus himself said you have to count the cost, meaning it's not easy. Jesus said to stand in the truth of God will bring opposition. To garner opponents simply for standing boldly on God's Word can't surprise us or derail us. It's going to happen. But I am concerned greatly about how I and my church reacts to opposition and criticism.
We must be Christ-like. Jesus told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who would persecute us. A tall order indeed when the emotions are running high! But it is by our love that we win people, not be our arguments. I'm not against making the arguments (obviously), but not at the expense of love.
We must always be gracious, patient, kind, long suffering, gentle, and humble. It is possible in the power of God to be both strong in conviction and loving in behavior. You don't have to sacrifice one for the other. And truly loving people is respecting them while sharing the truth with them, not changing the truth so that you won't offend.
Church, we must be okay if the truth offends, but we ourselves should never be offensive.
4. We must keep our eye on the main thing.
The bottom line is that the church does not exist to fight against gay marriage. Yes, I as a pastor, and the church as a whole should add our voice to the discussion. There is a prophetic role to fulfill. But the purpose of the church remains the same now from the day it was commissioned by Jesus. We are to be about making disciples of Jesus. This is the main thing. The Gospel itself is the message and should always be center stage.
We must recognize that God brings transformation about in individuals. He does this through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We must believe that the absence of God's transforming power is the root of all of humanity's woes. Homosexuality is a provocative issue, but let's never forget that we have many other problems as well that are the result of sin - adultery, divorce, child abuse, greed, laziness, neglect, dishonesty, pornography, violence, and so forth.
Church, we must keep our eye on our task of sharing the Good News of Jesus and growing disciples who will obey Him and honor His Word with their whole lives.
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