It is difficult to turn on the news, browse the web, or open a newspaper without hearing something about gay marriage. From “controversial” laws in Indiana and Arkansas, to Supreme Court decisions, to judges overturning state constitutions defining marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman, to Christian denominations changing their stance toward gay marriage, the issue is simply everywhere. Anyone who does not wholeheartedly accept, embrace, and celebrate gay marriage as something intrinsically good is automatically dismissed as a bigot. As Pastor Kevin DeYoung recently said, “We should not expect our ideas to be debated fairly when it has already been concluded that there are no ideas to consider, only bigotry to suppress. As I’ve said before, why argue about dogma when stigma will do?”
In the midst of all of these conversations, there have been calls for the evangelical church to change its position on the issue of gay marriage if they want any chance of being seen as relevant in the culture. Speaking concerning the issue of gay marriage and the church, former pastor Rob Bell recently said, “I think culture is already there [accepting of gay marriage] and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense…”
Much could be said concerning Bell’s views such as his dismissal of scripture as merely “letters from 2,000 years ago,” but I want to focus on the main point that he is articulating and that I have read countless times in recent years. The position that the church must change its position on gay marriage or else it will shrink into irrelevancy.
It should be noted at the outset that historically, this position is not true. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Alexander Griswold has shown that every Christian denomination that has already taken significant steps toward liberalizing their stance on homosexuality and marriage have seen a steep drop in membership. From the United Church of Christ, to the Presbyterian Church U.S.A, to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, to the Episcopal Church. The results are still the same: every denomination that has liberalized its positions on gay marriage has seen a steep decline in membership. As Griswold shows, churches that have remained steadfast in their understanding of marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman have either grown in membership or are experiencing a much slower rate of decline.
While it is interesting to see that the claim that holding to the prescriptive biblical view on marriage will cause churches to decline and be irrelevant, is not only wrong, but rather the exact opposite is true, the church obviously cannot gauge faithfulness by mere numbers. Many heretical churches are growing while many faithful churches are declining. The reality remains that we must not look to our numbers to validate our churches, but we also must not look to the approval of the world to validate our churches. If the church is dismissed as irrelevant, bigoted, judgmental, and intolerant by the world, then so be it. Yes, we should seek to articulate what we really believe to the culture and deny caricatures, but we should not be surprised when we remain hated and mocked. Seeking the approval of the world for our validation is a deadly path. As Spurgeon said, “That very church which the world likes best is sure to be that which God abhors.”
In many ways the issues of the day are unique. But at the same time, it must be realized that all of the questions and critiques of the church that we see today stem from the first question that was asked in the Bible. The question of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say?” Some ask the question by denying the existence of God altogether, while others ask the question by denying what the scriptures say concerning sexuality. We should not be surprised that non-believers question the authority of the Bible, but more and more self-identified Christians are being candid in their rejection of what the scriptures say.
For example, consider the words of William Kent, a member of the United Methodist Committee to Study Homosexuality. At the end of that study, he concludes, “The scriptural texts in the Old and New Testament condemning homosexual practice are neither inspired by God nor are they of enduring Christian value.” Or consider the words of Gary David Comstock, the Protestant Chaplain at Wesleyan University. He recently said, "Not to recognize, critique, and condemn Paul’s equation of godlessness with homosexuality is dangerous. To remain within our respective Christian traditions and not challenge those passages that degrade and destroy us is to contribute to our own oppression…Those passages will be brought up and used against and again until Christians demand their removal from the biblical canon or, at the very least, formally discredit their authority to prescribe behavior."
Kent and Comstock are at least honest enough to concede what the Bible says concerning this issue, but instead of submission to that truth, their solution is to deny, edit, and remove the portions of the Bible that they do not like.
But what about for us? We must not allow the temptation of approval from the world to sway us into compromising biblical fidelity. The issues are too important. For it is not merely about same-sex marriage. Rather that question is the outworking of far more fundamental questions: Who is God? How do we know who God is? What is sin? How do we know what sin is? What should I do with the sin in my life? How am I to relate to the Bible? How do I know what I am to believe concerning God? What does God require of me? If having the Bible for our foundation to answer such questions means that we will be dismissed as irrelevant, then so may it be. Christ probably would have been seen as more relevant if, when he was being tempted in the wilderness by Satan, would have bowed the knee to Satan in order to receive the kingdoms of the world. Instead, he chose to follow the will of his Father which resulted in him being rejected, mocked, spat upon, and killed. This is why Christ said in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."
I’ll end with the words of A.W Tozer who made this insightful observation: "Christianity today is not transforming people; rather it is being transformed by the people. It is not raising the moral level of society; it is descending to society's own level, and congratulating itself that it has scored a victory because society is smilingly accepting its surrender."
Brothers and Sisters, may this not be true for us.
- Joshua Bryan DeLong