Many years ago, I was invited to conduct a wedding inside a mainline church building.
While wandering around the lobby before the service, I happened upon a pamphlet that asked on its front, “What did Jesus say about homosexuality?”
When I opened up the pamphlet, it was blank.
On the back, it said, “That’s right. Nothing.”
The implication was that since Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality, it must be okay.
This argument from silence, though, proves nothing. Jesus didn’t say you can’t torture and kill the neighbor’s cat, either, but I seriously doubt He would think that’s good!
Never mind that Moses and Paul did make negative statements about homosexual conduct, and that Jesus fully endorsed all of Moses’ writings and made provision for Paul’s epistles by calling him to be an apostle.
This illogical kind of thinking is what happens when people start with the result they want and then work backwards to prove their initial assertion. We used to call this “the end justifies the means.”
I’m greatly concerned about the Supreme Court ruling of June 26, 2015 recognizing gay marriage in all fifty states.
I’m concerned for our culture, but as a writer and consultant on church conflict, I’m far more concerned about the divisions that have already begun inside the Christian community.
For example, journalist Jim Hinch from The Orange County Register has estimated that one-fourth of all evangelical Christians already support same-sex marriage.
In addition, Idaho State University sociologist Jeremy Thomas confidently asserts that “evangelicals will more or less come to embrace homosexuality in the next 20 to 30 years. I would put all my money on that statement.”
Although I am no longer a pastor … with attendees and donors I might offend … let me share five thoughts about the implications of the Court’s ruling for Christians today:
First, the way Christians view this ruling reveals what kind of believer they are.
There are many ways to describe people who profess to be Christians:
*Cultural Christians. These individuals take their cues on moral/social issues from Jon Stewart … Modern Family … the latest book or film … or whatever their friends and co-workers think. Cultural Christians always want to be cool, which means moving with the times and rarely taking an unpopular position on anything. Some of these people reflexively superimposed gay colors on their Facebook profile photos after the Court’s ruling.
Let’s be honest: when an unpopular Bible and popular culture clash, these people almost always side with culture. After all, since He doesn’t have an account, God won’t disagree with them on Twitter.
*Compassionate Christians. These people know somebody who is gay … a family member, friend, or co-worker … and they identify with their struggle. These individuals believe it’s more important to express sympathy and even solidarity with their loved ones than support the stance of Scripture or their church.
Nearly seven years ago, I preached a sermon called “Defending Biblical Marriage” a year before I left church ministry. After the sermon, many people approached me and were torn. They knew that God’s Word only permitted marriage between a man and a woman, but they also had gay friends “and I just want them to be happy.”
*Feeling Christians. These professing believers look to their emotions to tell them what’s right and wrong. They don’t care what Scripture says or what 2000 years of Christian history teaches (with an additional 1500 years of Jewish history beyond that). No, they let the way they currently feel about an issue dictate the position they take. Some have added their own personal experience as the basis for their morality. It’s fruitless to debate these people over a moral/social issue. Their feelings are never wrong … and your arguments are never right.
Jewish commentator Dennis Prager writes, “More and more Americans are relying on feelings to make moral decisions. The heart has taken the place of the Bible.” I’d put it even more succinctly: for these people, their feelings and experiences have replaced Scripture as their moral authority.
*Liberal Christians. These people are politically liberal first, Christians second. Whenever the two positions clash, they always lean left. Their politics inform their faith … their faith rarely informs their politics.
Some famous members of Congress from the Bay Area exemplify this type of Christian. Even though these members identify with religious organizations that take strong stances on issues like gay marriage, they ignore their faith and adopt the views of their political ideology instead.
*Biblical Christians. These people have learned to ask themselves, “What does the Bible say?” before they take a stance on any moral/social issue. As the great British preacher Charles Spurgeon used to say, their blood runs “bibline.”
These people want to know what the entire Bible teaches on an issue before they take a position. They interpret each text in context and then try and harmonize that passage with others that mention the same topic. They don’t care what the Supreme Court ruled four days ago, but what God’s Word has taught for millennia.
I once knew a married couple who had an adult lesbian daughter. This couple loved her very much, but they stated emphatically that her lifestyle was wrong. They visited her whenever they could, but because they were biblical Christians first, they could not give their daughter the approval she desired.
It seems to me that the Christians who support gay marriage are cultural, compassionate, feeling, or liberal Christians. While they may take the Bible seriously on some issues, when it comes to gay marriage, they’ve either chosen to interpret it using the political correctness of 2015 or they’ve chosen to ignore it altogether.
Christians who don’t support gay marriage are uniformly biblical Christians. This is the way I identify myself.
Whenever Jesus got into a debate with His opponents, He quoted the Old Testament to settle the matter. (For example, read Matthew 22.) Jesus didn’t use feelings or personal experience to settle an argument. Scripture was paramount for Him. If Jesus is both our Savior and our Lord, shouldn’t we emulate His example?
Second, this ruling indicates that some Christians have completely abandoned the idea of God’s holiness.
Have you seen the two-word phrase “love wins” bandied about over the past few days? It’s being used by gay marriage supporters as a celebration of their Court victory.
But I’ve been tempted to say, “If love wins, then holiness loses.”
The contemporary Christian church has completely lost its concept of God’s holy character.
Two days ago in church, we sang that God is holy, but I can’t remember the last time I heard a pastor state that the holiness of God is the basis for biblical morality.
When we say that God is holy, we’re saying that God cannot sin … cannot have any evil in His presence … and that His holy character is the basis for human right and wrong … not polls, politics, or preferences.
When a pastor only preaches that God is love … and neglects to preach that God is holy … the Christians in that church will become morally unbalanced.
When Bill Hybels started Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, he only preached that God is love. He wanted to attract new people who would place their faith in Christ … and he was largely successful.
But when these new believers went off the rails morally, Hybels tried talking to them. They responded by saying, “But God loves me no matter what. Isn’t that what you’ve been preaching?”
Hybels realized that his preaching was resulting in people’s salvation but was completely negating their sanctification.
So he went out and bought a Plexiglas lectern as a reminder that from that moment on, he would always keep the truths “God is love” and “God is holy” in balance.
Without God’s holy character, the love that Jesus displayed on the cross means nothing.
“God is love” is popular. “God is holy” will never be popular.
But jettisoning the holiness of God misrepresents both His character and His commands … and any pastor that does so will pay a heavy price … either in his own life and family, or by watching the lives and families of others be destroyed.
Third, churches that accept gay individuals/couples into membership/leadership will end up abandoning the biblical sexual ethic.
If I asked you right now, “Can you summarize for me what the Bible teaches about sexual activity?”, could you do it?
From Genesis to Revelation, Scripture teaches that sex is a gift from God … belongs exclusively inside a heterosexual marriage relationship … and that all sexual behavior outside of marriage is contrary to God’s will.
This means that premarital sex … extramarital sex (including adultery and prostitution) … sex with children and animals … and sex between two men or two women (or more than two men or two women) meets with God’s disapproval.
But most gay men … even when they’re married and attend church … are sexually promiscuous, and such a lifestyle becomes very addicting. Marvin Olasky from World Magazine notes “the sociological data that most gays are not monogamous” in this article reviewing recently “Christian” books on homosexuality:
So imagine that you’re the pastor of a church that accepts sexually active gays into membership … or into leadership … like Stan Mitchell from GracePoint in Franklin, Tennesse, or Fred Harrell from City Church in San Francisco. Here’s an article from World Magazine on City Church:
How can you preach the biblical ethic of sexuality in your church if you admit practicing gays into membership or leadership?
Whatever you say about heterosexual sexual behavior must also apply to homosexual sexual behavior. How can you have two separate sexual ethics?
Since you can’t preach against gay promiscuity, you won’t be able to preach against straight promiscuity, either. You will either have to abandon the idea that some sexual behavior is wrong, or you’ll be reduced to some meaningless sexual ethic like “we’re all called to love one another” or “let your feelings be your guide.”
Parents, is that the sexual ethic you’d like your teenagers to be taught at church?
Liberal Christian professor/author/speaker Tony Campolo recently came out in support of same-sex marriage. Since the great majority of gay men (even the married ones) are promiscuous … and Campolo has to know this … doesn’t this “acceptance” require a radical reinvention of the Christian sexual ethic?
What will that reinvention be? And who will create it?
While we’re at it, let’s just reinvent God’s character … sanctification … the atonement … and anything else we don’t like in Scripture.
Maybe this is why commentator Glenn Beck predicts that within five years “50% of congregants will fall away from their churches.”
I’d rather stick with God’s original plan … even if it requires disicipline to carry out.
Fourth, Christians need their pastors to stay informed and to provide guidance on the implications of same-sex marriage for believers.
My wife and I have been attending a megachurch about twenty minutes from our house. When we left for church last Sunday, I told her that it was extremely important that the pastor say something about the Supreme Court ruling.
To his credit, the pastor used the Court’s ruling as an introduction to his sermon, telling the congregation that he had received many emails and text messages from people who wanted to know his interpretation of events.
Time Magazine has just published an article calling for religious organizations to lose their tax-exempt status. If that ever happens, it will mean far more than that donors won’t be able to deduct their contributions on Schedule A.
It will mean that the government can tax … and thus control … all churches and religious organizations.
And as in the days of Hitler’s Germany, the state would be able to tell churches what they can teach … and how they must behave … and that is truly scary.
Today … at least in Southern California, where I live … most churches don’t offer any classes where moral/social issues can be discussed … and most small groups discuss the pastor’s sermon from the previous Sunday.
Whether or not it’s been planned, the pastor has become the only teacher in most evangelical churches.
Most Christians don’t have time to read about and discuss the arguments for and against gay marriage … and if they do, they’re liable to overreact or be thrown into despair.
For that reason, pastors need to step up to the plate and interpret what’s happening in the culture for churchgoers. If the pastor won’t do it, who will?
But according to Christian researcher George Barna, less than ten percent of all pastors preach on controversial issues.
Why so few?
One possibility: because they’re more interested in being successful than faithful.
You can read the interview with Barna here:
But what do we do with the apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 1:10? “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
I believe that the days ahead will not only determine who the real Christians are, but who the faithful pastors are as well.
Pastors and churches are going to be forced to choose their positions. Silence isn’t going to work anymore. It’s better to say, “This is where we stand” early on … letting those who disagree find another church … than to hide your position and have a potential mass exodus later on.
Although we can’t predict how many evangelical pastors and churches will surrender to the culture over the next few years, pressures inside and outside of churches are going to be great. Marvin Olasky from World Magazine describes the signs that your church might be caving on this issue:
Finally, it’s crucial that Bible-believing Christians transcend their differences and remain visibly unified.
Look, there aren’t just a couple of thousand Christians in the United States. There are millions and millions of us … and we’re stationed in high places.
If we don’t change our position on this issue, we’re going to be maligned … ostracized … and vilified by many … even by some within our churches.
If we stay together, we’ll survive this challenge to our faith. If we splinter and divide, we may be in real trouble.
I want you to imagine that this Saturday, you attend a wedding that your pastor is conducting at your church … and the wedding is attended by both believers and unbelievers.
In light of the recent court ruling, will he have the courage to read Ephesians 5:22-33 where Paul says that the marriage between a man and a woman is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church?
If he does, will the pastor be heckled? Will people walk out? Will reading those verses ruin the wedding?
Pastors need to be prepared for scenarios like these … and they need your visible support so they remain courageous.
Let me suggest four ways that you can stand strong for biblical morality:
*Stay informed about the issues. I subscribe to National Review on Facebook and Twitter and have a monthly $2.99 digital subscription to World Magazine, which shows up on my Facebook page. I like these publications because their articles are intelligent, well-written, and interact with the culture. Please don’t avoid these issues because they’re unpleasant. Get involved!
*Pray for your pastor(s) and for Christian leaders on the front lines. They are going to be taking some vicious attacks in the days ahead. Intercede for them before the Father and pray that their spiritual armor fits well.
*Let your pastor and these Christian leaders know that you support their efforts. When your pastor stands up for biblical morality, write him a note of support. When you read a great article on World, like it on Facebook. Hold up the hands of your leaders … just like Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands in Exodus 17.
*Carefully consider engaging in civil disobedience. I read an article two days ago about a group of African-American pastors who are organizing to engage in public, passive resistance about the gay marriage ruling. They know they’re going to end up in jail … at least for a few hours … but they don’t know how else to make their voices heard. Think about it.
I’m writing this article not as an activist on social issues, but as someone who longs to see unity in the body of Christ.
The night before He died, Jesus prayed for His disciples, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
And then Jesus prayed for His disciples “that all of them may be one … that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
Jesus said that the basis for unity among His disciples was God’s Word … and that their visible unity would be the single best argument that the Father sent the Son.
When Christians stayed united around God’s Word, the world believes and churches grow.
When Christians are divided around God’s Word, the world ignores Christ and churches stagnate.
I pray that we will stand strong and stay united.