Pastor Bob O'Bannon
Below is the twelfth post from Pastor Bob in an ongoing blog series designed to help Christians think through the issue of homosexuality in a careful and Biblical way. For more on the reason for this series, click here.
Question 12: Won’t the church lose its appeal to the broader culture if it expends too much energy fighting against gay marriage?
Most healthy churches want to grow. Most Christians want to see the world reached for Christ. Most pastors want to see their communities impacted for God’s kingdom. But if we expend time dealing with controversial topics like gay marriage, don’t we run the risk of alienating people and diminishing our overall impact?
The answer is yes. We do run that risk. But it is a risk we must be willing to take.
At New Life, we have been going through a sermon series lately called “How Shall We Then Live,” which is focused on ethical issues such as abortion, racism and marriage. These are polarizing and controversial topics. They can lead to heated discussions. Some people might choose never to come back to our church because of a certain view that is presented. This is certainly not my desire, but it is certainly a real possibility.
I have made this observation before, but I say it again — it is somewhat stunning to note how many Biblical issues are front and center in the national dialogue these days. People are struggling to understand the value of a human life. Our society seems to be totally frustrated with regard to race relations. Our Supreme Court has redefined marriage to mean something it has never meant before. All of these are issues to which the Bible has much to say; meanwhile, our neighbors, classmates, friends and co-workers are all observing, listening, processing the national debate, thinking these things through, and forming their opinions. And will we, God’s people saved by grace, redeemed to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, be content to sit back and say nothing?
Christians should never intentionally seek to offend or alienate people, but sometimes God’s people are called to say unpopular things. God told the prophet Jeremiah to preach God’s word to Jerusalem, with the accompanying promise that the message would be resisted (Jer. 1:19). His message was so firmly resisted, in fact, that he received a beating for it (Jer. 20:1-2). But he preached it anyway (Jer. 20:9). Hundreds of years later, Paul also had a message for Jerusalem, a message of a crucified and risen Savior so unpopular that his friends urged him not to make the trip (Acts 21:12). But Paul went anyway, knowing it would lead to prison and maybe death (Acts 21:13).
In contrast to Paul and Jeremiah, we have Pontius Pilate. He was convinced that Jesus was an innocent man. He wanted to release Jesus from custody. He knew the right thing to do. But he also wanted to be popular with the people, and eventually their voices prevailed with the result that Pilate “delivered Jesus over to their will” (Luke 23:20-25). The will of the people won the day, and the Son of God was crucified.
Martin Luther said, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ . . .”
Francis Schaeffer wrote in 1982: “Where is the clear voice speaking to the crucial issues of the day with distinctively Biblical, Christian answers? . . . We can expect the future to be a further disaster if the evangelical world does not take a stand for Biblical truth and morality in the full spectrum of life.” It’s 33 years later – have Schaeffer’s words proven to be prophetic?
Let me clarify that I am not advocating an angry, self-righteous posture that sees the world as the enemy and is constantly looking to pick a fight with anyone in disagreement. Schaeffer also said, “There is nothing more ugly than an orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.” But some evangelicals in the early 21st century are simply too worried about what the world thinks, and too eager to be viewed as hip, enlightened, progressive. As Erik Raymond wrote recently, it is the “clamoring for relevance and respect” that can so easily lead the church into error.
Rick Warren, popular author and pastor of Saddleback Church in California, said it well when he was on the hot seat about gay marriage on Piers Morgan Live. Warren said, with millions of people watching, “I fear the disapproval of God more than I fear your disapproval or the disapproval of society.” Amen Rick.
It is an important question to ask: whose approval do we really want – the world’s, or God’s? If it is the latter, I submit that a little unpopularity with our culture is a small price to pay for faithfulness to our Lord.
Next week’s question: After 12 entries in this blog series, I think it’s time to bring it to a close. Keep an eye out for blogs on other topics coming soon.