Will They Find Us Singing or Whining?
What will Christian witness look like in a society that affirms gay marriage? After President Obama's expression of support, Christian reaction was all over the map, from the usual apocalyptic doomsday stuff to serious and thoughtful biblical opposition to progressive evangelical acceptance. As a committed evangelical committed to the historic Christian teaching of the Scriptures, I am opposed to gay marriage. But I've been thinking about what we do next. Despite the success of ballot initiatives in various states, this is clearly a battle we are losing in the culture. It won't be long before gay marriage is a widely accepted and legal practice. So, to paraphrase the late Chuck Colson (quoting Francis Schaeffer), how now shall we live?
Last week I came across two items that helped shape my thinking on this issue. First, a panel at the Basics Conference hosted by Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio. On the panel were Alistair Begg, Mark Dever and Voddie Baucham. At the end of the segment, the issues of gay marriage was raised. All three pastors were steadfastly opposed, but the conversation delved deeper into the reaction of the Church.
Mark Dever's words were particularly useful. Dever has first hand experience with this issue as a pastor on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The district has legalized gay marriage and Maryland seems poised to. He ministers to many who are in the thick of this cultural fight.
I'm summarizing his words here (I encourage you to listen to the whole panel), but Mark said something along the lines of this: Christians will have to ask themselves this question: Can we preach in a society that affirms something opposed to the Scriptures? Or will we close up shop? And his answer, of course, was "Yes." We've preached in a society that aborts millions of babies every year and embraces much that God opposes. Of course, the question of legal rights is another conversation -- one we should fight for.
But must we as Christians have an environment, a government, that affirms our values? Sure, it's idea, but will we preach even if what we preach is countercultural? Dever said "Yes." We'll preach if the culture is against the gospel. We'll preach if they put is in prison. We'll preach if they threaten our lives.
Dever and Voddie Baucham criticized the Christian Right for its sometimes doomsday, apocalyptic tone. That if we don't this measure passed or defeated or if our guy doesn't win, then somehow the Church cannot prevail. Alistair Begg even said that what is best for the country may be bad for the church. God may use a period of cultural opposition to purify His Church.
I thought this entire panel was instructive and might inform the way pastors preach. We shouldn't engage the important cultural issues with a sort of "all-or-nothing, sky-is-falling" tone, as if God is up in Heaven, white-knuckling it over what happens every other November.
Last week I also finished Mark Buchanan's excellent book, Your Church is Too Safe. In one particular chapter, Buchanan writes about Paul and Silas' famous jailhouse incident in Philippi (Acts 16:5).
If you know the story, you know these two gospel messengers were beaten to within an inch of their lives, unjustly thrown in prison with the worst of society, and considered a threat to society.
And what was their response? Hatred toward the authorities? Whining about their rights? Threatening to sue? Mocking of the political establishment that put them in jail?
No. Paul and Silas did the unthinkable. They sang. And when it came time to exploit the weakness of the man who put them in jail, to seek revenge, they became instruments of gospel grace, converting the jailer and his family to faith in Christ.
I wonder, if that story took place today, with us, what would our reaction be? Would we sing? Or would we whine?
Better yet, when the culture continues to increase its hostility toward the Biblical gospel, do we sing? Or do we whine? Have we convinced ourselves that we can't possibly live Christian lives unless our party wins the White House? Have we trained our people to put more faith in chariots (elections) than in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7)?
When they do come to beat or imprison or chastise us, what will we do? When they come to put us in prison, will we respond as graciously as Paul and Silas? Will those who oppose the gospel hear us singing ... or whining?
I think of something I heard Focus on the Family President Jim Daly say at a pastors' retreat a couple of years ago (I'm paraphrasing), "I'll preach the gospel until they come to kill me for it. And right before they kill me, I'll ask my executioner, 'Can I pray with you?'"