The Church and Gay Marriage

The debate and vote on the Gay Marriage Bill are obviously hot topics, both in the media and in the church at the moment.  Evangelical Christians will rightly largely be very disappointed to be seeing this going through parliament.  Adrian Reynolds has written a good article in responding as preachers and in general as Christians.

I had a couple of thoughts seeing the vote and the debate that led up to it.  I think the crucial one is simply that we can't surprised that a country of people who don't share our evangelical Christianity (and consequent commitment to Biblical authority) don't follow a Christian and Biblical ethic.  In many ways it's interesting to see within the Conservative party in particular some residual Christian-ethic, but, as evangelical Christians, we know that in many ways we have been losing these battles in society for some time now.  The reason, at it's simplest, is that most people are not evangelical Christians.  Martin Salter has helpfully pointed out that what is so infrequently addressed in debates like these is why we believe what we do.  If that was addressed, I imagine a very small percentage of people in the country would ground their beliefs in the revealed word of God!

Now that shouldn't stop us campaigning and making the case for Christian points of view.  And of course it shouldn't stop us from praying either.  God has no problem overcoming the majority if in his infinite goodness and wisdom he chooses to do so.  Rather it simply reminds us that the further the majority are from the ground of our belief, the less likely, in democratic terms, they are to support us.

This leads me to my, not hugely radical, second observation.  Evangelism and discipleship are the key here.  The sexual ethics of our nation or whatever issue we are considering, won't ultimately be changed by a better lobbying approach, or good use of the media, or provision of lots of money to do these things.  It'll be changed by people becoming disciples of Jesus Christ.  It is the grace of God bringing salvation that trains us to renounce ungodliness as Titus 2:11-12 puts it.

As someone who spends some time in more deprived parts in the UK, I have increasingly recognised this in those social contexts.  Governments seem not be very effective at dealing with the issues in these places (how many "initiatives" are announced each year?).  Whether you pour money into them or withdraw money as fast as you can, the sinful hearts of people respond negatively.  It's no different in more wealthy parts.  The idols of money, comfort and material things don't make people better (although they may be more able to hide the bad bits!).  What we need is the gospel of grace.

But that leads to a final observation.  Why is it that things have changed so fast in the UK in the last fifty years or so with respect to Christian ethics?  Now I know you can do all sorts of cultural analysis, but the thing that has struck me throughout my life has been the impotence of the church.  I speak from a Church of England context, although I have spent around 10 years in Baptist churches.  Two things strike me.  First, those who profess to be Christians are divided on what they believe - for example in the Church of England, for many there has been fury that the church won't be allowed to take gay marriages and in the Baptist church we have people like Steve Chalke writing in favour of gay marriage, although both are probably in the minority in their constituencies.  And the second, consequent point, is that evangelism and discipleship have fallen apart, partly because the message has become incoherent and partly because the focus has increasingly been on fighting the battles within our constituencies.

Finally, a few thoughts about solutions.  We must take our confessions and standards seriously.  I think Carl Trueman makes a good point here.  To turn things around our ministers, churches (bishops etc.) must hold to the standard and there should be defined consequences if they don't that are faithfully pursued.  Is it worth saying that the Church of England fails because it doesn't apply this and the free church has very little mechanism to apply it?  Second, with an intact message, our evangelism and discipleship can be restored and this should be the focus of our churches (Matthew 28:19-20).

Obviously, in one sense, this is pie-in-the-sky thinking, in terms of turning things around quickly and in terms of the reality of our sin, but I wonder if I need to think a little more idealistically, instead of pragmatically some times.


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