If the church doesn’t speak now, it may be forced to forever hold its peace.
The foundation upon which society is constructed—the central unit linking people to a social structure—is the family. And the most important component of the family is the husband-wife relationship. Any changes in that relationship will produce far-reaching effects upon the community as a whole. As long as the husband-wife tie is intact, an emotional cornerstone will be created upon which the happiness and satisfaction of everyone can be constructed. But when the tie is weakened, every other bond in society also will weaken.
—W. Peter Biltchington, PhD, in 19801—
Key point: In the debate over the meaning of marriage, the gospel itself is at risk.
- Part 4 is available here.
- View summaries of all the articles in this series here.
- This post focuses on four qualities that should characterize the church’s defense of marriage. A shorter version that hones in on just one of them—urgency—is available here.
Marriage is, and always has been, about more than individuals alone. It’s about the larger community. It’s also about children and their upbringing, including the kinds of adults they eventually will become. Consequently, it’s about the future of civilization, too. We make a big mistake if we fail to see marriage in terms of the big picture. As Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet declare, “Marriage must be both taught and portrayed as an institution that is bigger than our desires, whims, feelings, and affections.”2
Yet, the critical role of marriage in society—as important as it is—is only a part of the big picture to which we point today. Christians know that God designed marriage—one man and one woman committed to each other for life—first to foreshadow, then to represent, Christ’s relationship to His church.
Marriage is about the gospel.
Therefore, marriage is about the gospel. Manipulating it will have a detrimental effect on people and society on a multitude of levels, not the least of which will be spiritual. With God-ordained marriage being threatened, the gospel is at risk as well. Recognizing this, the church must uphold and defend marriage as God designed it. We can call His design “natural marriage” because nature echoes what the Bible says about what marriage is and what it is supposed to be.
Today, Christians have forgotten, or they may never really have understood, the true meaning of marriage. Contributing to Christians’ ignorance, the church has failed to convey to its people the rich ways in which marriage showcases the gospel. We have been exploring this important topic in this series of articles, and now we move to issue a challenge to the church to passionately uphold God-ordained marriage both within and outside its walls.
If Christians are to be spokesmen for the gospel, they must be spokesmen for marriage as well, especially since marriage is under relentless attack. Championing natural marriage will help us advance the gospel—and failing to do so will hurt the cause of Christ in immeasurable ways.
Practice What You Preach, and Speak with Passion
Last time we named the first two items on a 12-item list of qualities that should characterize the church’s defense of marriage. We said the church must defend marriage
- with greater sincerity and
- with greater authenticity.
Originally I had planned to discuss the remaining ten qualities here, but space limitations make it necessary to use next week’s post as well. This time we’ll cover items 3 through 6 on the list. As we resume our list, we’re reminded that as important as good marriages are, defending marriage isn’t just about improving marriages, but about upholding marriage.
As important as good marriages are, defending marriage isn’t just about improving marriages, but about upholding marriage.
Be Aware, Speak Up Often, and Never Misrepresent God’s Truth
Third, God’s people, both individually and corporately, must speak with greater awareness. This includes an awareness of
- the hurt and pain associated with homosexuality (go here, here, and here),
- the longings of children to have both a mother and a father, and
- the benefits of natural marriage on individual and societal levels (go here and here).
With an awareness of these things, we become gravely concerned for our homosexual neighbors, family members, coworkers, and friends—and we become more determined than ever to expose the lie that limiting marriage to one man and one woman robs them of fulfillment and happiness.
There’s more. Awareness also includes a recognition of the importance of defending marriage because of its underlying meaning in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Losing marriage means losing a picture that helps everyone, whether he or she attends church or not, understand why Christ came to earth and died. If we aren’t ashamed of the gospel, then how can we be ashamed of marriage as God designed it, for in it we see the gospel? This doesn’t mean we pick fights with those who disagree with us, but it does mean we are willing to engage with people on this important issue.
Fourth, we must uphold marriage with greater frequency. When was the last time you heard a sermon, not on improving your marriage, but on God’s design for marriage and the importance of revering it and upholding it as an institution? Pastors, where are you?
Pastors, where are you?
When did you last participate in a Bible study on protecting and preserving marriage as an institution? Again, it’s important to try to help people have good marriages, but if we don’t defend the institution of marriage, we’ve failed to fully defend the gospel.
Here is an article with links to Bible studies that will help Christians uphold marriage. These can be used as Bible studies or easily adapted as sermons.
Fifth, we must speak with greater clarity. There’s a great deal of misleading information about homosexuality out there cloaked in compelling, theological jargon. The Bible, however, is unambiguous about the fact that homosexuality is a sin (also go here).
In addition, symbols God established to have specific meanings are being grossly and horrifically distorted. If the church does not seek to clarify this misinformation, who will? The need for clarity was the theme of one of my earliest posts at Word Foundations.
The Situation Is Desperate
Sixth, we must uphold marriage with greater urgency. A new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center “found that two years after Obergefell, the Supreme Court decision that required states to recognized [sic] same-sex marriages nationwide, support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally is at its highest point in more than 20 years.” Among Republicans and those leaning Republican, support was essentially tied, with 48 percent opposing same-sex marriage and 47 percent favoring it. We need only go back to 2013 to find a large gap among Republicans. At that time they opposed the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples 61 to 33 percent!
The survey also found that while white Protestants in the evangelical tradition oppose same-sex marriage 59 to 35 percent,
younger white evangelicals have grown more supportive: 47 percent of white evangelical Millennials and Gen Xers—age cohorts born after 1964—favor same-sex marriage, up from 29 percent in March 2016.
Additionally, while African-Americans have generally been less supportive than whites of redefining marriage, since 2015 support among blacks has increased 12 points—from 39 percent to a majority—51 percent.
Without question, the pro-LGBT media have had an impact on societal opinion. Even so, one survey found that the number one factor compelling people to open their minds to idea that same-sex rights are needed “is knowing somebody who is gay.” Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel changed her position on same-sex marriage because she had “met a lesbian couple who cared for eight foster children.” Political and cultural pressure surely were factors in her change of mind, just as they are with a great many worldwide, even ordinary citizens not in politics.
Now, I want to be crystal clear about what I’m going to say next. I write with animosity toward no one, but with grave concern for all. The survey that found support for same-sex marriage among young white evangelicals at 47 percent was a different poll than the one that found knowing a homosexual to be the biggest factor pulling respondents toward supporting gay rights. Still, there is no question that knowing a homosexual is indeed pulling evangelicals, especially younger ones, in this direction. On the one hand, we can understand this, because this kind of experience personalizes the issue. It “puts a face” on the case for redefining marriage.
On the other hand, this pull proves that the church has failed completely to equip its people to think biblically about homosexuality and other related issues—the top hot-button issues of our time. As Christians, we must use our heads, not simply follow our hearts on this matter. Is this unloving? Not at all! Authentic love never ignores the truth!
In the debate over the meaning of marriage, we as Christians must use our heads, not simply follow our hearts. Authentic love never ignores the truth!
If Christians really believe the Bible, then they recognize all sexual activity outside of natural marriage as sinful and wrong, whether it is illegal or not. This includes homosexuality. Why then would they not respond as they would in other situations involving activities they know to be sinful and wrong? Does knowing a drug addict compel us to support that person’s “right” to abuse drugs? What about knowing an alcoholic, or a thief? Do we support his or her “right” to keep behaving the way he or she is behaving just because knowing that person puts a face on it for us? Of course not!
Do we support a drug addict’s “right” to abuse drugs because knowing that person “puts a face on the issue” for us? Do we support the habits of an alcoholic or a thief just because we know him or her? Of course not. Instead, for the benefit of these individuals, we seek to help them find a better path. The same ought to be true of us with regard to the homosexuals with whom we are acquainted.
Homosexual activists have succeeded in making homosexuality an identity in people’s minds, but in reality it is linked inseparably to behavior, and destructive behavior, at that! (Also go here). If we really care about someone, we will not shy away from telling him or her the truth, even though hearing the truth might be difficult at first.
What About the Children?
Moreover, we must remember that children adopted by same-sex parents are being denied a mother or a father by virtue of the design of the “marriages” of their parents. These parents may be loving and may do a great job meeting many of their children’s needs. The children may appear to be happy, and all may seem to be well. None of this changes the fact the parents’ “marriage” is denying their children an extremely critical need—that of a mom or a dad. Children need both, argues social researcher Glenn Stanton in this short but excellent piece. He is absolutely right! (Also go here.) These children are real people—every bit as real as their adopted parents. Can we please acknowledge their existence and their needs? Let’s let these children, whether we know them by name or not, personalize this issue for us!
Read “Why Children Need a Male and Female Parent” by Glenn Stanton
Jesus cared a great deal about children and warned against influencing them to sin or stumble. If we who claim to believe the Bible really believe it, we will acknowledge that children living in homes with same-sex parents are extremely vulnerable to being so influenced. Here I’m not trying to point a finger of accusation at gay or lesbian parents. Like so much of the rest of society, they have been blinded. My point here is what Christians believe about the various scenarios that have become inevitable in the aftermath of Obergefell. Today’s culture is misleading children and adults alike with the idea that homosexuality is on par with heterosexuality. But I’m not misleading anyone! you might say. Maybe you aren’t directly, but if you remain silent while the relentless attacks against natural marriage continue, you are complicit!
As we have said, the situation is urgent. With marriage having been redefined by our government, our nation is changing in profound and ominous ways. With marriage under attack and the gospel threatened, religious liberty is at risk as well! Even before the Obergefell ruling, Princeton Professor Dr. Robert George predicted, among other things, how redefining marriage would affect religious liberty in America.
The church must speak now, lest it be forced to forever hold its peace.
The church must speak now, lest it be forced to forever hold its peace.
I know these are hard words, but they appear to be necessary. Next time, we’ll cover several more items on our 12-item list—and we might even reach the last one.
In the meantime, pray for the church to understand the need and rise to the occasion. With God, all things are possible!
- Part six is available here.
- An article showcasing all 12 qualities that must characterize the church’s case for marriage is available here.
Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1W. Peter Blitchington, Sex Roles & The Christian Family, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1980), 49. Of this book, Dr. James Dobson wrote, “Never before have I volunteered a statement of endorsement for a book, but this one deserves that distinction. These issues are crucial to the survival of the family, and I wish every Christian in America would read it.” Dr. Dobson’s endorsement appears on the cover of the book.
2Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet, Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014), 95.
image credits: all images with exception of the neighborhood street and the picture of Professor George: www.lightstock.com