Five things not to say this Sunday
Many of us and people in our churches will have been praying about Tuesday’s vote on so-called gay marriage in the House of Commons. The Government’s success in the vote, and the sometimes empty arguments advanced, will have left many of us feeling a little cold, low and disappointed – not just physically, but spiritually too. As preachers, we will have the pulpit on Sunday, so what must we say? Plenty. But I would like specifically to suggest five things we must not say, despite the temptation.
1. Our God is not sovereign
None of us would say this, of course, but might some of our people think it? How can the God we worship and adore possibly be sovereign and allow this vote to have gone through? If ever there were a time for a Mount Carmel type intervention, wasn’t this it? Surely the only reasonable deduction (and one that opponents might well make) is that God is not sovereign? The answer to this regular struggle is always the same. Look to the cross. For at the cross, God wonderfully and sovereignly shows that he is in control of the most wicked and evil events (Acts 2.23). Pastorally, the answer to those struggling with the sovereignty of God is always to take them to Calvary.
2. Our prayers have not worked
“Worked?” What do you mean by that? No doubt some people will be feeling that their prayers (and efforts) have been in vain. We prayed a lot. But our prayers did not work. The idea of prayers “working” is not unbiblical (see James 5.16). But neither it is the whole Bible picture on prayer, nor even the main focus. Prayer is not about getting things primarily. Prayer is an expression of dependence on a sovereign God and humbly submitting to his will. I would suggest that the sentiment, “our prayers have not worked” probably means we and our churches have the wrong view of prayer.
3. Our nation will be judged
So, the rubicon has been crossed. Our nation is now ripe for judgement and surely judgement will come. This is easy to express, but harder to justify biblically. First of all, I don’t think we – as New Covenant Ministers – have the same authority as the Old Testament prophets to call down judgement. Second, everything God does is judgement. He is the Judge and all his sovereign acts are judgements. He is already judging. Third, our nation (if that is the right category) has been ripe for judgement for many centuries. But God, in his good grace, has held back. Despite Tuesday’s vote, that may still continue. Fourth, it depends upon your view of kingdom, but there is certainly a compelling argument to say that this side of the cross, there are only two nations – “my people” and “not my people”. Nations, as we understand them, may be less significant than we think (I realise not everyone will have this view, but you must admit that the whole situation is rather nuanced). So, announcements of national judgement from the pulpit are definitely out. Rather, we should announce judgement in the apostolic way: judgement is coming and everyone should be prepared – Heb 9.27.
4. Our teaching on marriage is rendered impotent
Now marriage looks like being redefined in unbiblical terms, it will be impossible for the church to say anything about it. Nonsense. Proper marriage is and always will be a continued picture of Christ and the church. At its best, biblically understood, it is and always will be a foundational building block of church life and, in God’s grace, non-Christian society. True, it’s going to be harder to make those points now we have to caveat what we say. But I still think marriage is a remarkably positive thing for the church to be speaking about, not least to our own people.
5. Our vote cannot go to anyone who voted for gay marriage
Tempting though this response is, I think it is also wrong. Not only is it legally dubious for ministers to tell church members how to vote, politics is a whole lot more complicated than one issue, however important the issue is. The chances are Christians may well be faced at the next election with candidates from all parties who would have voted the same way. Do we just abstain? I don’t think so. I don’t have a candidate who agrees with everything I do, so voting is a judgement about prioritising and choosing which issues are the most important. Significant though the vote was, nothing that happened on Tuesday changes that.
More positively, as plenty of online Christians have expressed, the whole debate has shown how needy the country is when it comes to the gospel. The ground may be hard, but those who are called to sow must sow. We must pray. We must cast ourselves on God for gospel work and gospel success because truly, if you did not see it before, you must see now that transformed and redeemed lives are the only hope for our nation and our communities.
So, brother, preach the gospel – in season and out of season.