Pastor Begg’s Bad Advice
Alistair Begg has been the pastor of a church in the Cleveland, OH, area for several decades. Although I have not followed his ministry closely, I have only heard good things about him. From all appearances, it seems as though he has been faithful in his ministry.
For this reason, I was somewhat shocked to learn last week of pastoral counsel he gave to someone who’d written him a letter. In an interview last year, he made these remarks:
[I] field questions all the time that go along the lines of “My grandson is about to be married to a transgender person, and I don’t know what to do about this, and I’m calling to ask you to tell me what to do”—which is a huge responsibility.And in a conversation like that just a few days ago—and people may not like this answer—but I asked the grandmother, “Does your grandson understand your belief in Jesus?”“Yes.”“Does your grandson understand that your belief in Jesus makes it such that you can’t countenance in any affirming way the choices that he has made in life?”“Yes.”I said, “Well then, okay. As long as he knows that, then I suggest that you do go to the ceremony. And I suggest that you buy them a gift.”“Oh,” she said, “what?” She was caught off guard.I said, “Well, here’s the thing: your love for them may catch them off guard, but your absence will simply reinforce the fact that they said, ‘These people are what I always thought: judgmental, critical, unprepared to countenance anything.’”And it is a fine line, isn’t it? It really is. And people need to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. But I think we’re going to take that risk. We’re going to have to take that risk a lot more if we want to build bridges into the hearts and lives of those who don’t understand Jesus and don’t understand that he is a King.
Four Reasons Why this is Bad Counsel
I do not like criticizing older men in the ministry who have served faithfully for so long. Nevertheless, this is not wise counsel, for the following reasons.
“Gay marriage” does not exist (see below for more). It is a fiction created by the Supreme Court, but is not a legitimate marriage in any way.
A wedding is a celebration of marriage. Pastor Begg’s counsel to attend the wedding (and bring a gift!) is misguided because he’s advising this grandmother to celebrate a lie.
The justification for his counsel is “love.” Modern evangelicals have a nasty habit of reducing biblical love to little more than sentimental well-wishing. It’s emotive, not substantive. The “love” chapter of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, says love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (V6). By the Bible’s own definition of love, the loving thing to do is refrain from going.
(This is a more practical reason, but relevant nonetheless.) This sends a confusing message about Christian truth at precisely the urgent moment where utmost clarity is needed. Further, it lends credibility to radical LGBTQ activist’s desires to remake Christian morality into the ethic of Sodom.
Pastor Begg’s Follow up
In response to the controversy that erupted online, pastor Begg preached a sermon called “Compassion vs Condemnation” where he doubled down and defended his position, using the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In his sermon, the gay grandson is likened to the Prodigal and Begg’s critics are likened to Pharisees (whom he also calls fundamentalists).
To be clear, Begg is quite clear that he in no way supports LGBTQ lifestyles and does not support “gay marriage.” That’s not the issue. The issue is his pastoral counsel that a grandmother’s “love” for her gay grandson could justify attending a gay “wedding” ceremony that she disagrees with.
In my view, he mishandled scripture and misapplied it in this sermon. The “compassionate” action is to go to the gay “wedding” and refusal to do so is an act of “condemnation.” This is exactly backwards.
The wrong way to interpret the Parable of the Prodigal Son is to see the Father's celebration banquet at the end as analogous to a gay "wedding" that the self-righteous, grace hating older brother refuses to attend.
The closest thing in the parable to a modern gay “wedding” is not the banquet at the end, but the far country where the younger brother squandered his money with prostitutes. The father and the elder brother did not join him, smiling on the front row of the pig sty holding gifts in their hands.
The context of the parable is the verse that introduces it, where Jesus said,, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).
Repentance is always the key
Repentance is key. These debates always come down to whether or not the person in question is repentant. Pastor Begg’s counsel reinforces the world’s pressure on Christians to accept and affirm unrepentant sinners. Jesus never did that. Jesus’ dined with tax collectors and sinners in order to call them to repentance. Jesus’ first words in the gospel of Mark was a call to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Christians who insist that repentance of sin is necessary are not being narrow-minded fundamentalists, bigots, or Pharisees—they’re simply being Christians. The Pharisees of our day are the self-righteous moral lecturers who sin with a high-hand while seeking to erase repentance from the Christian faith.
Everyone knows what weddings are for. Weddings are covenant ceremonies that celebrate God joining a man and woman in marriage (Matt 19:6). You don’t need a wedding ceremony to affirm your love for someone. If someone demands you attend a gay “wedding” or will otherwise call you a bigot, who’s being self-righteous? Is it not the one openly flaunting his unrepentant sin while insisting grandma celebrate it with a gift?
How twisted has our world become when Christian pastors and leaders will advise Christians to go along with it? Since this is exactly what the world is pressuring Christians to do, is it not reasonable to conclude that Christians will go along with it to make life easier for them while hiding behind Begg’s past orthodoxy?
For faithful Christians who would not attend the wedding, Pastor Begg’s counsel throws them under the bus by likening them to self-righteous Pharisees. It gives further ammunition to those who would use his words and his credibility as a bludgeon to attack Christians. Refusal to attend a gay “wedding” does not make one an hate-filled, reviling elder brother, as Begg insinuates in his sermon. It is the grandmother’s love for God and commitment to truth would prevent her from attending.
The father's banquet is not a celebration of the prodigal’s drug habits, greed, theft, of prostitution. It is a banquet of repentance that indicates genuine conversion. The father’s banquet in the parable would be more akin to a baptism celebration, a party invitation no Christian could legitimately refuse!
Gay “Marriage” Doesn’t Exist
So, why do I use quotes when I say “gay marriage?” Here’s why. It doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as “gay marriage.”
Marriage is an exclusive, lifelong union, between one man and one woman, and God joins them together (Matt 19:6). God created marriage this way “from the beginning” (Matt 19:4). Humans have no right to change it.
God permitted divorce "because of your hardness of heart" (Matt 19:8). Divorce is a tragedy, because a real marriage is being dissolved.
But "gay marriage" is a not a real marriage because it is unnatural and can not in any way fulfill a central purpose of marriage: reproduction. "Gay marriage" was invented to legitimize, normalize, and mainstream homosexuality.
The above comments would have been boringly obvious to the vast majority of the human race all around the globe for all of human history until the last few years.
But in 2015, the Supreme Court Obergefell decision broke peoples' minds. It's only been EIGHT years since then, and Christians are defending it like it's no big deal.
The consequences of Obergefell are catastrophic. Most people don't notice, though, because those consequences doesn't happen all at once.
The moral ground beneath our feet has eroded to the point that pastors can cavalierly recommend going to these ceremonies, gift in hand.
We should care far more about our relationship with God, the author of marriage, than about our relationship with a family member who is desecrating the sacred union God created.
The logic of Obergefell is now so pervasive that true marriage has become practically meaningless. It is no longer regarded as transcendent or sacred. It's just another form of self-expression that will be endlessly twisted and mangled to suit people's kinky demands.
If you think a Christian grandmother should just attend her grandson's "gay wedding" to save the relationship, how far will you apply that same logic? Will you also advise her to attend the next grandson's wedding when he wants to marry his daughter? Or his son? Or himself? His dog? His tree?
Don't dismiss me and say, "oh, that's ridiculous."
It's already happening.