Ministering in the New Marriage Culture

Ministering in the New Marriage Culture
A Conference Addressing the Supreme Court’s Decision on Gay Marriage
October 3, 2013

Recordings of all the lectures and Q&A are available at no charge

Dr. Jeff Iorg, President of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, concluded the President’s Convocation by sounding this alarm: “Events of this past summer mandate a response to the most significant change in American society since abortion on demand was legalized in 1973. The United States Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage. The result – the battle for gay marriage is over.”

Putting the Court’s decision in perspective, President Iorg stated, “Nothing can be legally proper or politically correct when it is morally and biblically wrong. But now it’s time to accept the reality of the legality of same-sex marriage and move on to discussing how to minister in this new milieu.” Iorg cited examples of seminary students, pastors, and church leaders who asked how one would respond to the situations they would now face as ministry leaders.
What is the church to do? How do we respond? While the political and legal fight plays out, what are the ministry implications? What are your church’s legal rights? What does this decision mean for your religious liberty? How do you guide your congregation? How do you demonstrate passionate convictions without anger or compromise?

To answer these questions, Golden Gate Seminary hosted a major conference entitled “Ministering in the New Marriage Culture.” It was a day-long discussion of the legal, political, biblical, and practical issues related to the country’s changing definition of marriage. The conference did not modify or weaken the Bible’s perspective against same-sex marriage, but was focused on learning how to react in a compassionate and loving manner to people impacted by this change. In addition to Dr. Iorg, the speakers included Mr. Brad Dacus, founder and president of the Pacific Justice Institute; Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of SBC; and Dr. Rick Melick, distinguished professor of New Testament Studies and director of Academic Graduate Studies Program (ThM/PhD) at Golden Gate.

Dacus identified three lifestyle situations contrary to the Christian faith which face the church today: people in alternative lifestyles (e.g. lesbian parents, gay couples who might want to attend a marriage retreat), people who would disrupt worship or the ongoing life of the church, and registered sex-offenders. He reminded the crowd that engagement through a loving but firm encounter, not confrontation or hateful rejection, is the best approach believers can take in these situations. “We need to see negative outcomes as true opportunities for ministry and witness,” he said.

“To address this issue, churches must pre-think their strategies, and protect themselves in a legal manner,” Dacus said. “Churches have the right and responsibility to set the parameters for church membership, volunteer participation, and specific church events. Churches have the right to ask a disruptive person to leave their premises.” Dacus concluded by pointing out the example of Paul claiming his legal rights under the law (Acts 22:25). “Churches must claim that right for themselves, remember their commitment to God, and not forget to reach out to people for Jesus’ sake.”

Dr. Russell Moore preached from 1 Timothy 2:22-26. He spoke directly to the way the church must address the issues of human sexuality.

Specifically referring to the issue of gender reassignment surgery, but making application to all kinds of sexuality, Moore reminded his listeners that the issue was not a person’s situation, but that all persons are worthy recipients of the gospel. He said, “The message is the main focus, not their ‘sin’ or situation. The person who sins does so because he or she is a sinner. That is the bottom line.”

Moore then described the two temptations evangelical Christians face in this new marriage culture. The first is the ‘majoritarian temptation,’ the broadly-held idea among evangelicals that most Americans hold the same basic values as we do. “We tend to believe that those who do not hold a biblically-based value system are in the minority and only belong to a special, small interest group. Unfortunately this is not the case.”

The second temptation Moore described is the “’libertarian temptation,’ the temptation to rebel against a legalism that sees marriage as merely a public good engaged in the preservation of humanity. While this is of utmost importance for the order of society, this attitude ignores the fact that marriage is also a moral and spiritual value established by God from the very beginning.”

Neither of these temptations adequately provides the basis for ministering in this new culture, explained Moore. “The best way to engage a society and culture whose values are farther and farther from our own is to speak to issues and concerns with a ‘convictional kindness’ that is not quarrelsome, unkind, or angry.” Our goal, he declared, is to speak with the mind and mission of Christ.

Moore reminded the audience, “We must stand firm for the truth of religious liberty and freedom of conscience. We must hold this belief not just for us and those who agree with us, but for everyone, even those with views we believe are wrong or offensive. Everyone has a right to hold and express their beliefs. And the church must hold firm to its right to proclaim boldly the Gospel, and a gospel-driven vision of marriage.”

He explained that vision of marriage means, firstly, that the church must maintain and proclaim a high view of sin and grace. It must recognize that the Gospel demands a life of on-going repentance, forgiveness, and struggle. Secondly, Moore stated “We must reclaim a marriage culture in our churches that is truly biblical. We must recognize that a wedding is an act of the entire body of Christ, not just for the couple or by the state.”

Thirdly, Moore noted that the church must not compromise its ability to minister to people of all life-situations by attitudes and expressions of hatred and harshness. It must always remember that God specializes in hopeless cases and that he desires us to speak with a convictional kindness. “We should not be mean, scared, or angry, but be shaped by a love-conviction, and by an open, bright, and life-changing focus,” Moore concluded.

Dr. Rick Melick lectured on “Roman Corinth: A Case Study.” Using Paul’s letter to the early Corinthian church, Melick delineated principles and practices for believers in today’s new marriage culture. Corinth was a Roman colonial city strategically situated at an international crossroads which can best be described as “central, cosmopolitan, cultural, and corrupt.” Melick explained that the Apostle Paul dealt with the immorality that had seeped into the Corinthian church from its surrounding society. Paul taught Christian principles that could be applied to those problems.

Melick presented two foundational principles from this study. “The first is that the Christian worldview best meets society’s needs, and second, a properly functioning church satisfies the longings of the heart.” Melick explained that from those two principles and an understanding of scripture, four theological guidelines emerged which Christians can implement today: 1. Remember God’s love is expressed through grace; 2. Affirm a biblical worldview (especially as to the role of marriage and sexuality in marriage); 3. Exalt the biblical view of mercy (in dealing with those who have fallen into sin); and 4. Appreciate the power of the church (especially as it exercises forgiveness, comfort, and love in its desire to restore a fallen brother).

Melick’s conclusion summarized Paul’s admonition to both the Corinthian Christians and to us all: “The church is called on to minister to all people in whatever their life-situation.”

Dr. Jeff Iorg presented the final lecture entitled “Touchstones for Ministry in the New Marriage Culture.” He began with a definition of the church from the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message: “A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel” (BFM2000, Article VI). While speaking directly to and about Baptist churches, Iorg noted that the following touchstones for ministry in this new social situation are applicable to all kinds of churches.

The first touchstone Iorg listed is to have a sound doctrine of the Church. It is important, Iorg said, “to have a biblically-centered theology and practically applied theology of the church.” This applied theology involves the church being a local autonomous congregation with clearly defined membership qualifications. “Church members must be regenerated, baptized, and covenanted. This implies that the church has control over its membership and the actions of those members who have agreed to abide by their covenant of membership.”

Iorg also included three benefits given to a church with defined membership. First, it frees up a church to welcome everyone to participate in the church’s public life, but limits leadership and decision-making to members. Second, it frees the church to welcome all people to hear the gospel, but limits membership only to those changed by the gospel. Third, it frees the church to welcome all people to study God’s Word and have the opportunity to be changed by it.
The second touchtone for ministry is that the church must remember the power of the Gospel to create new beings in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). The implication from this statement is that “the Gospel must be in the center of the life of the church.” Iorg stated that “No issue such as same-sex marriage should occupy the center of the church’s focus, only the Gospel. To do that the church must reassert its evangelism strategies to reach all people with the Gospel.”

The third ministry touchstone is that Christian leaders need to reaffirm and remember their security as leaders in Christ. “This truth springs from the doctrine of the priesthood of believers,” said Iorg. “A secure leader is best equipped to reach out and lead in the new marriage culture. Leaders need to be secure in Jesus Christ to be able to stand in the face of the challenges to Christian values and morals that inevitably will come.”

Concluding his remarks, Dr. Iorg encouraged church leaders. “With humility, accept messiness as a part of future ministry decisions, and with courage and maturity, make your best decisions and accept the consequences as you move forward.”

More than 300 guests attended the conference, held on the seminary’s Northern California campus in Mill Valley, CA. Seminary students, graduates, pastors, and other church leaders came from all over the state as well as from across the country.

The four lectures, as well as the Q&A session, are available at no charge here.