By nature I am not a controversialist. I’m not one to jump head-first into the nearest raging theological or political debate. And as a minister of the gospel, what I strive to keep central to my preaching and teaching is the good news that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died on the cross, and was raised to new life, in order to redeem sinners from eternal destruction (1 Corinthians 1:23). I believe with all my heart that this message – and this message alone – is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), and must be sounded clearly and faithfully from my pulpit, and from every church’s pulpit. No matter how much the direction of society may alarm me, or how much the government’s actions may distress me, or how much our culture’s moral drift may alarm me, what was true for the apostle Paul is true also for me and every Christian minister: Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! (1 Cor. 9:16).
I am also bound, as a herald of the gospel, to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). I believe this pertains mainly to matters having to do with salvation and the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, and not to political concerns. Paul’s whole-counsel ministry was to the Ephesian believers, particularly the elders (Acts 20:17). As far as I can tell, he spoke very little about political or social concerns. Paul was determined to make disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19). And for me as well, as a pastor and preacher, I take that as my primary responsibility – to make disciples by preaching Christ and declaring to the people of God the whole counsel of God.
But it’s for this reason that I write on the matter of same-sex marriage. This is a political issue, to be sure, but it is far more than that. It is a profoundly theological and moral issue, one to which the Word of God clearly speaks, and one that has immediate concern for the people of God. If today’s trajectory holds, and gay marriage is fully normalized (both legally and in terms of cultural acceptance), the implications for the church, and for pastoral ministry, could be enormous.
For that reason, I hereby lay my cards on the table: I believe marriage is a life-long, covenant union between a man and a woman. By definition, that is to say, by the very nature of the institution itself, a marriage cannot be between two men or between two women. Just as a “father” is necessarily male, and a “mother” is necessarily female, so marriage is necessarily the union of a man and a woman.
When God created a companion for Adam, he gave him a woman to be his wife:
Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh and my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23, 24)
The Bible everywhere assumes marriage to be between a man and a woman, and Jesus confirmed the Genesis account when he said:
Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? (Matthew 19:4, 5)
Again, the reason why I, as a Christian under the authority of Scripture, believe marriage is between one man and one woman is simply because the Bible teaches it. Notice I have not said: “I don’t believe homosexuals should be allowed to marry.” Putting matters that way prejudices the biblical argument for traditional marriage. It’s not that I believe homosexuals should be barred from something they otherwise would have a right to enjoy, but it’s that I don’t believe – upon the basis of Scripture – that there even is such a thing as marriage between two people of the same gender.
Why do I write this? Not because I spend night and day stewing over the issue of gay marriage. And not because I intend to make this a recurring theme in my preaching and teaching. In fact, in almost ten years of preaching, I think I’ve touched on the subject of homosexuality maybe four or five times, and always because it happened to be in the Scripture passage I was preaching on. This is not my hobby-horse or pet issue.
Rather, in light of the fact that this is becoming a very pressing concern, and that in just the last several years there has been a sea-change in our culture’s view of gay marriage, I believe it is important, as a minister of the Word, to make a clear stand on the issue. Supporters of gay marriage are winning the debate, they are carrying the day: more and more Americans endorse the idea, and the courts and policy makers are making steady, if uneven, progress in bringing about the full legalization of same-sex marriage. And many churches have added their blessing. In the midst of this confused and turbulent landscape, it does not hurt to affirm for myself and other believers that God’s Word is clear and unchanging on this subject.
And as Christians we must be clear why we oppose the idea of same-sex marriage. To be sure, there are compelling secular (or natural law) arguments for upholding traditional marriage. But for the Christian, though he may appeal to such arguments for corroborating support, the final authority must be the Word of God. So I don’t believe in traditional marriage because it manifestly squares with the world as we know it, or just because it is traditional, or because I dislike the notion of gay marriage. And most of all, I don’t believe in traditional marriage because I hate gay people (which I don’t). Homosexuality per se is a different issue. Here, the proper subject for debate is the meaning of marriage: what is it, after all? And because God instituted marriage, and has revealed his will for it in the Scriptures, I believe marriage is between one man and one woman.
The fundamental question in all this is: has God spoken in the Scriptures? Is the Bible authoritative for guidance in something as basic to human society as marriage? I’m not interested in establishing a theocracy, but when making laws about marriage, you can no more escape its profoundly moral nature than you can escape the moral nature of killing when making laws about murder. If a government criminalizes murder, which the Bible condemns, does it then establish a theocracy? No, and neither does a government set up a theocracy if it sanctions only traditional marriages.
As for those who seek to give a new meaning to marriage, I ask: by what authority? And does that same authority then rule out polygamy, or any endless number of marriage mutations?