Ministry in 'new marriage culture' examined
MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP) –- Baptist leaders focused on the legal, political, biblical and practical issues related to the country's changing definition of marriage during the "Ministering in the New Marriage Culture" conference at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.
The one-day event, hosted by the seminary on its Northern California campus in Mill Valley, drew more than 300 seminary students, graduates, pastors and other church leaders from across the country. While conference speakers held firm to the Bible's perspective against same-sex marriage, they challenged ministry leaders to react toward others in a compassionate and loving manner when presented with opposing views.
"With humility, accept messiness as a part of future ministry decisions," Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Seminary, said. "And with courage and maturity, make your best decisions and accept the consequences as you move forward."
Other speakers included Brad Dacus, founder and president of the Pacific Justice Institute; Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC); and Rick Melick, distinguished professor of New Testament studies and director of the academic graduate studies program (ThM./Ph.D.) at Golden Gate.
During the Oct. 3 conference speakers tackled a variety of questions: What are the ministry implications while the political and legal fight plays out? What are a church's legal rights? How does this issue impact religious liberty? How does a church leader guide his congregation? How does a Christian demonstrate passionate convictions without showing anger or compromise?
Weeks before the conference, Iorg sounded the alarm that "the battle for gay marriage is over."
"Events of this past summer mandate a response to the most significant change in American society since abortion on demand was legalized in 1973," Iorg said during the seminary's fall convocation in August. "The United States Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage. 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."
Dacus said a loving but firm encounter, not confrontation or hateful rejection, is the best approach believers can take in handling society's evolving views on marriage and other social issues.
"We need to see negative outcomes as true opportunities for ministry and witness," he said during the conference. "To address this issue, churches must pre-think their strategies, and protect themselves in a legal manner. 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."
Moore, ERLC's president, preached from 2 Timothy 2:22-26 and addressed how the church must handle the issues of human sexuality.
Specifically referring to the issue of gender reassignment surgery, but including all forms of sexuality, Moore reminded his listeners that the issue was not an individual's situation, but that all people are worthy recipients of the Gospel. "The message is the main focus, not their 'sin' or situation," he said. "The person who sins does so because he or she is a sinner. That is the bottom line."
Moore described the two temptations evangelical Christians face on the marriage issue. The first is the "majoritarian temptation," the broadly-held idea among evangelicals that most Americans hold the same basic values as they 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," he said.
The second temptation Moore described is the "libertarian temptation." He said this is "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, Moore explained. "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," he said, noting the goal is to speak with the mind and mission of Christ.
"We must stand firm for the truth of religious liberty and freedom of conscience," Moore said. "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."
That vision of marriage means that the church must first maintain and proclaim a high view of sin and grace, he explained.
"We should not be mean, scared, or angry, but be shaped by a love-conviction, and by an open, bright and life-changing focus," he said.
Melick, a professor and director of academic graduate studies program at Golden Gate, 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:
-- Remember God's love is expressed through grace.
-- Affirm a biblical worldview (especially as to the role of marriage and sexuality in marriage).
-- Exalt the biblical view of mercy (in dealing with those who have fallen into sin).
-- 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."
Iorg presented the final lecture entitled, "Touchstones for Ministry in the New Marriage Culture."
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," he said. "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 allows a church to welcome everyone to participate in the church's public life, but it limits leadership and decision-making to members. Second, it frees the church to welcome all people to hear the Gospel, but it limits membership only to those changed by the Gospel. Third, it gives the church the freedom 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."
"No issue such as same-sex marriage should occupy the center of the church's focus, only the Gospel," Iorg said. "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," Iorg said.
"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."
To see a video of the four lectures, as well as the Q&A session, click here.
Phyllis Evans is director of communications at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Dale "Geno" Robinson is the director of adult discipleship at First Baptist Church of Fair Oaks, Calif. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).