Last week after World Vision announced its intention not to recognize same-sex marriages, those in the so-called progressive wing of “Christianity” were predictably unhappy. They chastised evangelicals who hold fast to traditional marriage. They said it was a mistake to hold on to the Bible’s teaching about marriage because that position is driving millennials away from the church. Implication? Those who hold the biblical line are doing damage to the church and are keeping people out who would otherwise be in.
To wit, Tony Jones:
A lot — and I mean a lot — of younger evangelicals watching this unfold on social media. Many of those already have one foot out the door of the church. They’re looking for — even hoping for — some advance on the issue of rights and love and equality for GLBT persons. That’s what will keep them in the Christian faith. Without that, they’re gone. They’re the new Nones. What WV did yesterday, on a large, public scale, pushed scores of younger people out of the church and out of the faith. Some of them for good. There are many tragedies about how this all went down, not the least of which is the message that Christianity is a faith that is run by ideological bulli
Yesterday, Rachel Held Evans argued similarly in an opinion piece for CNN:
Whether it’s over the denial of evolutionary science, continued opposition to gender equality in the church, an unhealthy alliance between religion and politics or the obsession with opposing gay marriage, evangelicalism is losing a generation to the culture wars.
A recent survey from Public Religion Research Institute revealed that nearly one-third of millennials who left their childhood faith did so because of “negative teachings” or “negative treatment” of gay and lesbian people.
Christians can disagree about what the Bible says (or doesn’t say) about same-sex marriage. This is not an issue of orthodoxy. But when we begin using child sponsorships as bargaining tools in our debates, we’ve lost the way of Jesus.
Are they right? Is it true that we are driving people away when we hold up the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and marriage?
This is an argument that may have some purchase with those in the pews. Why? Because it appeals to evangelical zeal for converts and to their desire to see as many people come into the kingdom as possible. It’s a clever tactic because it pits one evangelical priority against another: evangelism vs. the Bible. The aim is to persuade people that the two are somehow at odds with one another. The aim is to suggest that if you really care about getting people saved, you will stop insisting on those unpopular parts of Scripture.
If you have felt the pull of this argument, I am writing this essay for you. The sirens that are trying to lure you away from scripture are telling you a lie. They are manipulating your noble desire for evangelism and the growth of God’s Kingdom. They are telling you that if you really want to love sinners like Jesus does, then you will have to shrink back from some of Jesus’ words. If you really want to reach this generation for Christ, you must back off your commitment to His word.
But therein is the lie—that you can love someone by withholding from them what they need the most. The lie is that Jesus will build His church by those who suppress the unpopular parts of His word. On the contrary, Jesus Christ will not build His church by denying His own word. On the contrary, you will only see real kingdom growth where you see Christ’s word honored.
Consider the way Jesus Himself spoke about these things:
3 The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. 4 When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.
16 And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.
26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep. 27
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.
Jesus says that His sheep come to Him when they hear His voice. They won’t listen to others. At the end of the day, His voice—His word—is the most compelling thing to the sheep. Indeed, they show themselves to be sheep by being responsive to what He says. Those who are not His sheep show themselves by not listening or heeding Jesus’ word.
The false teachers want you to believe that Jesus’ sheep won’t hear his voice unless you suppress Jesus’ voice. Jesus is telling you that it’s Jesus’ voice that draws the sheep in. Who will you believe?
So what is your confidence in the great work of evangelism? It’s not that you cleverly figure out how to suppress Jesus’ word about sexuality and marriage. It’s that you hold all of His word up so that people can see who this Man really is—so that people can see the Father who sent Him (John 5:23).
What sinners need to hear is Jesus’ word. They don’t need someone telling them “peace, peace” when there is no peace (Jer. 6:14). They need to hear that God is holy and we are not. They need to hear that apart from grace, we rightly stand under the judgment of this holy God (John 3:36). They need to hear that God so loved the world that He sent His one and only son that whosoever believes in Him—and every word proceeding from His mouth—should have eternal life (John 3:16).
It may seem that the only way to reach some people will be to edit out the offensive parts of Christ’s word. But it only seems that way. The truth is that there is no place too dark and no heart too hard for the word of Christ. The Lord’s arm is not too short to save (Isaiah 59:1). He is still in the business of saving to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25). There is no need to augment Christ’s word. His sheep will hear His voice.
So lift up Christ’s word. Don’t shrink back. The Devil wants you to put that sword back into its sheath (Heb. 4:12). But if you really care about loving sinners, winning people to Christ, and growing His church, you must never comply.
“2 Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” -2 Timothy 4:2-5