Gavin Peacock: The battle for biblical marriage is a mission moment that will define the Church

The battle is the bite point

Photo: S Braswell

Speaking about Martin Luther and his confrontation with culture about the key issues of his day Elizabeth Rundle Charles wrote:

"It is the truth which is assailed in any age which tests our fidelity. It is to confess we are called, not merely to profess. If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point."

Never has there been an age in recent times where the sanctity of marriage has been more under fire inside and outside the church. Biblical sexuality is where the battle for the authority of the Word of God is raging in our culture. If you like, the battle is the bite point. The bite point (as Tim Chester has articulated) is where the gospel challenges the culture, and offers truth and calls for repentance. The bite point is where the gospel is most starkly different from the surrounding culture, thus providing an evangelistic opportunity. The bite point is where the battle rages most clearly in culture so that the Church cannot simply profess Christ but must confess Christ as Elizabeth R Charles says.

The battle is reaching fever pitch in the US as the Supreme Court decided on Friday January 16 to review arguments and then likely rule on the legalisation of same-sex marriage by the summer.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said: "This case could potentially transform the cultural landscape of America. We should pray for the court, that they will not seek to redefine marriage. Marriage was not created by government action, and it shouldn't be re-created by government action.

"And even more than that," Moore said, "we should pray for churches who will know how to articulate and embody a Christian vision of marriage as the one-flesh union of a man and a woman in the tumultuous years ahead."

The battle is for the truth of complementarian marriage

To be more specific, complementarity is the biblical and historically Christian position on marriage, so the church must articulate a complementarianunderstanding of manhood and womanhood and must embody a complementarian picture of manhood and womanhood.

Owen Strachan, the president of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, says, "If the church gives up its overwhelmingly-held historic position – being complementarianism – then it will no doubt, with tremendous speed, endorse both homosexuality and transgenderism as not only viable for believers, but good."

The Church must conserve biblical, gospel-displaying marriage even as it commends biblical, gospel-displaying marriage to a watching world. And there is no better time for Christian marriages to display the grace of the gospel than in a culture which is redefining marriage. The light shines most brightly in the darkness.

Those who want to redefine marriage as a union between two men or two women tell a lie about the gospel. But only in biblical complementarian marriage is this gospel clearly portrayed, which makes marriage a primary issue for the Church.

When we embrace biblical headship and submission we explain the gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33). A husband, who sacrificially loves, protects and provides for his wife shows that Christ is a leader who dies on the cross for his bride, the Church, and is worthy of trust from everyone everywhere. And a wife who gladly, intelligently submits to her husband and follows him, as the Church follows Christ, shows that submission to and trust in Christ is not begrudging duty but it is delight.

This is a hard calling for both husbands and wives who are sinners, which means that biblical headship and submission is impossible apart from grace. When people observe a husband and wife in grace filled headship and submission, it confronts the culture with the grace of the gospel.

The battle is public

Churches must not only proclaim this but also confess it publicly. This means pastors equipping the saints for the work of ministry to one another, and to a watching and desperate world. The battle is public. Christ was crucified as a public spectacle (Galatians 3:1); Christians are to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-16); Christians are to show the world we are disciples by the way we love one another (John 13:35) in the household of God and in those distinct relationships (marriage being one) in that household (Ephesians 5 and 6). The Christian faith and life is not private because the gospel is not a private affair, so complementarian marriage must be publicly proclaimed and confessed in speech and lifestyle. We cannot back down.

The battle is a mission moment

I am not saying that the mission of the church is to publicly undertake social justice issues. The mission of the church is to make disciples, by preaching the gospel, baptizing them and gathering them into churches to be taught. But disciples must be equipped for mission by having a gospel-centered understanding of all things. They enter the world for mission, not as politicians, but as cross-shaped theologians, able to recognise the bite points where the battle rages, bold to enter in and speak the truth of the gospel.

Homosexual marriage is not the issue. Sin is the issue. Same-sex marriage is a sin issue in a key area of life, which makes it a gospel opportunity. At the very worst of times, when Satan seems to have the upper hand, God is using it for victory. Just look at the cross. Marriage being redefined in culture is the perfect opportunity to confront the culture with real marriage and the gospel it pictures. It's a mission moment.

Be alert to the battle but don't panic

So we must be alert to the battle, but we must not panic. God is in control no matter what it looks like out there. Christ reigns. He will work things for his glory and the good of his people. Christians have always suffered and will be persecuted for standing on Christian truth. Don't be surprised when the trial comes. For this battle we need Christians who are passionate but sober minded, who think biblically and pray earnestly.

Silence is sin but love must speak in the battle

The US Supreme Court may or may not pass the bill legalising same-sex marriage. But the real issue is whether the Church will be silent. Many Christians are not emboldened because many pastors are not emboldened. They might sometimes speak on biblical sexuality and then only vaguely. They might teach complementarity but not thoroughly, so their people are ill-equipped to live it out and defend it theologically in the public square. Pastors need to equip the saints but must also be first over the battle lines themselves. There are good men in the pastorate who perhaps need to find their voice. So people must pray for, support and encourage their pastors in holding to this truth.

The cry must come first from the pulpit but the echoes should be heard from the pew to the workplace to the park bench.

But men sin by their silence who are silent on the sins of their culture, because the silence of Adam was at the heart of the fall. Adam didn't speak up in the Garden when Satan was attacking his wife and undermining God's truth. Adam was passive, he and Eve fell and the universe was fractured. The Church must not be silent for fear of imposition and offence.

The Bible starts with a marriage in Genesis 2 and ends with one in Revelation 19. God made complementarian marriage good and it was always made to point to the good news: Christ and his saving love for the Church (Ephesians 5:32). That's what everyone needs: those in government, those who are heterosexual, transgender or same-sex attracted, because everyone is a sinner before God.

The stakes are high in defending and defining marriage and Christians must speak out of love for God and love for people. Love must not hold its tongue. How can those who have been forgiven much not speak for the sake of souls? There are only two enemies, Satan and our own sin – not those who oppose biblical marriage. We don't want to destroy people, we want to win them. But to do that we must speak truth and live it out, and for that we will suffer. Battles test what you believe and what you love. The battle for biblical marriage is a mission moment that will define the church. It will test evangelicalism.

This battle is to preserve gospel truth, and we must contend for that contra mundum. But it is also the battleground where souls can be won for Christ. This battle is raging. And "where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved".


Gavin Peacock is pastor of Calvary Grace Church, Calgary, Canada. Owen Strachan will be speaking at the church's upcoming conference on The Goodness of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, beginning Friday 23 January.