This week, NC Family president John Rustin talks with J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area, about how Christians can respond to the redefinition of marriage in both Truth and love.
INTRODUCTION: Pastor J.D. Grear is the lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, which has grown under his leadership from 300 attenders on a given weekend to close to 9,000, making it one of Outreach magazine’s “top 25 fastest-growing churches in America” for several years running.
Pastor J.D. is the author of a number of books, including Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary; Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved; and Jesus, Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better Than Jesus Beside You. He has a Ph.D. in Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he is also a faculty member.
Pastor J.D. is the author of an excellent article in the Fall 2015 issue of Family North Carolina magazine, which is produced by the North Carolina Family Policy Council. The title of the article is “Responding Like Jesus to the Redefinition of Marriage,” and we are very excited to talk with Pastor J.D. today about some of the important issues he raises in this article.
JOHN RUSTIN: The Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges forced the legal recognition of same-sex unions on our nation, and really thrust this issue into the national spotlight, as if it wasn’t there already. But the ruling left many Christians feeling discouraged and even anxious about their ability to communicate God’s Truth about marriage to this and future generations. Pastor J.D., is this discouragement and anxiety something you’ve seen in your own congregation?
J.D. GREEAR: Yes, certainly, I think there is a lot of question. Christians in our country have enjoyed a privileged status, and that’s something we ought to be grateful for—the fact that we have the freedoms that we have. That’s something, historically, we have to realize is unique, and God calls us to be faithful when we’re in a place where we’re given freedoms, and then God calls to faithfulness when we are in a place where we see things that go against the grain. Really, what you see is that the Bible is going to ultimately offend every culture in every generation, but it just does it in different ways. What offends our culture is different than what offended the first century. We have to be faithful to the message because we don’t write the message, we deliver it, and we have to deliver it with grace and truth. Jesus was full of grace and truth. Truth without grace is fundamentalism and judgmentalism; grace without truth is sentimentality, and that doesn’t help anybody. But grace and truth, that’s the power of the gospel! It’s redemptive, and it requires both truth and grace.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well put, and clearly we have an opportunity to express just that as we interact with our culture on this issue of same-sex “marriage.” Why do you think it’s important that Christians and the church be ready be ready to talk to our culture, and speak into the lives of our neighbors, our friends, our family members and others about this issue?
J.D. GREEAR: God put us here as witnesses to truth and grace, and if you compromise one of those, either side of it, you don’t have a Christian message any longer. The Bible is offensive in every generation, and this quote always gets attributed to Martin Luther, [even though] it’s doubtful whether or not he actually said this, “the soldier doesn’t show his bravery by his willingness to stand where the battle is no longer being fought.” Today, we look at where our culture finds the Christian message the most offensive, and that is one of the places we have to be clear, because that’s where the courage of us as witnesses for Christ is going to be tested. And when we compromise and back down on that message, we actually harm people that are depending on the church to be able to give clarity. I remember having a conversation with a girl who came fairly regularly to our church, she was an open and practicing lesbian, and she told me, “You want to know why me and several of my friends come to your church every weekend?” And I said, “Well, I’m actually curious about that.” She was a student at one of our local universities, and she said, “We always feel like people are just kind of pandering and saying what they think we want them to say.” But she said, “Here, I know that you don’t agree with me, it’s very clear God’s word does not agree with me, but you’re speaking in a way that shows love and respect, even when you’re trying to be clear on what God says, and that’s something that I want to know.” If we’re not clear in our testimony of what God says, then who is going to be? And if we don’t speak clearly then we’re not doing our job.
JOHN RUSTIN: One of the important points you make in your article in Family North Carolina magazine is that the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex unions “did not redefine marriage but is actually the fruit of the redefinition of marriage.” Explain for our listeners, if you would, what you mean by that. Why is this an important distinction for Christians to understand?
J.D. GREEAR: Same-sex marriage is one star in a constellation of changes. It is the fruit of a kind of revamped, re-envisioned view of morality that really began decades ago, when we began to say it’s no longer what God says, it’s no longer what the truths of Christianity say that determines what’s right and wrong, it’s let your heart decide what’s good for you. We began to rethink marriage, then, as just two parties that came into a mutually beneficial agreement that satisfies one another’s needs, and you know what, “Hey, if the person you’re married to doesn’t satisfy your needs anymore, then you should divorce them and get married to somebody else.” That’s a redefinition of marriage that makes the person satisfying their needs and fulfilling their preferences the standard of what marriage is, as opposed to a covenant that God allows people to enter into, where they say, “I’m going to love and serve you and honor you, and put you first for the rest of the days of my life.” Well, when that happened, and we began to re-center life and morality and marriage on pleasing the person, it is just a matter of time before we say, “Well, why does it have to be a heterosexual need? Why does it have to be one man and one woman? Why does it have to be one partner? I mean, if it’s all about me and what I prefer in my preferences and morality, then why limit it in any way, shape or form?” That’s why I say it’s one star in a constellation of changes. Really, you could think of it like this: same-sex “marriage” is inevitable in a culture that had one rule in relationships—follow your heart.
JOHN RUSTIN: And I know that many would argue that when no-fault divorce was embraced by our culture a number of decades ago, and that’s exactly the mentality that you’re talking about, “I want to do what I want to do, and I’m gonna take put my interest above the interest of my spouse,” then that [led] us here as we’re having this discussion even today.
J.D. GREEAR: Yeah, the Old Testament is an example, the book of Judges records Israel’s kind of slow but steady descent into just immoral practices that stagger us, when we look at them. How could a people actually do that? But for us it didn’t begin with egregious acts of evil, it began with one phrase that begins to recur more and more frequently throughout Judges, and that is “The people did what was right in their own eyes.” And then what happened is once you make yourself and your preferences the center of morality where does that actually end? I read this great story the other day, and I’ll share it with you real quick. If you had a 22 year-old guy walking down the street in what became London in the 9th Century AD, and he has two feelings that kind of enter into his heart. One feeling is, “I want to go and pursue a homosexual relationship,” and the other feeling is, “Someone has insulted me, and I need to go and bash their head in to restore my honor.” We would say to that person today, “Oh, you need to deny that feeling of bashing their head in, but you need to explore and express that feeling of a homosexual relationship.” Well, back then, they would have said exactly the opposite, they would have said “Oh well deny the homosexual feeling, but that impulse to go bash their head in to restore your honor, you need to go pursue that one.” So, ultimately every culture says, “You have to deny yourself.” We ought to deny ourselves based on what God’s word says, but when we make the desires of our hearts the arbiter of what is right and wrong, then there is no end to where that is going to lead us. Same-sex “marriage” is not the end. It’s kind of just the beginning of where this road leads.
JOHN RUSTIN: In the article, you emphasize that “Christians are really citizens of another Country,” and that we should expect and really be prepared to face persecution. In fact, you point out that Christianity really does thrive in the context of persecution, and write that, “Many of our country’s great spiritual awakenings came in times of great political darkness.” How do you see things progressing in our nation as Christians are really forced to confront this revised view of marriage?
J.D. GREEAR: First of all, let’s be clear, no Christian should ever yearn for persecution. Paul tells us to pray for peace, but persecution is actually the norm for most Christians throughout history. Historically, we would look at ourselves, and say we’re kind of the odd ones out with the freedoms we enjoy. The New Testament writers did not write from positions of political and cultural power, they wrote from the margins. Peter’s letter opens up, in fact, not to those in power, but to those in exile. As you’ve mentioned, the good news is Christianity thrives in this context. It’s when the darkness gets darker that the light gets brighter. It’s when we’re able to put on display more clearly the power of healing that comes through the Christian message. You know, this is going to create a lot of what a friend of mine, Russ Moore calls “refugees from the sexual revolution,” who just like in any revolution, you have people that come out of it, and they’re like, “Man, it’s not what I thought it was!” And it’s going to make people who follow what the Bible says about love and commitment, and relationships and family so incredibly different and attractive, and it’s really going to adorn the Gospel. Paul says, “When sin abounds, grace much more abounds.” So while I don’t look forward to some of the difficulties this is going to create for people who want to honor what God says, I do know that it’s probably going to be an age where we see a thriving of the Christian message, as this middle section of people who just culturally identify as Christian, as there becomes a cost associated with that, we will see that number decrease. But we’re also going to see the amount of people who are faithfully going to testify to the glorious Gospel, [we’ll] see that number increase.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s exciting and very encouraging. Now, I can’t not ask you this question because at the North Carolina Family Policy Council we work in the realm of policy, and you included a quote in your article that, “the Lordship of Jesus is a political claim.” Explain that a little bit if you would?
J.D. GREEAR: That’s a great question. What I don’t mean by that is that Jesus agrees 100 percent with one political party. In fact, I mean exactly the opposite. What it means is that as a believer my ultimate allegiance is to God, and what his word says, and I give him the final and total rule in what my goals are in life, and what I decide is right and wrong, and I refuse to be taken in by one political party. And I am not saying I don’t identify with one political party, but I refuse to say I’m going to fit Jesus in around this particular Republican or Democratic platform. We know that God calls us to be messengers of His, to be distinctive, and there’s certain parts of the platform that one political party is going to embrace that’s more in line with God’s word than the other political party, but there may be areas where the other political party is more in line there. But it just means that the only thing that can claim absolute allegiance for the believer is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Now, I want to make this really clear, I’m not saying that I want to elect Jesus as president, and I want the church people to be the only people that are elected into office, because in fact what the Bible teaches is that governments, at least down here, are not to be theocracies. You see this kind of emphasis in the New Testament, where we’re moving toward recognizing that government is an institution given by God. And while they should be influenced by Godly principles, we’re not talking about trying to wed church and state, because that would go against what Jesus indicated as the right rules of government and religion.
JOHN RUSTIN: I couldn’t agree more… Unfortunately, we’re nearly out of time for this week. For our listeners who want to read Pastor J.D’s excellent article, “Responding Like Jesus to the Redefinition of Marriage,” you can find it on our website at www.ncfamily.org, and if you are a subscriber to Family North Carolina magazine, it should be hitting your mailbox soon, if it has not arrived already. And before we conclude, Pastor J.D., I want to give you an opportunity to tell our listeners where they can go to read more of your articles and blog posts, and also find out more about The Summit Church?
JOHN RUSTIN: Pastor J.D. Greear, thank you so much for allowing us to publish your excellent article in Family North Carolina magazine, and for taking time out of your very busy schedule to talk with us today.
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