The Elders meeting had a full agenda. But the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay-marriage dominated the conversation. The SCOTUS ruling, the state of our culture, and the mission of the church, weighed heavily on our hearts and minds.
One elder finally insisted the church must not remain silent on this issue. I knew exactly what his statement meant. It meant that I should preach a sermon to address the matter. I agreed to preach a sermon on our church’s biblical convictions about homosexuality and gay-marriage. But I asked the guys, “If you were preaching this sermon, what text would you use?”
One of the brothers immediately declared, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness…” (Romans 1:18-32) Someone else recommended I preach on the sovereignty of God. Still another thought the sermon should be about the unchanging nature of God’s Word. Of course, a sermon on divine judgment against sin was recommended.
I thanked the elders for their recommendations. I also affirmed that I fully agreed with the biblical truth they asserted. But I had a concern. How does the church speak the truth to a society of unbelievers that are growing increasingly hostile to our Christian convictions? How would you preach to people who know how to think and talk about these things to relatives, friends, and coworkers?
We were determined to contend for the truth. In the process, we sped right past our parallel responsibility to speak the truth in love. One without the other is not Christianity. Truth without love is brutality. Love without truth is hypocrisy. Truth and love are inseparable lovers. So I challenged the elders to help me find a text that would simultaneously declare Christian truth and demonstrate Christian love.
We landed on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. In this passage, Paul is clear that those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God. But it is not the only sin mentioned in the text. A list of social and sexual sins is equally condemned. In fact, the passage condemns premarital sex and extramarital sex before it even gets to homosexuality.
In this passage Paul was not shy in talking about sin. But then he abruptly shifts from God’s righteous standard to God’s transforming grace: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
In the wake of the SCOTUS ruling, I preached from about how God deals with sinners. The point of the sermon was that God deals with sinners on his terms, not ours. I sought to explain from the text that God condemns unrepentant sinners but God converts repentant sinners. But two sentences summed up the heart of the message I wanted to communicate: “With God’s help, this will not be a church that lowers the biblical standard of righteousness. And, with God’s help, this will not be a church that is hateful toward people who are not like us.”
This, I believe, is the heart of Beautiful Orthodoxy. It is speaking the truth in love. It is preaching a God of uncompromising holiness and a God of scandalous grace. It is the marriage of Christian truth and Christian love. But this is not a troubled-free marriage. Our tendency is to favor one over the other in our interpersonal relationships, spiritual leadership, and public discourse. But we must strive to speak the truth in love for the glory of God and the good of those to whom we speak.
In the final analysis, to practice Beautiful Orthodoxy is to seek to be like the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus unflinchingly spoke the truth. His truthful words infuriated the religious establishment. And they were so resolved to silence him that they conspired with the occupying powers to put him to death. Yet the common people heard Jesus gladly. Prostitutes and tax collectors were helplessly attracted to him. Social outcasts and spiritual outsiders loved Jesus, even though he never capitulated to their sinful ways.
Irreligious people were drawn to Jesus. Unfortunately, the church repels them. May the practice of Beautiful Orthodoxy bring the fragrance of Jesus to a lost world today—filled with grace and truth.
H.B. Charles, Jr. is pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Church, Jacksonville, Florida.