In light of new comments from Hillsong’s head pastor, Brian Houston, I wanted to add some additional thoughts to the critical comments I made on Friday.
I encourage people not to assume a media headline accurately represents what I said at a recent press conference.
Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage. I challenge people to read what I actually said, rather than what was reported that I said. My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject.
I was asked a question on how the church can stay relevant in the context of gay marriage being legal in the two states of the USA where we have campuses. My answer was simply an admission of realityno more and no less. I explained that this struggle for relevance was vexing as we did not want to become ostracized by a world that needs Christ.
I made the point that public statements condemning people will place a barrier between the church and the world (and I note that Jesus came to save and not to condemn), which is why at Hillsong, we don’t want to reduce the real issues in peoples lives to a sound bite.
This & like many other issues, is a conversation the church needs to have and we are all on a journey as we grapple with the question of merging biblical truth with a changing world.
What should we make of these new developments?
First, whenever and wherever a pastor sides with biblical teaching and reaffirms his commitment to Scriptural authority, we should rejoice. Brian Houston has done so in this statement, and for that we should be thankful.
Second, Houston phrased his clarification on the basis that Paul is in fact clear about homosexuality, which is commendable. Unlike some, Houston is clearly not afraid to hold Paul’s teachings on this issue as the inspired revelation of God. He has not attempted to distort Scripture to make it appear affirming of homosexuality as others have (Acts 20:30). I don’t want to be too finicky, but it is important to add that Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality isn’t a unique formulation just to Paul; it’s the narrativefull sweepfrom Genesis to Revelation. Marriage, gender, and sexuality aren’t just appendages tacked onto Scripture, but are icons of the Gospel and human flourishing (Matthew: 19:46; Ephesians 5:2233; Hebrews 13:4).
Third, I think this is a teaching moment for Christian leaders. The refusal to speak clearly when asked remains a problem, which is what precipitated this to begin with. Given that this issue may be the hottest cultural topic and given the swiftness with which society and, increasingly, the courts have accepted gay marriage, prominent Christian leaders will no longer be able to sidestep this question. We’ll need to be ready with an answer that reflects both truth and grace (1 Peter 3:15). We can’t get away with a hedging position or a triangulating non-answer. What’s more, given how so many Christians are grappling with this issue, it’s of pastoral importance for leaders to not send an uncertain signal. Having the right position but giving incomplete answers is pastoral malpractice (2 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:15; Acts 20:27).
I also think we have to be careful about making distinctions between personal and public positions. This is a distinction the Bible doesn’t recognize. The full, biblical Gospel (one that speaks both a sentence of death, and a hope of reconciliation) is a public truth (Acts 4:12). We hate our neighbor when we hide truth under a bushel (Matthew 5:15). Speaking in uncertain, reticent tones gives the deadly impression that it is pastoral to not speak with biblical conviction. This is wrong. If preaching “salvation” excludes sexual ethics, John the Baptist’s corpse would have a head attached to it, and 1 Corinthians would probably never have been written.
Fourth, contrition isn’t a substitute for clarity. When asked, Christians offer the truth in gentleness and respect, but without apology on behalf of Jesus (1 Peter 3:1417). We don’t stammer where the Bible speaks. The matter is even more pressing when we refrain from speaking clearly about an issue where our culture is so grievously deceived, such as homosexuality (Romans 1:1832).
Fifth, while I agree that every follower of Christ is on a spiritual journey, we should expect those we place in spiritual leadership to be certain about the things about which the Scriptures are certain. Missional sensitivity is appropriate, of course. But is it wrong to expect the pastor of one of the world’s most influential churches to have a sound theology of sexuality and marriageand to offer it when asked? I don’t think so.
I’m glad to see that perhaps Hillsong isn’t “shifting” as many originally thought. I’m glad Houston clarified his remarks. But that he had to even issue a statement is evidence of the very ambiguity that existed in the first place. The clarification is good news though. Not just for those who hold to a biblical standard for marriage and sexuality, but also for our gay and lesbian neighbors we are called to love.
The lesson for all of us in this is quite simple: When asked about a contentious social issue that’s loaded with potential to anger, divide, and invite persecution, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:37).