It Beggs The Question

Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of talk surrounding Pastor Alistair Begg. If you haven’t heard, he was recorded on a podcast saying that he counseled one of his parishioners to attend a homosexual wedding. As you can imagine this sent evangelical circles into quite a tizzy. Christian Post reported: “In recently resurfaced comments Begg made in a podcast for "Truth For Life" in September, in which he discussed his new book, The Christian Manifesto, and touched on a specific question he said a grandmother asked him about her grandson, whom she said was "about to be married to a transgender person," and whether she should attend the wedding. "We field questions all the time that go along the lines of, 'My grandson is about to be married to a transgender person, and I don't know what to do about this, and I'm calling to ask you to tell me what to do,' which is a huge responsibility," Begg said. "And in a conversation like that just a few days ago — and people may not like this answer — but I asked the grandmother, 'Does your grandson understand your belief in Jesus?' 'Yes.' 'Does your grandson understand that your belief in Jesus makes it such that you can't countenance in any affirming way the choices that he has made in life?' 'Yes.' "I said, 'Well then, OK. As long as he knows that, then I suggest that you do go to the ceremony. And I suggest that you buy them a gift.'" Begg went on to explain that Christians not attending such a ceremony could reinforce "judgemental" stereotypes the culture holds about the Church. "I said, 'Well, here's the  thing: your love for them may catch them off guard, but your absence will simply reinforce the fact that they said, 'These people are what I always thought: judgmental, critical, unprepared to countenance anything.'
Because of these comments there were many responses all over the map. John Macarthur removed Begg as a guest speaker at his pastor’s conference this year and some radio stations are no longer playing Begg’s daily broadcast Truth For Life. Begg then came out and stated he stands by what he said and also preached a sermon on his position a few Sundays later.
But what are we to do with this? Is he right? Is he wrong? Is it something we can just agree to disagree on? Or do we need to stay away from and no longer sit under the teaching of Begg? I purposefully waited a while before writing about this to ensure I had all the facts and that I wasn't swept up with the emotion of the moment (to see more on this see my last article here: https://thefbcop.org/blog/2024/03/08/they-said-what) I went straight to Begg himself to get the clearest picture possible about where he is coming from. No, I did not talk to him, but I did listen to the sermon he preached in response to all of the turmoil.
His message was based on the parable of the prodigal son. His main focus was on the brother that stayed with his father. He was highlighting how pious, self-righteous and uncompassionate the brother was. That this was Jesus highlighting the Pharisees religious position and we must guard in becoming the same way. Quoting from his book where all of this came from Begg said, “Naturally, I do not like them. But I am called to the supernatural work of loving them. Not ignoring them, not avoiding them, but actively seeking to bless them. I am not called to walk on past them, like the religious leaders in the Parable of the Good Samaritan; no, [I am] called to be like the Samaritan, who is the classic illustration of loving and lending and doing good without a calculator, [and] without the expectation of a payback.” He then said, “Now, that is, then, the context when a grandmother phones me up in tears and gravely concerned for the circumstances in relationship to one of her grandchildren. I’m not quoting the book to her. I’m only responding to her. She wrote a long letter. It sat on my desk for a long time. This happens to us all as pastors, all the time. And on that occasion, when I listened to her talk, my great concern was for her and for her relationship with her granddaughter. I wasn’t thinking about the nature of the circumstances in that moment of time. All I was thinking about was “How can I help this grandmother not to lose her granddaughter, who has already publicly turned her back on God and her back on God’s design and in every other way?”...Well, how would I ever know that that would set the cat among the pigeons? Because after all, it was a personal conversation between myself and somebody that I’ve never met in my entire life. And it was born out of the kind of conviction that I was personally reckoning with myself: “I don’t like this. I’m opposed to this. I do not endorse this. I have no interest in this. But this is my granddaughter!” Now, it’s that context, then, that gave rise to that.”
Now we know where he was coming from, I want to give one more quote to give clear context. Toward the end of the sermon he said, “Now, let me say something that will be a little explosive. I’ve lived here for forty years, and those who know me best know that when we talk theology, when we talk stuff, I’ve always said I am a little bit out of sync with the American evangelical world, for this reason: that I am the product of British evangelicalism, represented by John Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Eric Alexander, Sinclair Ferguson, Derek Prime. I am a product of that. I have never been a product of American fundamentalism. I come from a world in which it is possible for people to actually grasp the fact that there are nuances in things. Those of you who are lawyers understand this. Everything is not so categorically clear that if you put one foot out of this box, you’ve got to be removed from the box forever.” I know I am piecemealing here. So I would encourage anyone to listen to the sermon in its entirety. (https://www.truthforlife.org/resources/sermon/compassion-vs-condemnation/)
I understand what he means and I agree with Begg in principle. Here are a few things that i want to make clear though and make sure we understand before I give my own comments:

  • Begg believes homosexuality is a sin. He has not changed his stance on this topic! That is a gross misconception. He still believes this is sinful and those that don't repent of it will go to hell. What we are discussing is not a Gospel issue. Begg has stood strong against the LGBTQ movement and has been persecuted for it. He said toward the end of the sermon, “And I expect people to… How do they decide which bit they’re going troll through the social media, which bits they want to pick up? Where were they when I was speaking at the Christian college on the West Coast, and I had a lesbian walkout? And they shut the whole thing down and walked out, and the campus went into chaos for a week! You know why? Because I was explaining Ephesians chapter 5, and I made the most unbelievable mistake of saying, “The only place for sexual relationships is within a heterosexual, monogamous relationship between one man and one woman for life. Amen.” And at that they stood up and walked out. Well, why didn’t somebody catch that one for me?” He hasn’t changed his mind at all. He still preaches the Bible and declares these actions to be sinful. 
  • He doesn't condone attending homosexual weddings. “Wait Clint, didn’t you say he did just that for someone in his church?” Yes, for that person. For this particular situation. This is what happens when we jump to conclusions. Begg made it very clear in his response: “In that conversation with that grandmother, I was concerned about the well-being of their relationship more than anything else, hence my counsel. Don’t misunderstand that in any way at all. If I was on the receiving end of another question about another situation from another person in another time, I may answer absolutely differently. But in that case, I answered in that way, and I would not answer in any other way, no matter what anybody says on the internet as of the last ten days…Now, we can disagree over whether I gave that grandmother good advice or not…And as I said, you know, on another occasion with a different person and a different context, the advice may be very different…So, you know, I hope that this is helpful, I think, as long as you understand that my response to one grandmother whom I have never met was not in any way a blanket recommendation to all Christians to attend LGBTQ weddings.  It was nothing to do with that at all. If I was misguided in any way, it was I allowed my grandfatherly hat to take over. It was my personal opinion as I sensed what was best, as I learned about the individual and specific situation.” According to him this was very case specific and he is not making a blanket statement. Do I take him at his word? Absolutely! I was not there to know all of the facts and circumstances. He is a pastor that has had impeccable integrity and solid teaching. I have no reason to second guess him. That doesn't mean I agree with his counsel, but I want to make sure that it is clear, he ok’d this on one occasion. He is not making a blanket policy off of this.
  • The Christian response. The response of the church to Begg I believe proves his point. The hate, condemnation, venom spitting and finger pointing shows how much like the Pharisees we can be. The church should be ashamed. The lack of patience, understanding and compassion by his own brothers and sisters is appalling. Here is a man who has always been faithful to God in his ministry, always stood up for Christ and took the slings and arrows for it. For the amount of pastors that have been unfaithful lately, Begg is a breath of fresh air, and far from them. We would be mistaken to lump him in with what has happened with Andy Stanley, Joshua Harris, Ravi Zacharias, Mark Driscoll, James Macdonald and the like. Yet, so many have treated him like a false teacher. So many have reacted to him as if he was heretic teaching false claims of the Bible. This is not so. In fact this is what Begg was trying to warn us about; becoming so self-righteous that we don’t even see it. That we lack compassion and forgiveness. While many think Begg needs to repent from his counsel, these same people need to pull the plank from their own eyes and repent from their attitudes and reactions.
As far as my opinion is concerned, I both agree and disagree with Begg. I agree that we have to be careful of being self-righteous and unloving to sinners. We have to guard our hearts from being like the priest in the good Samaritan parable, who saw the man on the road and walked on the other side of it. I have seen it in the church. I have seen it in Christians I know personally. The hate in their eyes when talking about the LBGTQ community. The disdained look on their face. The curled up nose. The indignant attitude. The unloving comments. Many in the church are unloving to these sinners. And doesn’t Christ teach us to love our enemies? “Oh, well, Clint, I may have to love them, but that doesn’t mean I have to like them.” Hypocrite! That statement itself is unloving! Shame on you if you think that. We must love those that don’t love us. Isn’t that what Christ does when loving you and me? Are we not supposed to love in the same manner as Him? Does Jesus just say to us, “Well, I may have to love you, but I don't like you.” We all need to examine our hearts on this matter. How many of us would have a meal with someone who is a homosexual? How many of us would stop to help a transgender person? How many of us would be neighborly to a neighbor that hangs a pride flag? I agree with Begg that we can be so fundamental and orthodox that it lacks the love that we are commanded to show. When Jesus fulfilled the law, it wasn’t just by obedience. It was obedience out of a love for God and for His neighbor. And we must do the same.
Now where I disagree with Begg is in the context of a wedding. We are to love the sinners around us. We are to treat them like who they are: people made in the image of God that could potentially be saved. BUT we are not to participate in their sin. Some may disagree with me on this, but attending a homosexual wedding is being a participant in their sin. As an attendee you are bearing witness to the event, thus participating in it. You are celebrating the union, thus condoning it. To me this is different from going out to lunch with a lesbian or helping a queer change their flat tire. So my position has always been to not attend any weddings in the LBGTQ community because you become a participant of their sin.
I agree with the principle Begg is teaching. I just believe it was misapplied in this one instance. But we also have to remember, he is not condoning to attending LBGTQ weddings! It was just this one instance! Would I have made the same decision as him if I knew all the circumstances of this situation? I don't think so. But who knows. You never know what you will do in the heat of a moment until the moment happens. Still, I am firmly believing that we as Christians should not attend weddings involving the LGBTQ community.
I do not think we need to go all scorched earth and ban Begg from our lives. He is still a brother in Christ. He is still an excellent pastor. I would still encourage people to listen to his sermons and read his books. I certainly will be. Begg even said that not everyone on his pastoral staff agreed with him! Is he being excommunicated from his church? No. Are those elders up and leaving the church? No. Is there any discipline being administered anywhere? No. We need to extend grace and realize that we are all struggling through these new worldly ideas that are attacking our theology. As Begg said, “But at least let’s acknowledge the fact that what we’re doing is we’re wrestling with biblical principle. And when principle for, let’s say, holiness of life comes up against the principle of love for your enemy, how are you going to put that together?”

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