Thursday, 5 December 2013

Marriage and Society and the Church's Failure

The well-being of society is bound up with the holding in honour of the marriage bond.  The context of this is the marriage ceremony where one man and one woman are united before God in matrimony.  Mr Ford's stance, as a Presbyterian elder, is calculated to further society's ills, and to promote that which is offensive to a holy God, namely, the establishment of sodomy on equal terms with the biblical understanding of marriage. 

I am interested in ascertaining what PCI's position now is on marriage, and if it has changed when that change occurred and who initiated it.  If it has not changed, what actions does it propose to take against a publicly offending church elder and also against those who are in membership of that denomination and who voted against marriage as understood in the Scriptures.

Mr Ford's denial of Christian marriage had been discussed at a Templepatrick Presbytery meeting in November 2012, and it decided to follow the Biblical mandate and also the church's Code as an initial stage in the disciplinary process.  Consequently, the Moderator and Clerk of the Presbytery, along with a former Moderator of the church's General Assembly, were to meet with a view to ascertaining the facts of the case, and also to discover what the offending elder's position is on Christian marriage.

Now, while this is the correct biblical follow, two things strike me as odd.  First, why wasn't Mr Ford suspended as a ruling elder while investigations were proceeding, thus allowing him, in theory, to influence young adults to his way of thinking as a ruling elder within his church in good and regular standing? Second, had the Presbyters kept abreast of the situation, they would see that the facts are perfectly clear: Mr Ford voted in favour of same-sex marriages for Northern Ireland, and based this opinion, not on the teaching of the Scriptures as would be expected of a Christian church elder, but on European law and equality legislation.  Mr Ford, by his public stance, has set himself against the plain teaching of Scripture, therefore ought to have been suspended immediately, pending investigations.  

Same-Sex Marriage and the Church

Over the past months, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has been silent and inactive over its virtual acceptance by default of same sex marriages.  Indeed, what has been even sadder is the fact that evangelical ministers within that denomination have been deafeningly silent about this situation.  It is also of concern that the only men who have taken up this issue with PCI were from outside that denomination; which raises very serious questions about where PCI ministers stand on this important matter.  It is of utter irrelevance for ministers to say that they still hold to the traditional biblical meaning of marriage while they are ministers in a connexional church that tolerates an opposite viewpoint.  They cannot 'wash their hands' off this situation Pilate-like, and while they remain silent on this denial of a Christian truth, they are complicit in this sin.

In the Stormont Assembly, Mr Ford, who is also Justice Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, said, ""Alliance [the political party which he leads] believes that, in terms of equality, it is correct to extend the provisions of civil marriage to same sex couples. At present civil partnerships are not equal to marriage. For instance, those in a civil partnership currently have to declare their sexual orientation on official forms."

Mr Ford's policies are not driven by Scriptural principle but by liberal legislation passed in godless parliaments.  His concern is for "equality," regardless of what equality is being discussed or legislated for.  What the Bible teaches - and it is very clear on marriage and the closely related issue of sodomy - Mr Ford deems to be irrelevant so far as the government of the land is concerned.  Equality issues drive this man, not faithfulness to Christ and His Gospel.  At his ordination to the ruling eldership, Mr Ford would have agreed to be governed by the Word of God and not by acts of parliament.  Obviously he has forgotten his ordination vows, or as is usually the case with liberals, they take them with their proverbial fingers crossed behind their backs.

He continues, "This is obviously still a highly sensitive issue for many people across Northern Ireland. I respect the deeply held personal opinions of those who are opposed to same sex marriage."  Rather than merely respecting the views of those who differ with him on who should be married, Mr Ford, as a church elder, should be heading up all opposition to the institution of marriage and from every quarter.  He ought to have been in the vanguard of resistance to such an immoral thing.

His position on marriage as re-defined by people like him, accepted by PCI's deafening silence, will be supported by his church and he will be retained as a church elder in good and regular standing.  Further, he will be allowed to 'rule' within that church, and as an elder, provide leadership and spiritual guidance not just within the congregation but within the wider church.  Imagine a situation where two men or two women want to marry in the church. Mr Ford, as a ruling elder, will have to object to such a ceremony being conducted on church premises, and also to his minister conducting such a service. But Mr Ford, as Justice Minister in Northern Ireland, will have to insist that the law of the land be upheld, despite it being a godless and God-defying law.

At the time this was very much in the public domain, I wrote to the then Moderator of the General assembly of PCI, Dr Roy Patten, and put it to him, "In light of the recent vote in the Stormont Assembly in which members of your church and also a church official voted against the institution [of marriage] as understood biblically and in favour of same sex marriage, what is the current position of your church on marriage...?" I considered this to be a reasonable question and concern and one that most decent people would like to have an answer to.  He told me in an email that PCI's position on marriage has not changed.  He said, "church position has not changed."  That is a most welcome response, because theologically liberal denominations are quite capable of doing anything, including the most bizarre things.  What position is precisely is, he did not explain.

However, actions speaks louder than mere words, and whether or not this is the case will be seen in what action the church will take against the offending official. Mr Ford has now voluntarily stepped down from the duties of a ruling elder, but he is still an elder in good and regular standing within the church.

On the matter of any potential discipline that the church will or will not take, I asked Moderator Patten, "What steps do you  propose to take against those within your membership who have voted to undermine and even deny Christian marriage?"  He said, "if people wish there is process people can use." So unless someone feels strongly enough about official to marriage as understood biblically, the church will accept this deviant understanding of marriage and it correlative practice.

This was a response that one would expect from a theological liberal, not from someone who professes to be an evangelical, which is what Dr Patten was when I knew him some 24 years ago.  He made no comment one way or the other, thus raising the question as to what he actually believed about this critically important moral and societal issue. It is truly amazing the dumbing down effect a liberal denomination can have on even its best ministers!

Sadly I am no better informed about what that church actually believes about marriage than I was before I contacted the Moderator.  His evasiveness suggests that perhaps I do not know what that church now believes about marriage.

The silence of evangelicals is palpable.  The Christian members of that denomination have no one to stand up for the sanctity of Christian marriage as understood in the Bible.  They feel badly let down and undermined by their church because they have tried to teach their children that marriage is an honourable estate and most commendable.  Now the church's guilty silence has been a proverbial 'slap in the face' for good Christian members who have sought to teach their children the right way.

Mr Ford continued, "Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights gives solid protection on the grounds of religious freedom, so I do not believe that faith groups have any reason for concern that they could be forced to carry out same sex marriages, any more than they can be forced to marry those previously divorced."

So for him, the supreme guarantee of religious freedom is the European Convention on Human Rights, not Scripture, an inconsistent position for a church elder to hold.  What he therefore believes is of little value, since Scripture is not his final and sole court of appeal in all matters of faith and practice.  His 'belief' that ministers will not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages is very thin and does not accord with the facts.  Why are Christian B&B owners being taken to court for not allowing same-sex or even unmarried couples to rent a room for the night?  Why are Christians being prosecuted for wearing Christian symbols at work?  Why can advertising people be prosecuted for refusing to accept advertising from the LGBT community?  If Mr Ford believes that church ministers, and especially Gospel ministers, will be protected from prosecution for sexual discrimination or homophobia, then he is clearly not living in the real world. Indeed, Gospel ministers are not even protected from  persecution within and by the church herself.

The Urge to Pray

Praying is a difficult task for many believers, due to the weakness of the flesh and the sinfulness of our hearts.  

But what a re-assurance it is to know that many others having been ‘holding the ropes’ of prayer for us. It is in this way that we battle successfully against the powers of darkness and their evil onslaughts against us.  That's why, and for many genuine believers, praying is so difficult, a struggle.  

Yet, the truly amazing thing is that God, by His Spirit, gives us the urge to pray at different times, and when this happens, we must follow this urge and come before the Throne of Grace in prayer.  At such times, I have found myself having greater liberty in prayer. When you feel the urge to pray, then pray; for this is God’s Spirit at work prompting you to bring whatever is in your heart to Him.

Never postpone the urge to pray when God sends it.  Who knows just what God is intending to do through His servants and children when He urges them to pray. When the urge comes, whatever else you may be doing, pray. PRAY, PRAY, PRAY - and especially when our loving Father urges us to do so.