Recently I had a conversation with a pastor of a large church that proved fairly frustrating to me. I won’t share details, but I will say that it reminded me of an age-old ministry philosophy question, “How can we reach more people?”
In my conversation with this pastor, I found myself clearly at odds with the ministry philosophy being purported on the other end of the phone. His position was (essentially) that any means to reach more people is okay. I truly believe his heart is to reach people, but the mentality that any and all means are okay proves that the dependency to reach others is on man instead of God.
Let me give you an example that is very real in our culture: divorce and remarriage. Unfortunately the church has little to nothing to offer society when it comes to proof that marriage is sacred. What I mean by this is that even within evangelical circles the percentage of marriages that end in divorce is virtually the same as the greater American society (little more than 50% divorce). While I’m not going into detail at this point on my position of divorce and remarriage, I am going to venture into this territory simply because it provides a great backdrop for the purpose of this post.
Here’s how the philosophy runs… Because divorce is so prevelant and people are hurting, as a pastor I have an opportunity to minister to these hurting people. Therefore, regardless of the reasons or circumstances, I’m going to perform their wedding because it gives me a voice in their lives. Christian or not… Biblical concessions or not… I’m going to do this wedding because, well, they will get married anyway no matter what, so it might as well be me so I can have an influence in their lives.
14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:14-18
Some would argue that this is not directly about marriage. Actually, it’s about the covenant relationship of God’s people (the church). Is marriage not the great, long-standing image of this covenant relationship (Eph.5:22-33)? It would be in keeping with scripture, then that the command would certainly extend to believers most intimate relationship.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you  to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
1 Corinthians 7:10-16
Okay, without giving much explanation, at the very least the clearest concessions for divorce are adultery and the dismissal by an unbelieving spouse. Remarriage is even less clear. Either one is free (the innocent party) to remarry under the above concessions, or remarriage is never okay.
So, back to the point…
We are in a fallen world and people (including Christian types) sin and are messed up. So, even if they are failing at the above concessions for their divorce (just saying they can’t get along or someone yells too much), then as a pastor I should re-marry them to new spouses just so I can have a voice.
To this line of thinking, I say…RUBBISH!
We are the church of the living God called to be distinct. We are messed up, sinners who have been saved by a glorious Savior who calls us out to be holy in all we do. While we will never be perfect we are to pursue His standard. When people sin in marriage, divorce, and re-marriage the Christian should be convicted of such sin and own up to it, repent and make restitution where possible and biblical supported (i.e. – you don’t divorce your current spouse to try and go backwards…repent, make restitution and move forward in obedience by God’s grace).
What I can’t stand in this is the endorsement of the under-shepherd, the pastor, who then puts on display that the oldest and greatest image of God’s church (marriage) is nothing more than an ongoing management of sin instead of the pursuit of biblical purity. Pastors who believe it to be okay to compromise scripture and endorse continual sin all for the sake of being able to have some possible future influence, believe that they have a greater voice than the voice of scripture, and God Himself.
Can you tell I’m miffed? Well, I fail enough at sin in my own life. I don’t need on my head the fact that I become complicit in ongoing adultery (by marrying divorced people who have not had biblically conceded divorces…not to even mention the “unequally yoked” issue) should I endorse and marry people who have made said decision.
This line of thinking by such pastors can apply to use of secular images and sounds in worship. Dependence on technology to “wow” instead of the “boring” proclamation of the Word. As well, this philosophy can extend to re-defining “mission” to be something so social and benevolent that service becomes the “new” gospel instead of the gospel itself.
We must guard the truth. Pastors should guard the truth! If the pastor doesn’t, why would he be surprised when the people don’t in their own homes and marriages and workplace. God help me to live this out in the context of the church…
1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 4:1-5