Interview with

President, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission

We are back with Dr. Russell Moore of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, filling in this week for John Piper. Not surprisingly, Dr. Moore, we’re seeing a surge of Evangelicals who have come out in support of so-called same-sex marriage — including Christian organizations, missions agencies, churches, denominations, prominent pastors, recording artists and musicians, and authors. I’m sure in the months ahead a pro-gay marriage book will be endorsed by a Christian leader who will surprise us. Tweets and interviews and YouTube clips will surface and surprise us with the words of some unlikely teachers that we thought we knew. In light of all this, what advice would you give ordinary Christians when these out-of-nowhere controversies in the Church, blow up in our twitter feeds?

That is a really good question and I think you are right. We are going to see more and more people within evangelical Christianity start to capitulate on some of these core issues. And I think what some people are doing right now is gauging what the landscape is like. There is always this sort of figure in evangelical life who is out on the edge questioning key Christian doctrines, but doing so in an ambiguous way. And then typically at some point or other that person has to forthrightly state what he or she believes, and once that happens, once that is an actual denial of some biblical doctrine, that person then loses his or her audience. We have seen that just over and over again. So I think there are some people who are gauging how far out there can I get on some of these issues before I lose my place in evangelicalism? And so that is going to happen. And I think we need to make sure that we have a different attitude toward sheep and toward shepherds.

Jesus is never shocked by what he encounters among the sheep, among people, among those who are the lost that he came to save. There is no sense of being offended and surprised. The woman at the well, he encounters her with what her sin is. He recounts that to her. And so there is a sense of broken heartedness and a sense of gentleness toward those who are sheep without a shepherd, as the Bible says.

But there is a much sharper sort of tone that is used by Jesus and the apostles toward those who put themselves in the place of shepherds, as James would say, “those who are held to a higher account because they are teachers.” And I think we have to do the same thing. We have to have a very different tone with that lost person in our community that we are sharing the gospel with, from the way that we would respond to someone who is sitting in a place of authority teaching as though with the authority of Christ something that is not only untrue, but that can destroy people’s eternal salvation. So we need to keep two different tones working.

The first thing we need to do when that sort of thing shows up on our Twitter feed or Facebook is to make sure that it is true. I mean, one of the things that happens is we tend to think sometimes that people are just ideas, if they are sort of celebrities and we don’t know them. So we tend to believe everything that is said. And sometimes there are reports that aren’t true. People twist something that someone said or people put a different spin on it than is what is actually ... We need to make sure that it is true and so we investigate that. We see that.

Secondly, I think we ought not to be shocked. There are always going to be false teachers and then there are always going to be people who aren’t false teachers, but people who make errors. So there is a difference, for instance, between Judas Iscariot who is not even a Christian, he doesn't even know the Lord and he is a son of perdition, but is pretending as though he is. He is there among Jesus’ disciples. There is a difference between Judas Iscariot and, say, Simon Peter, someone who also denies Christ, someone who even after he is restored makes the critical error, a gospel denying error, of refusing to eat with Gentiles. Paul rebukes him and he backs down. We shouldn’t be surprised that that is going to happen. But we shouldn’t be thrown by that. The apostle Paul tells us there are going to be those who are teaching things that are contrary to the gospel. But notice what he says to Timothy. He says: Like Jannes and Jambres — those magicians that were opposing the work of Moses — they will not get very far. And so we ought not to be despondent. We ought not to be gloomy. We ought not to be everything slouching toward Gomorrah. We expect it and we call it what it is when it is seen. But we do that by giving room for repentance.

Now you think about this. The apostle Paul withstood Peter to his face about that matter of table fellowship with the Gentiles and Peter repented. He turned around. We ought not to see people as sort of cartoon characters out there that aren’t people who can still respond to rebuke and respond to repentance. And we need to give people the ability to do that. I mean, I remember having a conversation with a pastor friend one time and he was saying to me, trying to think through the issue of same sex marriage and he said: What if we just were to make a deal where we will just say: You all can have same sex marriage out there in the civil arena and we are just going to make sure that we have biblical marriage within our own churches. And we are just having coffee. And I said: Well, that won’t work. And here is why that won’t work. And I kind of walked through with him why we wouldn’t be able to make that deal and why it would be wrong to try to make that deal. And he said: I see what you are saying.

And it occurred to me later that if he had been on the radio or on a podcast or some other venue and said that, he probably would have created a firestorm and he may not have ever had the opportunity to then back down and to say: You know what, I was wrong. And that is especially true because so many of us in our sinfulness — and I count myself really high on this list — it is really hard once people start attacking you to then turn around and say: “Let me reconsider this. Maybe I was wrong.” We need to give people the room to be able to do that.

And then, finally, I think we need to model how to be courageous while at the same time being overheard. When one thinks about the different sorts of ways that Jesus and the apostles speak to different audiences, Paul speaks to the Church at Galatia really, really sharply and he speaks to the Church at Philippi really gently. We are in a situation now, because of social media, where we are speaking to multiple audiences all at the same time. So we have to figure out how to rebuke and to sharply rebuke false teaching, while at the same time recognizing that we are going to be overheard by lost people. We are going to be speaking to shepherds who are in error, but we are also going to be heard by sheep that Jesus sent us to seek and to call out toward salvation. And so to keep that in mind in whatever it is that we post, whatever it is that we say, whatever it is that we write.

Thank you Dr. Moore for this wise, gospel-centered counsel. … Dr. Moore serves as the eighth president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and will be joining us this week, filling in for John Piper. You can keep up with Dr. Moore and the ERLC at … Well, as American culture continues changing, and we see some massive ethical shifts taking place, and as culture secularizes, what is the Church to do? What opportunities will we have? That’s tomorrow. I’m your host Tony Reinke, thanks for listening to the Ask Pastor John podcast.