An Open Appeal to my Brothers and Sisters, and Leaders in our Baptist Union
I love being a Baptist, and I love the diversity of Evangelicals, Liberals, and even some high church Baptists and Catholic Baptists in our midst. Unfortunately, our diversity is under pressure, for I believe as Baptists, we face a new downgrade controversy arguably much worse than that which Spurgeon experienced. Although we are a diverse and broad family which both enriches us and strengthens us, there are some lines that the Union should never cross without the church’s support. The redefinition of marriage without an in-depth consultation of all the churches and ministers in our Union is one of those lines.
In March 1887, Spurgeon published in, ‘The Sword and the Trowel’, an article titled “The Down Grade.” Spurgeon was concerned about three doctrines: biblical infallibility, substitutionary atonement, and the finality of judgement for those who died outside Christ. What we may be facing as a Union is, in my opinion, a worse downgrade controversy being actively explored and advocated. The ‘downgrade’ of our time is a request by some in our Union to redefine the ministerial rules so ministers can engage in a same-sex marriage, thereby redefining Christian marriage as valid if it is between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. This proposed change not only redefines Christian marriage within a UK Baptist context, but also redefines our understanding of sexual purity, sin, repentance, and accountability through association, and ultimately and in doing these things, redefines and ‘downgrades’ our understanding of the Cross and authority of God’s Word.
Whilst this article will cause some pain, it is not intended to be a personal polemic against those who take a different view to what has been up to now Baptist orthodoxy; we note some are posting on social media openly advocating their views on this issue of marriage in the Union, we already accept we are a diverse union, it is not a rejection of the “other” as there is room for everyone in our Baptist family, but rather it is a gentle pastoral plea to those entrusted with the structures of our Union to pull back from actions that could fracture our beautiful tapestry and hard-won diversity by departing from the historic Baptist foundational position that the Bible defines Christian marriage as only ever being between a man and a woman.
For most Baptists seeking to hold to our historical biblical roots, the request to change the ministerial rules so that ministers can engage in same-sex marital relationships would be more than a downgrade were it to be passed by our council. I fear that in the eyes of the majority of laypeople in our denomination, it would be deemed a betrayal of the work of Christ on the Cross. Christ shed his blood for the forgiveness of sin. Many Baptists will struggle to understand or accept the request to celebrate and embrace what they believe amounts to wilful disobedience to the scriptures. This attempt to redefine the scriptural definition of marriage is highly toxic to relationships in our Union.
I, and as a Union, we recognize that we have not always responded pastorally or sensitively to those from the LGBTQI+ community. For this, we are repentant and deeply sorry. We must discuss and engage with the pastoral care of those with same-sex attraction and gender identity questions in our Union. We must get better at this. It needs, however, to be in a way which is in line with the view of our churches in the Union and above all Scripture. Scripture encourages us to embrace all with the love and grace of Jesus, yet because of His love, we do not and cannot endorse all behaviours, decisions, identities and lifestyles (NB I am not just speaking about sexual behaviour, decisions, identities and lifestyles here).
I would guess that the vast majority of our churches would hold a simple (not simplistic) reading of the scriptures, accepting at face value what it says. We cannot assume that they have changed their minds on what constitutes Christian marriage without asking them. Or infer that by their simple reading they are somehow deficient in understanding what it says or means.
I can certainly say that as of today, over 180 ministers have signed a word of mouth petition asking the Union to refrain from changing the ministerial rules. These are educated, compassionate, kind, and sacrificial lovers of Jesus, saying we have a better vision of marriage for which they are speaking up, a Christian view of marriage rather than a civic view.
For many churchgoers, any departure by leaders from an orthodox biblical view that marriage is between a man and a woman will be seen as a deception. It may shock some to know that many will believe that those who treat the scriptures in this way will have no recourse to personal repentance, as it will be deemed that they will have betrayed the Cross they wish to proclaim and trampled the blood of Christ underfoot (Heb 6:4-6; Heb 10:29). While some seek to treat this issue as a justice issue, and I concede that in society there may be justice issues associated with pastorally caring for those with same-sex attraction, and issues around discrimination that we have not always been good at tackling as a church, nevertheless whilst it has never been a sin to be Black or a Woman, we cannot get away from that fact that the simple reading of scripture makes clear Chriatian gay marriage is unbiblical.
Then there are the pastoral conflicts that will emerge if the ministerial rules are changed. Let me highlight just four of many.
First, such a change to the ministerial rules will cause pain to families in our Baptist churches seeking to hold to orthodox Baptist beliefs with some supporting struggling family members. Some of our members are helping their children and in some cases close friends through the challenge of holding a biblical narrative whist working to find a pathway to a lifestyle that matches the biblical advice they believe Scriptures provides on the subject of same-sex attraction. Many families will feel badly let down by our Baptist family if the ministerial rules are changed.
Secondly, changing the rules will let down those who have worked through the scriptures and, nevertheless have concluded that Scripture calls them to define their identity as being in Christ and not their sexuality. Such have chosen to work out their Christianity by following the plain teaching of the scriptures. They have chosen to live celibate lives, and some of these have written publicly agreeing that this issue affects the gospel message itself ( 1 Cor 6:9 ; Rom 14:5). We must stand with them and agree that no one has the right to take away from the work of Christ on the Cross or call good and acceptable what the Bible calls people to repent from.
Thirdly, we have many individuals actively working with the gospel message seeking to reach the lost on the fringes, and outside our church walls, they will feel that their core message on the mission field is in danger of being irrevocably undermined by misdirecting vulnerable sinners away from their need of repentance from sinful acts (temptation we acknowledge is not sin). Where will the redefinition of sin end? Will we, for example, change our understanding of biblical sin in terms of greed or false testimony? The Gospel without repentance from sin is not the Gospel Jesus and the Early Church preached.
Fourthly, for Baptist church members, spiritual integrity and personal holiness is what they look for in their ministers; changing the ministerial rules in the way being suggested will create great anxiety that our hard-won equilibrium and current diversity of views in the Baptist Union is being swapped for a liberal view of the scriptures
I have to say the way the invitation to explore this issue is being framed involves an invitation to redefine divine intention by introducing uncertainty into the simple reading of the scriptures. ” The problem we are being told is ” the way we read scripture” I find most Baptist church members read the scriptures perfectly reasonably well, and I have found that even a thirteen-year-old can explain Romans 1 clearly. Many theologians would agree that the simple reading of the text of Scripture is often the best.
On the question ” did God say?” marriage is only every scriptural if it is between ‘ a man and a woman?, we can affirm with a clear and emphatic, yes he did! It would be different if we were trying to understand an obscure passage of Scripture, but we are dealing with texts that have been expounded by diverse cultures around the world for 2000 years, all coming to the same conclusion that homosexual practice is a sin. Without the illumination of the scriptures, humanity is hopelessly lost in a human-centric view of what constitutes sin.
And, so we are left with the question, what will the Baptist Union of Great Britain do, will we downgrade the work of Christ on the Cross by redefining Christian marriage and promoting what the scriptures call sin as godly? If man can redefine sin, we do not need a Saviour.
I conclude by saying that this is not the issue that is foremost in most church leaders’ or churches’ minds, evangelism and halting church decline is by far a greater pressing problem for many churches and we should be doing more to address that. I personally would rather be engaging with that question as top of our many priorities.
Yinka Oyekan is the senior minister of The Gate, a multi-site church in Reading. He received Christ in a Baptist Church in Edinburgh and has a passion for evangelism and church planting. Yinka is also the Team Leader for Barnabas Fellowship of Churches, a network of churches with a vision of ‘Building Kingdom churches and developing Kingdom relationships’. Barnabas has churches in the UK, France, and Africa. Yinka has been involved in Church planting for over 30 years in these countries and has written several books and manuals. He served as President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain from 2020-2021. The Gate church has experienced two outpourings of the Holy Spirit, one of which led to national evangelistic campaigns in many countries. Yinka Oyekan is has a wealth of experience in evangelism and church planting.