Quite often I encounter the charge that the legalizing of gay marriage represents a failure of the church. This charge has a couple of versions.
#1 We are failures because we weren’t able to prevent it.
If the church only prayed more/fasted more/voted as a bloc/were filled with the Spirit/boldly declared the gospel/cast down demonic strongholds – gay marriage would never have gained a foothold in American civic life. Version 2 strikes the opposite note –
#2 We are failures in that we even tried to prevent it.
We should know better than this, we are scolded. How can we expect Christian behavior from non-Christian people? The goal of the church is not behavior modification, but heart transformation. In that the attempt was even undertaken to prevent this form of behavior demonstrates that the church doesn’t understand spiritual reality. The very act of taking into hand the political power of the voting booth is a denial of the spiritual power of the Spirit and clearly exposes our lack of love toward the gay community.
So, has the church failed? Consider the legalization of gay marriage in the light of the abortion wars. Is the availability of abortion a failure of the church? What more could the church have done to prevent the millions of abortions that have polluted our land? We voted/picketed/prayed/pleaded/reasoned/raged/provided alternatives. The death of millions of babies cannot be laid at the door of the church. We were/are not complicit. This blood is not on the hands of the church. These take place against our will/our vote/our cooperation/our permission/our blessing. The church flexed all its might and still the nation turned to an abomination that had never even entered the mind of God. The blood of millions of human beings is to be laid at the feet of a corrupt culture in moral free fall, not at the feet of a weeping church.
Was the idolatry of Israel the fault of God who sent His Word, prophet after prophet, calamity after calamity? The Lord cries through Isaiah, “What more could I have done…?”
Preventing gay marriage may indeed be the church fighting a losing battle, but even if we lose this battle it is a battle worth waging – we do not fail even if we lose. The church only fails if the church fails to be the church. And this is true whether you contend that this is a battle the church should be involved in or not. (And, for the sake of clarity, the battle was not against gay marriage, but against a redefinition of the Biblical concept of marriage that would have/is having/will have significant repercussions on American life).
For 8.5 years our church was located across the street from the L ’amour Shoppe – an adult book store. A couple of times during those years there was the suggestion that the existence of that store represented a failure of the church (not just CC Fremont, but the entire church in Fremont). If the church had a greater spiritual presence in the city, it was reasoned, the Shoppe would not exist. I disagreed with them. The existence of that store does not represent the failure of the church, instead it is to be traced to the moral and spiritual failure of its owners, operators, and clientele. They sinned against conscience and the gospel to open that place and to keep it open.
The moral/spiritual collapse of the culture is not the church’s failure. I cannot think of a Scripturally based, textually developed and derived argument that faults the church for the failure of the culture. The church has her own failure…
What is the failure of the church? The church’s failure is the moral/spiritual collapse of the church. The failure of the church isn’t that the culture is looking less and less like the church, but that the church is looking more and more like the culture. Their degeneration is not our failure, our degeneration is our failure. We can’t expect the world to act like the church – but we can and should expect the church to act like the church. The problem isn’t that the culture is departing from the Scripture, but that the church is departing from the Scripture.
Gay marriage/abortion availability/the prevalence of pornography/etc., is not the failure of the church. It is the failure of those who sin against creation/conscience/Christ. It is the failure of those who know that there is a God and that they are morally accountable to Him and yet suppress the truth in unrighteousness. The moral and spiritual collapse of the culture is not the church’s failure, the church has enough failure of her own.