Dear Sisters and Brothers,
The matter of the proposed change to the definition of marriage in Australian law is one which calls for a prayerful, thoughtful and loving response from us as God’s people.
We are called to ‘speak the truth in love,’ as we grow towards maturity in Christ our Head (Ephesians 4:15). This involves walking in the tension between truth and love. It is not always an easy thing to do, and may look different for different people and in different circumstances. We face this tension of truth and love in today’s climate, as we seek to hold firmly to the testimony of Scripture, while at the same time thinking carefully and praying about what it looks like to extend the grace, compassion and love to our neighbours that God first showed us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Bethel Christian Church, by God’s grace, is committed to continue to honour true human marriage as the Father has given it to us. Marriage is a covenant relationship, entered into by the giving and receiving of promises, in the context of the loving support of family and Church. Because its supreme purpose is to be a reflection of the covenant of love between Christ and his Bride the Church, its only valid expression is between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others, for life. As we look forward to the day when human marriage will give way to the ultimate Marriage when we see Jesus face-to-face, we as His people have a solemn yet joyful responsibility to uphold this vision of marriage, as well as to foster and support married couples in reflecting the love of Christ in their marriages. (See Genesis 2:21-25, Malachi 2:14, 1 Corinthians 7:39, Ephesians 5:22-33, Revelation 19:9, 21:1-3.)
We recognise that upholding true Biblical marriage may be in the face of persecution or litigation, or simply being perceived as out-of-date, and we should brace ourselves to stand firm if this becomes a reality.
We need to be ready to confess that at times we are prone to err either on the side of holding legalistically to truth in a way that brings division and hurt, or on the side of exalting love for neighbour over love for God and thus compromising the truth. Both failures can bring the Gospel of God’s grace into disrepute. So when we hear reports of personal pain caused by the Church or by individual Christians, our response should be one of humility and repentance, seeking reconciliation and restoration in the Gospel above all things.
We should also recognise that at times the church can feel like an unsafe or non-welcoming environment for non-believers or those who are engaged in a relationship or lifestyle that God’s Word defines as sinful. Sometimes this is due to people’s preconceived assumptions, and at other times it may be due to our failure to love and accept people in the same way that Christ has accepted us (Romans 15:7). We need to be always operating on the principle that, ‘God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance,’ (Romans 2:4) remembering that it is from these very sinful actions and attitudes that God’s grace has saved us (1 Corinthians 6:11).
As Christians who are citizens of the Kingdom of God, we are neither mandated to nor prohibited from participating in the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, as it is a voluntary political process set in motion by our secular government. We are free to vote or abstain as our conscience guides us, and as we prayerfully seek the wisdom and guidance of the Hoy Spirit. It is a good thing for us to be discussing this issue amongst ourselves, listening to one another with grace and understanding; it is also good for us to be listening to the arguments put forward by the world – both for and against same-sex marriage – and to think carefully about how to respond in a way that adorns the Gospel of the grace of God in Christ (Titus 2:10).
We must be prepared to recognise that, given the difference in persons and contexts, this expression of truth and love may not look exactly the same between different people or Christian communities. We should not be quick to judge if our brother or sister in Christ initially responds differently to us; but rather be prepared to listen to their reasons behind their decisions, and carefully weigh both our words and theirs alongside Scripture.
We must also be careful that our expression of freedom in Christ does not cause our brother or sister to stumble by leading them to act against their conscience and to sin by not acting in faith (Romans 14:13-23). We should not lead each other to respond to coercion, guilt or fear, but rather through encouragement and care for each other, putting the needs of our brothers and sisters before our own.
Whatever the outcome of this survey, and of any future decision of the Parliament on the definition of marriage in Australian Law, we may have the assurance that because the Word of God stands firm, the definition of Marriage as He instituted it will never change, and will remain as an image of Christ who loves his bride, the Church, for whom He died and rose again, and for whom he now rules over all nations and governments of the world. The Judge of the whole earth will never be dethroned by the decisions of human governments.
Let us as a church community, by God’s grace, be committed to demonstrating the love of Christ in the way that we relate to and care for all people, regardless of sexuality or lifestyle. This love will mean welcoming all people at our public gatherings, while limiting the way in which people may participate or lead in the church. It will mean being prepared to have mercy on those who doubt, and to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. It will mean loving our enemies and praying and doing good to those who persecute us. And it will mean being ready, with God’s help, to step outside of our own comfort zones in showing compassion and self-sacrificial generosity to all, while standing firmly on the truth of God’s word.
Yours in Christ
Siew Kiong Tham, Chin Hian Lim, James Krieg
Elders of Bethel Christian Church