“Vicar marries atheist in same-sex wedding” ran the bizarre headline. It related to Rev Andrew Cain, an Anglican clergyman in London who a few weeks ago ‘married’ Stephen Foreshew, his ‘partner’ of fourteen years. Yet although Mr Cain’s behaviour is scandalous for any professing Christian – let alone a minister of the gospel – it is by no means certain that any disciplinary action will be taken against him: tolerance is everything in today’s church, just as it is in society generally.
To say that Andrew Cain is confused spiritually is something of an understatement. It ought to be added that he is not helped by the identity crisis that is a feature of his denomination. His own congregation declares itself strangely as “in the Liberal Catholic tradition” of the Church of England. What that means is explained as follows: “We believe that baptism is the foundation of faith and that Holy Communion is at the centre of faithful discipleship, both for personal growth and corporate belonging.” That’s the ‘Catholic’ bit. Then we are told: “We welcome and celebrate the ministry of women in all levels of Church life and hierarchy.” That of course is the ‘Liberal’ bit. Though blatantly unscriptural this is tolerated in the Church of England. But if biblical teaching is scorned in one area it will have consequences in other areas sooner or later.
No-one who actually believes the Bible will have the slightest difficulty in judging that Mr Cain, like his biblical namesake, is “of that wicked one” (1 John 3:12). While he is – in theory at least – a preacher of the gospel it is obvious that he has yet to believe the gospel himself. We pray that he will get grace to repent of his sins and be saved. However what must be pointed out is that those – whether in the world or in the church – who insist on ‘tolerance’ towards such people are actually their worst enemies: they cover over their sin and excuse them when they need to be challenged and brought to a sense of their shame.
The same false ‘tolerance’ is now being used not only to succour the ungodly, whether religious or irreligious, but also to threaten genuine Christians, as Ashers Baking Company of Northern Ireland has discovered recently. Its name also has a biblical connection, being based upon Jacob’s son Asher whose name means “blessed” and of whom it was prophesied, “his bread shall be fat, and he shall yield royal dainties” (Gen. 30:12,13; 49:20). But how could a baking business of all things find itself under attack?
The firm’s ‘fault’ was to refuse to place the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” on a cake which it was asked to bake for a campaign event organised by a group with the rather unpleasant name of ‘QueerSpace’. Ashers is run by the McArthur family and they felt that to go ahead with the order would be to go against their Christian beliefs and so they politely explained this to the customer and returned the deposit which had been paid: the cake was then baked somewhere else. For this ‘crime’ Ashers received a letter from the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland claiming that the bakery had acted unlawfully. The Commission wants to take Ashers to court and if eventually there is a judgment against the McArthurs they could be ordered to pay £2,000 in damages – despite the fact that same-sex marriage is illegal in the Province!
There are some important lessons to be learned from these events. Firstly they reveal the great spiritual declension which has occurred in our land over recent generations and which sadly may have some way to go yet. When biblical doctrines are set aside by the church and nation moral decay is the inevitable result and soon enough all manner of ungodly conduct will be tolerated. “Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure, but even their mind and conscience is defiled” (Tit. 1:15).
These events also show us that it is impossible for the state to be neutral when it comes to moral matters. The state is bound to make a choice as to what it believes to be right and what it believes to be wrong – what is thinks is allowable and what it thinks ought to be punishable. However if it does not make its decision according to the proper standard – the Word of God – then in the end it becomes a “terror” to good works rather than to evil (Rom. 13:3). Once Rev Andrew Cain would have come up against both church law and the criminal law for his way of life: now he is able to cite the law of the land in his defence and it is Ashers which is meeting with its force. That is what happens when the state no longer honours God as it should: things are turned upside down and our religious and civil liberties are trampled upon. It is something that is likely to happen more and more in the future if our society continues to move along its present secular path.
Finally these events are a solemn warning to the conservative churches in our country to hold fast. The church must be intolerant of sin in all its forms and there must be discipline if a faithful testimony is to be preserved. The Lord’s people collectively are “the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14) but when discipline is not exercised in a church corruptions in doctrine and practice will spread and that church, whatever its size and prestige, will cease to ‘shine’ for the Lord. It will have nothing worthwhile to say to the nation and the people will begin to look elsewhere for guidance, as has already happened.
May the biblical and confessional churches in our land shine a pure light upon the darkness now engulfing us – and may their voice be heard before it is too late.
"Aser" by The S.S. Teacher's Edition: The Holy Bible. New York: Henry Frowde, Publisher to the University of Oxford, 1896. - Ralile (http://www.lastar.org).
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aser.JPG#mediaviewer/File:Aser.JPG