The sodomy challenge — and all related sexuality challenges — present us with a glorious opportunity. It is a glorious opportunity that the Spirit has cleverly disguised as a real hazard to our future comfort and well-being.
For the gospel is a troublemaker. Let me explain that first and then come back to the sodomy challenge.
It is quite true that the gospel is good news. It is true that the gospel is a message of salvation and redemption. It is a message of buoyancy and hope. All this is true, and the one who preaches the message should be lifted up by the glory of God’s everlasting kindness to us. It is kindness.
But it is never heard that way initially. The gospel is a troublemaker because men love their sins, and they hate the very smell of repentance. To slander and misrepresent what it must all mean is for them the work of a moment. The current crop of sodomite cheerleaders hate, loathe, and despise the very idea of real repentance — I mean, they hate it almost as much as the Westboro Baptists do.
God has configured this story in such a way that the first wave of those declaring His everlasting kindness will always meet stiff resistance. So the courage of the messenger is not part of the gospel message, but the gospel message is of such a nature that the courage of the messenger can be considered an essential part of the definition of what it means to preach that gospel.
So to curvet and simper in the pulpit is a travesty. Emo-preaching is not preaching at all. To spend a bunch of time up there worrying about how unbelievers might be “turned off” if we say this, do that, or intimate the other is to be a faithless herald. And our current system of theological education produces this kind of pretty boy preacher by the metric ton. One of the reasons we don’t preach repentance is that we might have to go first.
Then we have the fellows who are like reenactors at some Civil War battle. They have everything — the uniform, the food, the jargon, the companions, the steady advance of the troops, the smoke over the field, and the deafening sound of gunfire. They have lots of powder but no shot. It has the look of true boldness, but the whole thing is a set up.
Then there are also men who have found themselves — somehow — in the midst of a real battle, and so they have developed various ways to brandish and flourish. They are like that soldier that Bierce describes in his Devil’s Dictionary.
VALOR, n. A soldierly compound of vanity, duty and the gambler’s hope.
“Why have you halted?” roared the commander of a division at Chickamauga, who had ordered a charge; “move forward, sir, at once.”
“General,” said the commander of the delinquent brigade, “I am persuaded that any further display of valor by my troops will bring them into collision with the enemy.”
The Bible defines the gospel as the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3-4). But how does the Bible describe and define true gospel preaching? One of the essential elements of true preaching is boldness.
Christ set the pattern for us by speaking boldly (John 7:26). He was the one who made the good confession (1 Tim. 6:13).
The boldness of Peter and John was the most notable thing about them (Acts 4:13), especially considering their lack of appropriate accreditation. Boldness was what the early preachers sought after (Acts 4:29), and God fulfilled that particular request (Acts 4:31). The fact that Paul had preached with boldness was one of the arguments that Barnabas used to commend him to the others (Acts 9:27). Right after that, we are told that Paul preached boldly, to such an extent that plots to kill him arose (Acts 9:29). Paul and Barnabas preached boldly to the Jews (Acts 13:46). Paul and Barnabas were enabled by the Spirit to preach boldly over an extended period of time (Acts 14:3). When Apollos was first heard by Aquila and Priscilla, he was speaking boldly in the Lord (Acts 18:26). Paul spoke boldly over the course of three months at Ephesus (Acts 19:8).
Here is a rule of thumb. If it doesn’t require courage and boldness to preach, then perhaps you should consider the possibility that it is not the gospel you are preaching.
“And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph. 6:19-20).
Several things must be pointed out here. The apostle was asking for prayer — after decades of preaching experience — that he would be bold as he unfolded the mystery of the gospel. He was not asking that they pray for his boldness because he had a lifelong struggle with stage fright, or because large crowds gave him butterflies. He wanted boldness because he knew that when he preached the gospel a not unheard of reaction would be a riot.
The second thing is that he says “as I ought to speak.” But one of the first things that will happen to a preacher today who starts preaching boldly is that he will be taken aside by the self-appointed protectors of the “feelings” of unnamed others, and told that he really needs to lay off. Try a little tenderness.
A preacher who declares the message of the gospel boldly is creating an opportunity to display why such boldness was needed. He will be attacked — in the newspaper, or by discernment bloggers, or on the floor of presbytery, or by a close friend and mentor who comes to him privately to say that he had been “deeply hurt” by “way” he had phrased that particular denunciation that has caused “so much” of the “recent and very unnecessary unpleasantness.”
It is not the only measurement, but we should measure by the reaction. Paul preached grace, and he was not an antinomian. But he showed that those who preach grace will be accused of antinomianism (Rom. 3:8). Paul preached the sovereignty of God, and he was not a fatalist. But he demonstrated for us that those who preach the sovereignty of God will be accused of preaching a puppet master God (Rom. 9:19).
In the same way, the Lord Jesus gave all of His preachers and heralds a sturdy walking stick, and He told us to go out into the world and whack all the beehives. This seems counter intuitive to us, and so, instead, we organize walking stick conferences. And we can see a lot of exuberant stick swinging, and some sweet ninja moves in the break-out sessions. We see seminaries collecting confessional walking sticks to put in glass cases, just in case one of them buds like Aaron’s rod did that time. We see lots of walking stick activities. But what we don’t see are any angry bees.