The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand

How Should We Respond To The Alistair Begg Controversy?

There are few preachers around today that I respect more and whose preaching I have benefitted from more than than Alistair Begg. I have met him in person on a couple of occasions and, not long ago, had the great joy and privilege of interviewing him in my Preachers on Preaching series. So I was immensely grieved to learn recently that he has given some unbelievably unwise advice in response to a pastoral enquiry.

However, I have been taken aback by the firestorm that has erupted in the wake of this and the vilification of a gifted and godly man with a remarkable track record of faithful and courageous ministry over many years. Indeed, I was somewhat taken aback at my own initial reaction.

Before I go any further – and I am only putting my thoughts in writing because of the number of times I have been asked for my response to this issue – I fundamentally and strongly disagree with Alistair in the advice he gave. I believe it was unwise, wrong and even dangerous for a number of reasons.

But has Alistair revealed himself to be ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing’, ‘demonically deluded’ or ‘a heretic’ – all terms I have seen attributed to him in the last couple of weeks? Absolutely not! Has he acted unwisely and made a serious error of judgement? Most definitely. Should he be cancelled, ostracised and rejected by the wider Christian community? Absolutely not.

What troubles me about the advice Begg gave, whatever his motivation and reasoning, is that it does three things. First, it gives at least the appearance of his going soft on an issue about which he has been outspoken and clear in the past. There is no question, that if I attend a wedding – any wedding – I am giving my approval and personal blessing to that event. My very presence is a personal endorsement of what is taking place; I cannot get round that. If my own son, God forbid, were to ‘marry’ another man I would not attend.

Second, it puts the assumed opinion of men and women as more important than the opinion of God. I say assumed because while he fears not attending would reinforce a caricature of Christians being judgmental, it might actually have the opposite effect. Some years ago I declined an invitation to participate in the wedding of a professing Christian to a non-Christian on the grounds I would be ‘blessing’ something God could not bless. The groom’s response? John’s the “real deal” because he practices what he preaches.

But even if the reaction is one of judgmentalism, so what? Are we to avoid every word and action that might bring that accusation against us? if so, in the godless world we live in we would end up saying and doing very little.

But thirdly, and this is what concerns me most about what Alistair said, he will give comfort to many pastors and Christians who want to weaken their stand on these vital issues and will look to him as a pattern to follow. Every Pastor, myself included, has at some time, given some unwise or wrong advice. The difference for most of us is that it only affects a handful of people whereas someone in Alistair’s position influences possibly hundreds of thousands. The more prominent we are the more influential we are, whether we like it or not.

Let’s be clear, this issue is not a small or insignificant one. It is not the proverbial storm in a teacup where much is being made out of nothing. I genuinely fear that this controversy might be used of Satan to cause immense damage to the wider body of the Church because of the transgender / same-sex ‘marriage’ issues.

Attending an LGBT wedding sets on one side God’s identity of male and female and undermines God’s very definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Attending a same sex wedding, or even a wedding of a Christian to a non-Christian, actually weakens a Christian’s witness and compromises their testimony.

But, at the end of the day, Alistair is not accountable to me or to you. “It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” (Romans 14:4). With all my heart, I pray that he will publicly retract his words and explain why he has done so, but that is between him and his God. If I was cancelled and written off because of one error of judgement or pastoral mistake I have ever made, I wouldn’t still be in ministry after nearly 50 years!

But here’s something else about this whole affair that troubles and puzzles me. The attacks on Alistair Begg have been many and vitriolic, but in the same week I learned of this I also learned of the scandal concerning another native Scottish preacher in the USA, Liam Goligher, of the renowned 10th Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He has had to resign from ministry because it has come to light that 10 years ago – yes, 10 years ago – he was arrested and pleaded guilty to a sexual offence in a public park with a female leader of the church. Now, it’s becoming apparent that for years there has been something of a personal, and probably collective, cover-up in the church, with other allegations of improper behaviour coming to light. But there has been nothing like the outpouring of outrage about that as there has been about Begg’s unwise and dangerous pastoral counsel. I know which I think is the worst of the two cases!

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