Concerning Alistair Begg’s Counsel
by: Peter Uka
Sometime last week I got wind of a trending matter in conservative Christian circles involving a much beloved and respected Christian brother named Alistair Begg. Alistair is a well-known Scottish-American Pastor with decades of faithful Bible preaching and teaching that has been a blessing to probably millions of Evangelicals around the world, myself included. My favorite Begg sermon series is the one in which he preached about the life of Joseph, comparing it to Christ’s. It was beautiful. Begg recently caused a much welcome stir with his comments while preaching a sermon whose title I don’t remember, about the thief on the cross arriving at the pearly gates and when asked why he should be let in, simply stated that “the man on the middle cross said I could come.” It was a delightful and insightful take on the fate of the thief on the cross.
Brother Alistair has again caused a stir, only this time, a less-than-desirable one. Last week, an audio clip surfaced on the internet in which he advised a Christian grandmother who was torn between her Christian convictions against gay and transgender “marriage” and attending the impending transgender “wedding” of her own grandson. Pastor Begg advised that so long as her grandchild knew that she could not in any way countenance his planned transgender “marriage” in any affirming way as a Christian, she could go ahead and attend the wedding ceremony, and even take a gift along.
Understandably, this caused a huge furor in Evangelical circles, leading to countless videos being put up by fellow ministers, some of whom know Begg personally and have ministered alongside him in the past, strongly denouncing his counsel as unbiblical, and urging to him to repent and recant. Some representatives of Christian Family Radio, a conservative Christian Broadcasting organization that used to air his sermons on their platform reached out to Begg’s team, who made it clear that he would not be taking back his comments. The leadership of the organization then decided to stop airing Pastor Begg’s program on their platform.
This whole time, I kept hoping somewhere in the back of my mind that Brother Begg would come around. I was confident that behind the scenes, away from all the public outcry, some people would be reaching out to him privately and he would eventually step forward to take back what he said and this would all go away. After all, I had not heard from the man himself. But to my dismay, yesterday morning I got a link to his sermon from last Sunday where he essentially doubled down, dismissing his critics as being judgmental, lacking compassion, and Pharisaical. He revealed that the need for compassion and context formed the basis for his counsel to the Lady. He maintained he had nothing to repent of and would not be retracting his earlier statement.
Better and far greater men than I have spoken to the issue, and I know my take is not unique and won’t go anywhere but choose to put it out anyway for the record, and for anyone who comes across it. My responses here will be based on both his initial statement and his defense of it this last Sunday, as I remember them.
I begin with two important things I need to say before going any further:
I love and appreciate my brother.
I’d like to start by repeating, in case I wasn’t clear enough, that I love Pastor Alistair Begg and have benefitted from his work and ministry, even though I’m convinced he has not evidenced sound Christian judgment in this instance. I do not intend to stop listening to his messages, although I admit it will now be with a bit more caution than before.
Pastor Begg is still orthodox in his position regarding homosexuality.
To be fair to Brother Begg, I need to also make clear that his position regarding homosexuality and all such sinful behavior remains unchanged, and for that I am thankful.
But I am worried. Scripture said to not give the Devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27). And there’s this saying in my country which I think aptly captures my sentiments here. It says in pidgin English – “na from clap dance dey take start.” In proper English that would translate to “[all-out] dancing often starts with clapping.” Good preachers would normally not compromise overnight. It usually happens in bits.
Below I share my thoughts in 5 sections:
1. Not a wedding
I think the best place to start is by declaring the obvious.
A gay or transgender “wedding,” is not a wedding. A gay or transgender “marriage,” is not a marriage. It matters not whether they have Governmental or legal backing in the form of official, formal recognition of their “union” and even have a certificate to show for it. A man cannot be joined to another man and neither can a woman be joined to another woman. Biblically, a wedding is the covenanting and joining together of a Man and a Woman. Anything outside of that is not a wedding or marriage.
Secondly, homosexual behavior is not just sinful, but classified as an especially serious, repugnant, and shocking form of sin and rightly termed an abomination and unnatural in scripture (Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Jude 1:7).
I’ll even go on to state that a gay or transgender “wedding” is the practical equivalent of holding up the middle finger at God Almighty – a brazen act of rebellion and defiance. It would make an excellent example of gourmet sin – sin at one of its ugliest, most unreasonable, and most shocking forms.
So if the supposed transgender “wedding” is not really a wedding but an open show of defiance and lifetime commitment to something God forbids, why would a Christian be attending such an event?
2. Affirmation by Attendance
When we attend a wedding ceremony, we are not just witnessing the event, we are also giving affirmation and validation to what is being done there. When I attend a wedding, I’m not just there to mark the register, take pictures, enjoy the food and drinks, or help fill up the seats. By being present, I am saying I affirm and support the coming together of that man and woman. This is not something any true Christian can do in good conscience when it is not a man and woman being joined. And Alistair himself alluded to this when he asked the grandmother if her grandson understood that she, as a Christian, could not countenance her transgender wedding in an affirming way. But for some reason, he missed the massive Elephant in the room, which is the cold hard fact that attending a wedding is the ultimate act of endorsement and carries far more weight and meaning than a verbal affirmation – actions speak louder than words.
As an example, let us assume prostitution was legal in Nigeria, and a friend or relative of mine who’s been in the business for a long time, one day invites me to attend the opening ceremony of his new, first-of-its-kind, 7-star Brothel in Banana Island or some other exotic location in Lagos or Abuja, knowing fully well my convictions and position against prostitution as a Christian, nonetheless desiring that I be at this milestone event of his (or her) career. As a Christian, I would be remiss to accept such an invitation. Not because I do not love the person, but because of my Christian and moral values. I cannot be present at such an event because by attending, I’m not just being a willing witness to a business venture that is an affront to God, even worse, I’d be joining others to celebrate what is being done there – the ever-profitable business of commercial sexual immorality. And truth be told, a Christian cannot be involved in celebrating any sin, regardless of the context.
In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul categorically condemns homosexual activity (amongst other sins), warning those who engage in such things. In the final verse (32), he makes an interesting comment pertinent to this debate:
Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but GIVE APPROVAL TO THOSE WHO PRACTICE THEM.
Not only does Paul condemn those performing the sinful acts themselves, but he also condemns those who give “approval” because that is just as bad, sad, and ungodly as participating in such deeds. Christians, regardless of the context, can no more partake in sinful activity than they can lend implicit support or encouragement to those who do. Both are sinful and require repentance.
3. What about Jesus’ eating with sinners?
Apples and oranges.
And I must say I’m tired of Christians behaving badly trying to hide behind Jesus’ hanging out with sinners. Both Begg in his Sunday sermon and others I’ve seen clumsily trying to defend him, desperately appeal to Jesus’ visiting the homes of sinners and eating with them as justification for their position.
A good place to start this section is to state that there is nothing wrong with sitting down to a meal with sinners. There is nothing wrong with visiting with them either. Sin is not physically contagious and unlike the Jewish leaders in the Gospels believed, we do not become ceremonially unclean by hanging out with sinners. This truly was, as Begg said, Jesus extending grace where the Pharisees would not. I should also mention that the Pharisees held these outward “sinners” in deep contempt and condescension.
But Jesus only went to those sinners’ houses on invitation as a very well-known itinerant Preacher and Prophet. He was not their buddy. In today’s context, he would be given the microphone and commanded everybody’s attention. No one could leave that place wondering where Jesus stood concerning their lifestyle and choices. Jesus himself said he was sent to call sinners to repentance. I believe it is safe to imagine he would have preached the word to them, leading to their conversion, as in the case of Zaccheus. The grandma Pastor Alistair spoke to, as far as we know, would not have attended her grandson’s transgender wedding with this advantage or purpose. She would have been just another attendee, being present there in support of the “couple.” Besides, as far as the Bible goes, Jesus did not attend orgies, or other such gatherings designed to indulge in or celebrate sinful behavior. If he had, he would have been guilty of tacitly affirming sin.
Moreover, the “sinners” in the New Testament narratives wanted to hear Jesus speak in their homes to them and their friends and relatives which the general populace led by the Jewish leaders at the time would have treated as outcasts. Jesus honored such invitations, and so should we. Unlike the Pharisees of his day, Jesus rightly did not consider himself to become defiled or ceremonially unclean by merely sitting, eating, and speaking with sinners. The Bible teaches no such thing. We are only warned against becoming companions of them in such a way that we are influenced by their sinful lifestyle, are enticed, and then become truly defiled.
Again, there is nothing wrong with attending a party with sinners, even Gay and Transgender people. For example, a Christian may go to the birthday party of a person who’s openly Gay or Transgender, just like it would not be sinful for a Christian to be at the birthday party of a person who’s guilty of adultery or some other sin. At such an event, it is the person’s life that is being celebrated, not their lifestyle, which is clearly the case at a Gay or Transgender wedding! According to 1 Corinthians 13:6, true love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, which is what a Gay or Transgender wedding is – a celebration of wrongdoing at its finest!
Perhaps another example would be stating that there is also nothing wrong with working at the same job or company as Gay or Transgender folks. But if that company’s business is something that advocates for or promotes such a sinful and destructive lifestyle, I don’t see how a Christian can work there without soiling their conscience.
So the purpose of a gathering, setting, or event should indicate whether or not a Christian can be present without giving silent affirmation.
3. Love and truth are not incompatible.
I am alarmed at the increasingly common sight of Christians speaking about “love” as though it were incompatible with the truth. In fact, the truth (the Word of God) is the only way we can tell whether the “love” we’re dealing with is valid or invalid. True or false love. Godly or carnal and worldly love. Truth is the litmus test and we do not have the luxury of discarding it, regardless of the situation.
I should also point out that there is absolutely nothing loving or love-like about encouraging people in sin. Except when done in ignorance, it is easily one of the most hateful things a person can do to another because it leads people along a path that will result in their getting hurt or ultimately being annihilated by divine retribution. On the contrary, true, godly love should compel us to warn people living in sin because we care about and wish the best for them. The best way that Grandma could have strengthened her witness against her grandson’s lifestyle, was by not attending the wedding. That way, both her words and her actions match, forming a consistent and powerful testimony against her grandson’s choices.
If I had a friend who enjoyed driving without wearing seatbelts and never warned him, I would not be a good friend and would be complicit if something happened to him. I find myself wondering what may have happened if Sodom and Gomorrah had had the benefit of someone like Jonah being sent to them before the judgment of God hit.
Truth is Love’s spine. Without it, what we have is this practically useless, unrecognizable, mushy, formless thing that is not true, godly, biblical, Christian love. Love without truth is ungodly, worldly, counterfeit, not to mention deadly. Again, the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:6 admonishes that true love rejoices with the truth.
Christians must not only speak the truth out of love but ensure their actions line up with it.
4. Grace without repentance
Still speaking about love, I should add that I do not see any biblical basis for this decidedly worldly version of “love” which does not require repentance. It is ungodly. Sin must always be dealt with, and the human responsibility in this equation always includes and even begins with repentance.
In Alistair’s sermon, he alluded to Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son, taking care to point out the Father’s lavish and gracious reception of the prodigal, while the older son played the Pharisee and had to be placated by the Father. I think it was a rather skewed presentation of the parable.
It appears that people like Brother Begg forget or ignore critical parts of the story, like the part where the father never goes looking for his disgraceful Son. He stayed home. He didn’t send out a search and rescue team either. It was the son who on his own, having come to his senses, came back home seeking his father’s forgiveness, which was graciously given without hesitation. I imagine that if the father had even gone looking for the son or sent a search party, it would still have been to appeal for a change of heart, not affirming him while still in his sin.
The happy ending we all love in this beautiful story would not have happened, if the Prodigal son had not repented and returned home. The Bible knows nothing of this worldly “love” that is all-embracing and does not insist on repentance.
True, biblical love insists on repentance, all the time.
5. Discrediting the critics
In his sermon, Begg gave a warning to his listeners which I find rather unfortunate. He said to be very careful when a Pastor often heavily lambasts a particular sin, as “Pharisees” are known to strongly condemn sins they would commit themselves, being the hypocrites they are. He was essentially pointing the finger at the tremendous cloud of loving Christian Brethren who’d all rushed out to refute his unfortunate suggestion to that Grandmother and pleaded with him to have a rethink.
Discrediting one’s enemy or opponents is a tactic commonly used when a debater does not have a worthwhile defense or response, although it can be used legitimately to expose an opponent’s hypocrisy or shallow arguments. In the context of this controversy, I think it was inappropriate for Begg to have publicly insinuated that they were only condemning homosexuality as vehemently as they did, because they were doing it themselves, or were considering indulging in it sometime.
While I did not and could not have seen it all, I did watch a handful of the videos put out by many Christian Brothers, some of whom were fellow ministers like Begg. They were all respectful of him being a senior and respected member of the wider Evangelical and Reformed community, they all expressed emotion consistent with deep sadness, disappointment, distress, and shock – the kind of demeanor you’d exude if a member of your team scored an own goal. I could sense their hurt and concern. None of them seemed happy about the situation and all appealed, I say again, APPEALED to Brother Begg to admit his recommendations to the Lady missed the mark and retrace his steps. As far as I could tell, none of them seemed to be attacking or trying to put him down. And I do hope I too am not communicating superiority, condescension, self-righteousness, or any such attitude that a Pharisee would.
Perhaps one thing that turned out to be even more disappointing than his initial counsel to the sister which led to all this in the first place, is Alistair’s resorting to labeling his critics “Pharisees” and alluding to them being closet Gays and Transgenders, hence their intense reaction since his advice went public. His doubling down was bad enough, but this blanket and unwarranted accusation indicates we may be dealing with a deeper problem here. His advice to the woman may not have been an innocent misstep which we are all prone to make as imperfect creatures.
It is simply not Pharisaical to point out wrongdoing and sin. The Bible commands Christians to do this. It is also the loving thing to do. But broken things that we are, we find it difficult to accept correction.
What I would have said to the grandmother
I want to close this hurriedly written piece by sharing what I would have said to the grandmother if I had been the Pastor she came to for advice. It’s also what I’d do myself if I were in the grandmother’s shoes.
It would be incredibly difficult for me, but through the tears, probable difficulty breathing and speaking, nose running profusely, my heart torn to shreds, I would let her know I simply could not make so much as an appearance that day, and in fact, neither should he. I would not attend, and I would not take or send a gift. Who knows, my actions may just make my grandson realize he shouldn’t go through with it. It just might be a tool in the hand of the Lord to make him come around.
The Christian life sometimes leads us through incredibly difficult paths. Our part is to always remain faithful and obedient to the Lord and let the chips fall where they may.
Pastor Begg mentioned he gave this counsel because of the specific situation and the noble intention to help the grandmother not lose her grandson. My take is that no relationship is so valuable as to be preserved at all costs, especially not at the risk of not just condoning but celebrating such defiant, deviant, sinful activity. All human relationships must be secondary, compared to our devotion and relationship to Christ. All our emotions, however valid and legitimate, must be subject to the truth of God’s word.
After all, Jesus said to expect walls to go up between us and our loved ones, because of him.
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. – Matthew 10 (ESV)
P.S. I just learned after writing this article, that Pastor Alistair Begg will not be ministering at this year’s Shepherd conference being organized by Grace To You, Pastor John MacArthur’s Ministry, as a result of this controversy.
One of the videos refuting his advice to the grandmother. The original audio clip is played somewhere in this – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6gsFtezLD8
Pastor Begg’s sermon and response to the controversy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2bmFuA40T4