In Defense of Pastor Alistair Begg – Deji Yesufu
By: Deji Yesufu
Every generation is called to contend for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints. We do this by reasoning into the biblical text and brainstorming over what our Lord and/or his apostles would have done if they stood face to face (in their own days) with the kind of sin that we are dealing with today. Regardless of the side of the debate you stand on concerning the Alistair Begg-Gate, you will agree that homosexuality has become a reality in our culture and Christians can no longer wish it away. While our generation witnessed healthy heterosexual marriages in their parents and have an example to follow, the social media is giving our children other examples to imitate. It is what has led to what I like to call the Alistair Begg Conundrum, or the Begg-Gate. Sooner or later, every one of us will come face to face with the question that Pastor Alistair Begg was forced to respond to. My first reaction to Begg was actually to call for the man’s head – like everyone seem to be doing on social media. Until I listened to the sermon he preached at his local church in response to the brouhaha – I thank God I did, because this is the biblical thing to do when we hear of a brother’s failing; we should hear his own side of the story without prejudice and come to our judgement on the matter. Here is what I found from listening to Begg.
There is no one biblical response to the question. The question was from a distraught grandmother, who wanted pastoral counsel with regards to what she must do with a grandchild’s upcoming gay-wedding (the question of it being a “wedding” in the true sense of the word is secondary). The natural biblical answer is “be ye separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17); “what fellowship does light have to do with darkness” (2 Corinthians 6:14); Jesus himself authors division even in families where sin is in question (Luke 12:51-53). The reality however is that this is not the only biblical response. Putting together peculiar nuances and situations, it is possible to find other responses to the question. Pastor Alistair Begg provided another response with his exposition of Luke 15. The first two verses answer the question: “Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, this man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them”. What we are being told Begg must repent of is his counsel to the grandmother where he said she should go to the wedding and she should give the couple a gift also. In the Nigerian Christian environment, the question is often asked: What would Jesus have done? Would Jesus have gone to a gay wedding and also bought the couple a gift. I think by looking at verse 2 of Luke 15, we find our answer as “yes”. Jesus received sinners and ate with them. We see this in his visit to the tax collector’s home – Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) ; we see this with his permitting a harlot rub perfume all over his feet (Luke 7:36-50). If anyone is able to prove to me that tax collectors and harlots are worse sinners than homosexuals, I would join the hoard calling for Begg’s head. If not, we should reach a healthy conclusion that while separation from sinners is a biblical command, other circumstances may demand we fellowship with them with the hope of passing the gospel message to them.
Phariseeism is a reality today. Still following the doctrinal output of Luke 15, we see that Jesus posited three parables simply to teach one doctrine. The first parable is that of the lost sheep. The man leaves the 99 and pursues after the one lost. The impression we get, especially with our Lord using the word “wilderness”, is that this person goes looking for what is lost with some desperation, not minding where he or she would enter to find it. If we have lost something valuable, we know the desperation we employ in searching for it. What is lost here is the soul of a man and the person doing the search is a grandmother. Then there is the parable of the lost silver coin. And finally, the parable of the Prodigal Son. In all three parables, the single doctrine our Lord is seeking to pass along is that of salvation and that the person doing the seeking is not a feeble grandmother, or a distraught father; but rather the God of all the universe. It does not matter where these debate on Begg turn to, the single thing on the mind of God is to find his elect and if what will bring a homosexual back to the Christian fold will be the loving visit of a dear grandmother to the gay wedding and the gift of love she offers the couple, so be it. Let Begg’s ministry end on this side of heaven; let me lose all the friends that I have in Christian ministry. If God will find that one lost soul, there will be joy and rejoicing in heaven – and that is all that matters!
The Pharisee point that Begg drew from that sermon was not the heart of his message – it was only a necessary deduction that the discerning should see and which all of us should repent of the moment we find traces of it within ourselves. We totally underestimate the power of the religion of the Pharisees, Saduccees, and scribes. It is safe to reach the conclusion that Israel had never reached that height of religion until the coming of Pharisees. By his brief description of who these men were in Philippians 3:4-6, it is safe to say that Phariseeism was the best religion that Israel offered in all of her history. Before then, Israel had been a nation easily sold out to the idolatry of her neighbors. But with the coming of the Pharisees, all of that changed. Yet, the Pharisees received God in the flesh with scorn and ended up crucifying him. We should never underestimate our own tendencies towards self-righteousness. Begg’s deduction from Luke 15, portraying those who disagree with his point as Pharisees is spot-on. We should repent. If some of us have not witnessed Phariseeism in all its glories in modern reformed circles, we would not be stating this point. But how many times, have we justified our sins while we make a mountain of the mistakes of others? There is no way we would read Luke 15 exegetically, draw out the core lessons of salvation in it, and not condemn the pharisee in all of us.
Cancel Culture in Reformed Circles. So, following the debates, the reformed world awaited what John MacArthur would say. Alistair Begg is slated to be a speaker at the coming Shepherd’s Conference at Grace Community Church, Los Angeles, California. And report has it that Begg would no longer be speaking at the conference. Grace Church concluded that Begg would be too much of a “distraction” to everything that will occur that day. It is very simple: the reformed right has also employed the cancel culture of the left to silence those they do not agree with. Every single person that has commented on this subject, agree that Begg is still orthodox in his position on human sexuality. The only problem is this: Begg has refused to concede that he sinned by giving an alternative opinion to an obviously divisive subject. Begg has provided his reasons, and has supported his position with the scriptures, yet this is not enough. People are mortally offended that they are being compared to Pharisees. How dare we think we cannot be Pharisees? How dare we entertain such thoughts? By the grace of God, Christ’s death has covered all our sins but the saints can very much still commit the most mortal sin. The blessing of grace is that the blood of Jesus covers all such sin. And here is the point Begg is trying to make: when we can no longer see our sins; when the only time we can see sin is when we see it in others, we are definitely Pharisees in our worldview. And such a worldview must be repented of!
Grace Community Church has taken the safe middle because opposing the internet critics will be a ministry in itself, it would seem to me. Begg reached that position, counselling that grandmother, out of a deep pastoral concern and out of what I wish to call “the religion of the local church”. From his own words, you can see a man working out the implications of years of expositional preaching and biblical counselling. These are the realities that pastors face: they would rather lay down their lives for the sheep Christ has called them to shepherd than to feed the desires of internet folks. If we do not realize it, then understand that most of the commentaries on Begg seem only to flow from individuals looking for views on their videos, clicks on their posts, and retweets to their tweets. It takes sacrifice to take the position Begg has taken, and only true shepherds know what that means.
Conclusion. Every worthy debate in Christendom should center on the gospel and salvation of sinners. When the Bible describes sinners, our Lord usually does not grade them. Homosexuality is no worse sin than pride, lying and hypocrisy before God. Salvation of sinners, regardless of what sin it is, is God’s heartbeat. A true pastor knows the rhythm of those beats and he knows how to dance to them, no matter what he loses along the way. God leaves sin in the saints so that he might teach us how to continually war the fight of righteousness. Some of the things that the wars contain is continually seeing gospel implications in our lives and extending them to others. We must never cease to pray the prayer of the publican “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner…” – it is a prayer that justifies; we must never join the Pharisees in their religion – it is a religion that condemns.
Alistair Begg offered a pastoral counsel to a mother that is within biblical parameters. Like he said, it might not be the counsel that he would offer in another case; it however appears to be the right counsel at that moment and only eternity, not social media; not Grace Community Church; but only eternity will tell whether that counsel was right or wrong. For those who say the left are using Begg’s counsel to justify homosexuality, they should understand that every man will do whatever they wish, outside the grace of God, according to the kind of idols they possess in their hearts. Only God can rid us of idols. The gospel of grace aims at ridding men of their idolatry. Begg’s counsel is grace personified – only those reaching homosexuals with compassion can understand it. And, it is very biblical. On a final note, I found a scripture that might speak to this debate, I pray that God give us all ears to hear as we read it:
“Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God” – (1 Corinthians 4:1-6).
Deji Yesufu is the Pastor of Providence Reformed Baptist Church, Ibadan, Nigeria. He is the author HUMANITY.