Unrighteous Wedding Invitations: A Loving Response to Alistair Begg
Recently, Alistair Begg caused an earthquake in the Christian world. The Scottish preacher shared on his radio program that he had been asked by a godly grandmother about what to do regarding a “transgender” wedding. Her question: should she attend it, or stay away?
On his Truth for Life program (audio interview here), Begg rightly made sure to check that she saw “transgender” identity as unbiblical, which his many followers would expect. I’ll quote that section of the interview with Bob Lepine so that folks have context (it starts at around 28:30):
Alistair: And in very specific areas this comes across. I mean, you and I know that we field questions all the time that go along the lines of “My grandson is about to be married to a transgender person, and I don’t know what to do about this, and I’m calling to ask you to tell me what to do”—which is a huge responsibility.
And in a conversation like that just a few days ago—and people may not like this answer—but I asked the grandmother, “Does your grandson understand your belief in Jesus?”
“Does your grandson understand that your belief in Jesus makes it such that you can’t countenance in any affirming way the choices that he has made in life?”
What he said next, however, has sent shock-waves through evangelical circles.
I said, “Well then, okay. As long as he knows that, then I suggest that you do go to the ceremony. And I suggest that you buy them a gift.”
“Oh,” she said, “what?” She was caught off guard.
Begg then elaborated on the thinking behind this poleaxing counsel:
Alistair: I said, “Well, here’s the thing: your love for them may catch them off guard, but your absence will simply reinforce the fact that they said, ‘These people are what I always thought: judgmental, critical, unprepared to countenance anything.’”
And it is a fine line, isn’t it? It really is. And people need to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling. But I think we’re going to take that risk. We’re going to have to take that risk a lot more if we want to build bridges into the hearts and lives of those who don’t understand Jesus and don’t understand that he is a King.
First, Begg has earned trust from Christians. It’s hard to find a man, in fact, who is more respected in our time than Alistair Begg, and rightly so. Begg has preached the truth for decades. Even as some of his peers have wavered on contested issues in recent days, Begg seemed to hold strong. For example, not long ago he preached this faithful message about homosexuality.
He has spoken soundly, what’s more, while exhibiting grace in his manner and preaching a gloriously forgiving Christ in his pulpit. (I share his sermon clips on a regular basis on my personal Instagram feed for just this reason.) In striving for a godly balance of grace and truth, Begg has been one to learn from. He seems like a man you would want to have a meal with, and does not come off as a dour, severe, gloomy doomsayer.
In sum, the joy of Christ seems to be in this man, and that model in itself has been instructive, alongside his strong preaching of the whole counsel of God.
Second, Begg is prone to stumble as we are. We know that Begg—like all our exemplars and heroes—is just a man. But sometimes we put men on pedestals. That’s not right, and honestly, it’s not fair to them. They stumble in many ways just as we do (James 3:2). We have to remember this when we grieve a public leader’s words as many are in this case.
Begg’s error does not set him apart from the rest of us. He is called to a daily walk of confession, repentance, humility, and growth like every other believer. In fact, moments like this can actually be quite redemptive for the church. When they hit and destabilize us temporarily, we can be shaken out of our stupor, and go on to examine ourselves in times like these, remembering how easy it is for all of us to drift from God’s holy standard (2 Corinthians 13:5).
Third, we should not attend compromised “wedding” ceremonies. The Bible does not technically address so-called “transgender” ceremonies, so let that be said. Nor is staking a wrong position on this issue akin to the unpardonable sin. (We who seek to be convictional should be careful about such a hasty conclusion, especially in our overheated social-media age.)
With these caveats stated, though, I believe that Begg’s counsel is unsound. Christians should not attend “transgender” ceremonies. To explain why (in brief), I’ll make some swift cuts to follow. (For fuller coverage, here is a biblically-driven book I coauthored on this subject; here is another longer work that also engages “transgenderism” in biblical perspective; here’s a resource package I produced for an evangelical ministry.)
—The Bible does not enfranchise “transgender” identity; we are either man or woman per the creational design of God (Genesis 2:7, 21-22, 24-25).
—The Bible speaks clearly to attempts to blur the lines of one’s God-given sex; it is always wrong (Deuteronomy 22:5; 1 Corinthians 11:3-19).
—Marriage is defined in Eden and reaffirmed by Jesus; it is between one man and one woman, and God is honored only by such unions (Matthew 19:3-6).
—Attending a wedding ceremony is commonly—and rightly—viewed as affirming the union in question, as is giving a couple a wedding gift (as Begg encouraged the grandmother in question to do).
—Christians should therefore not attend “transgender” ceremonies, which in truth do not feature an actual wedding at all, for God recognizes no such union as holy or permissible in his sight
—Christians should love people identifying as “transgender” in every way they can that does not so much as hint of affirming this sinful identity (as with every sin-pattern a person practices, and there are many)
—This approach of love is always gospel witness in action (in a kind manner, for example) but wherever possible is to translate into proclamation, namely through the call to repentance and confession of sin before a holy God
—This gospel proclamation urges the sinner (just like us) to say “no” to sin and eternity in hell (which unrepentant transgression of God’s design will surely lead to) and “yes” to the Son of God crucified for the guilty so that we may be totally forgiven, made new, given the new identity of Christian, and granted inaugurated eternal life out of the overflow of the resurrection of Christ
We see, then, that we cannot affirm a person’s “transgender” identity or practice in any way (this includes pronoun usage, please note). As with everything against God’s design and God’s revealed will, we can only call them to leave such behind. Connecting the dots of Scripture, I conclude that we cannot attend “transgender” ceremonies, where we not only give approval to a godless identity, but supposedly receive it as part of a “marriage.”
Collating biblical truths, I believe that we cannot positively engage such an event at all. It is not loving, we remember, to endorse sin; it is loving to warn fellow sinners away from it (see Revelation 3:19). In fact, instead of attending such a ceremony, we would do well to fast and pray for the individuals involved, asking God to grant them repentance and faith per the prerogatives of his mighty mercy.
Fourth, we should pray for Begg—and for us all. To speak personally, I have written this post in grief. The reasons for this emotion should be clear per what I have already written. But I do not only grieve this unsound counsel, broadcast publicly to a huge audience. (I have responded publicly because public teaching calls for public correction, much as I regard Begg as a father in the faith.) I am praying for Alistair Begg, and encourage other believers to do the same right now.
Alistair Begg is a good and godly man, and we all falter just like him. Yet the stakes of public teaching are high, very high indeed. Not many should become teachers for just this reason (James 3:1). Leading a little one astray, for example, is a disastrous reality (Matthew 18:6). None of us preaches or teaches perfectly; only Jesus hit that mark. Nonetheless, we must all strive to hit the biblical mark, and offer confession and repentance—publicly, yes, as men in ministry—when we fail.
The matter surveyed here is not small. It is not a tempest in an evangelical teapot. It is a serious matter indeed. Simply put, the line on Christian participation in ungodly ceremonies cannot move. Like the men at Lot’s door in Sodom, we are urged with great intensity to cave here. But we cannot do so. The church cannot capitulate to the culture.
In love, we must take our stand, and not give the devil the foothold he so desperately craves.