The stance just taken by CBMW and the ERLC, in partnership with warm-hearted, Christ-loving evangelicals across the denominational spectrum, reminds me of another controversial public stance. Two millennia ago, John the Baptist came preaching Christ. His message was the Messiah; his call was to holiness. As John preached, he somehow gained the ear of Herod, a political leader. John had access to Herod, and he had the priceless opportunity to tell him of his need for spiritual salvation. Surely John spoke of these things.
But that was not all he said to Herod.
John the Baptist rebuked Herod for divorcing his wife and marrying his half-brother’s spouse, Herodias. Matthew’s Gospel gives a succinct record of John’s words to Herod: “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:4). We have no extended prologue, no longer record of how the conversation went. Scholar R.T. France notes that John’s comments came in the context of “public denunciation” (France, Matthew, 555). It appears that this happened repeatedly; John did not merely warn Herod once but “kept on telling” him that he was sinning, and thus in danger of spending eternity in hell.
If our goal as Christians in a fallen world is to gain access to unbelievers and do all we can to keep it, let us be bracingly honest: John the Baptist did a poor job of it. He angered the governor, got sent to prison where he was chained to a wall, and occasioned his own beheading. Church history suggests that this was not enough for Herodias: she stabbed his tongue with her hairpin.
Here is the point for our considerations: It was not the announcement of the Messiah that ended John’s short life. It was the clear declaration of sexual ethics that sent him into eternity. It is a biblical curiosity, rarely preached on, but hugely important for us today in a similarly pagan context: The forerunner of Christ died because he called a wicked governor, a public figure, to repent.
We learn an invaluable truth through John’s martyrdom (he is after all the first martyr, killed even before Christ, showing us just how much of a forerunner he was).
- John the Baptist was killed because he defended traditional sexual ethics.
- He and his fellow signers are like modern day John the Baptists, calling people to repent.
- The Nashville Statement will bring more people, not less, to Christianity. Strachan concludes: “The Nashville Statement does not represent a nuking of existing bridges to Christ. Calling sin sinful and urging the wayward to repent and trust Christ is not problematic for Christian witness. It is Christian witness. There is no witness without it. There is no love without it. There is no hope without it. Out of such a biblical conviction, let us build friendships with unbelievers wherever we can. Let us never stop emulating John the Baptist — let us tell the truth to them, the whole truth.” Strachan looks like a pretty young guy. I wish him well winning more young people to Christianity by pulling out the Nashville Statement while he is evangelizing.
I will let my readers chew on this one for a while.