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Pastor Jay's Blog

Allister Begg And A Second Level Admonishment

The Christian world has been stirred up by a particular question Pastor Allister Begg answered on a radio broadcast that was recorded on September 1, 2023. In that interview Begg recounted counsel he gave to a grandmother about a grandson’s transgender wedding. Begg said because the grandson knew the grandmother’s opposing position on this kind of wedding, she should still attend the wedding and even bring a gift. Begg doubled down on this statement in a follow up sermon where he said he would not repent of this statement.

There has been a lot of discussion about this primarily focused on if it was right or wrong and subsequently what should be done with Allister Begg and his ministry. I would like to do something slightly different. I will first state my position on this matter up front, but I want to give most of the time to addressing the nature of this kind of error. Not all errors are the same, or of equal weight. Not only do we have to deal with different people in different ways, according to 1 Thessalonians 5:14, we also have to deal with different errors in different ways.

My Position

I do not believe there is any question about the rightness or wrongness of Begg’s counsel. It was clearly unbiblical counsel. Weddings are different than other events. Weddings are participatory. When you attend a wedding, you are a participant as a witness and a celebrant of what is happening. This is not the case in a funeral, a dinner, or many other events, but it is true of a wedding. To attend a homosexual or transgender wedding is to celebrate an idolatrous event that is not recognized in the eyes of God. To say it is ever acceptable to attend a homosexual/transgender wedding is a failure to understand the nature of marriage, the nature of love, the nature of truth, and the nature of separation.

The Issue of Application

Instead of filling out all of the reasons it is wrong, I want to turn our attention to the nature of this error. What we have here is a very public case of orthodox belief and wrong application. Everyone agrees that Allister Begg is a sound Bible teacher with clearly stated positions on biblical marriage and sexuality. So what has happened? Begg has fallen into an error of application.

The gospel can’t only be taught rightly, it also has to be lived rightly. The message and the method have to be in sync. This is the very place where many people and churches go wrong. They say that the message has to stay the same, but the method can change. Though that is true to a point, it is not absolutely true. The methods have to accord with the message. You can’t bring a holy message with unholy means. You can’t preach heaven’s hope with worldly tactics. Paul was insistent that he would not preach in “persuasive words of wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:4) because to do that would make the cross of Christ “void” (1 Corinthians 1:17).

So, even as a person can hold orthodox teaching, how those teachings are brought to real life situations matter. This is not always easy because real life can be very complicated, very fluid and very uncertain. This is why wisdom is so important, and is the mark of Christian maturity. To be able to bring a host of biblical principles to bear upon a situation with a host of variables is no small task. This is why the Bible says there is safety in a multitude of counselors.

Two Comparable Biblical Situations In Galatians Two

There are two incredibly helpful passages of Scripture for this issue found in Galatians 2. We have an issue of circumcision in verse 1-5 and then an issue of Peter’s mealtime decisions in 10-14.

First, look at the issue of circumcision in Galatians 2. Circumcision in and of itself no longer has importance as an act. This is exactly what Paul says in Galatians 6:15. But situations in real life may change what we do for the sake of the gospel. According to Galatians 2:3, Titus was a Greek and was uncircumcised. False brethren were close at hand pushing for people to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul and Titus resolutely refused circumcision for the simple reason that people were saying it had to be done. In verse 5 Paul says that the gospel was at stake in this matter. Paul and Titus applied the gospel of grace-not-works to their situation and refused to be circumcised.

It would be helpful to contrast this with Timothy in Acts 16:3. Paul found Timothy and wanted him along for ministry. Yet his father was a Greek and therefore Timothy was uncircumcised. Therefore Paul had Timothy circumcised “because of the Jews in those parts”.

So Paul refused to circumcise Titus, but allowed for Timothy to be circumcised. Why? Different situations demand different applications. If circumcision is a threat to the gospel, then you don’t circumcise. If the people see it as helpful but not necessary, then go head.

Secondly, in Galatians 2 we find a mealtime incident with Peter. Peter was orthodox to say the least. Not only was he an apostle, not only was he the leading apostle, but he led the way for Gentile inclusion in the church and the drafting of the decision of the Jerusalem council. Yet, Galatians 2:12 says that Peter feared the party of the circumcision and withdrew from eating with Gentiles.

That was an application decision. Peter knew the truth and was a faithful preacher of the truth. Yet in this moment of application of the truth, he went astray. And notice that Paul brought a stinging rebuke to him. Paul knew that the application much match the message. Peter was not living according to the gospel.

A Second Level Admonition

But let us notice that even the apostle Peter stumbled in this issue of application, and that application is where things get very real. It is also where things can get complicated. Therefore we need to extend an extra measure of grace. This is where there is often more time needed and more counsel needed. Therefore I do think there is a place to extend more grace for working through matters of application. Remember that the issue of Gentile inclusion was a difficult matter for the early church and it was the main issue in Acts 8, 10, 11, 15. They even had a church council on it in chapter 15.

The probability is that Galatians 2 happened right before the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 where the issue was hammered out. If that is right, then we notice that Paul still brought a rebuke to Peter even though this hadn’t been fully resolved in the church.

If Peter had been teaching a different gospel, he would have been a false teacher and that would be the end of Peter’s presence in the church. But Peter was teaching the truth. He had led the way in the gospel of Gentile inclusion. But at one point, due to fear, he misapplied the very truth he held. He was rebuked, but it is a different kind of rebuke. Paul didn’t bring an anathema upon Peter (Gal. 1:8). It was a second-level rebuke. Peter hadn’t abandoned the gospel, but he had misapplied. It.

What Do We Do With Allister Begg?

Allister Begg has not applied the truths of anthropology, marriage and love in a right way in this situation. As Peter was led into misapplication due to fear according to Galatians 2:12, I believe Begg also is led into misapplication due to fear. He stated in his follow up sermon “I was concerned about the wellbeing of their relationship more than anything else” (minute 22:25 in the sermon Compassion Vs. Condemnation). Begg has put the issue of “relationship” in a wrong place of priority. Begg seems to fear being labeled as “unloving” by the world. Being loving is vitally important. But when it is misapplied it actually becomes unloving. Begg’s concern for a loving relationship is too high and this has led to misapplication.

What makes this even more problematic is that homosexual/transgender marriage is not a new issue in the church. We have been thinking about this since it was given legitimacy by the Supreme Court in 2015. That was 9 years ago. Begg is not far removed from the highways of information, or in an obscure place of ministry. He should have this thoroughly worked out by now. Additionally, just has Peter was rebuked, so also Begg has been rebuked. But these rebukes have not been received in a serious way. As noted, Begg doubled down on his position and said he will not repent.

So what do we do with Begg? Since this is a matter of application and there is degree of grace that should be extended, yet because Begg should know better by now and has not heeded the rebukes given, I think people should consider Begg suspended. Let’s give some time to see if he comes around. Yet, in the meantime I think we should put his ministry to the side and pray for his reversal. How much time, I don’t know. This whole thing is very problematic, but it is not altogether ruinous for what has been a faithful ministry. He can come around. Let’s pray that he does.