T he Christian life is not a sprint. If you watch a long distance race, the runners often start much slower than a sprint, and there’s a reason for it. The distance runner cannot win the marathon by winning the first 100 meters of a 26.2 mile race. The marathon runner must exercise great discipline and perseverance in order to make it to the finish line.
This week has been full of announcements—specifically negative announcements about the acceptance of same-sex marriage. The agenda continues to be pressed by the media, and the movement spans across the world. At the beginning of the week, The Church of England announced an official decision of the General Synod that they have now voted to affirm and accept LGBT people into the church. This has come as no surprise, but it’s the final breaking of the already compromised dam in England.
Just yesterday, an article by Jonathan Merritt was published detailing an interview with Eugene Peterson, a Presbyterian minister and the author of The Message—a widely used paraphrase of the Bible. In the interview, Peterson was asked if his positions on same-sex marriage and homosexuality have changed over the years? He replied by stating the following:
I haven’t had a lot of experience with it. But I have been in churches when I was an associate pastor where there were several women who were lesbians. They didn’t make a big deal about it. I’d go and visit them and it never came up for them. They just assumed that they were as Christian as everybody else in the church.
In my own congregation–when I left, we had about 500 people–I don’t think we ever really made a big deal out of it. When I left, the minister of music left. She’d been there ever since I had been there. There we were, looking for a new minister of music. One of the young people that had grown up under my pastorship, he was a high school teacher and a musician. When he found out about the opening, he showed up in church one day and stood up and said, “I’d like to apply for the job of music director here, and I’m gay.” We didn’t have any gay people in the whole congregation. Well, some of them weren’t openly gay. But I was so pleased with the congregation. Nobody made any questions about it. And he was a really good musician.
I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.
He would later be asked if he would perform a same-sex marriage ceremony, and he replied, “Yes.” As we consider the absurdity of the statements by Peterson and the decision of The Church of England, it reminds us of the need for perseverance in the faith. Through the journey of faith, we will surely experience many challenges, temptations, and opportunities to capitulate. The culture will passionately demand that we as Christians “progress” and change to adapt to the new way of doing things. While experiencing such pressures, we must recall Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus.
Paul explained that the church has been given gifts of shepherd-teachers (Eph. 4:11-12) for the purpose of building up the church in spiritual maturity. In fact, Paul says the following:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11-16).
The Christian life is not a sprint. If we condition ourselves to sprint 100 meters we will not be able to complete the marathon. Usain Bolt can excel in the 100 meter distance, but he would be an utter failure on the road in the 26.2 mile distance of the marathon. The Christian life is a long and tedious race that requires perseverance. Later Paul would go on to say, “keep alert with all perseverance” as he instructed the believers in Ephesus to pray and be ready for the spiritual attacks (Eph. 6:18). Elsewhere the writer to the Hebrews would say, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” as we keep our focus on Christ (Heb. 12:1-2). Endurance matters and we must be on guard from the temptations and spiritual attacks that could cause us to capitulate on doctrinal matters.
In the end, if we find ourselves in the dark dungeon of Doubting-Castle as Christian did in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, it would do us well to consider that we arrived there by walking off of God’s path. Secondly, the only escape from the dungeon is by the truths of God’s Word, as Christian discovered the key in his chest pocket, may we rest on the sure promises of God’s Word to deliver us from the snares and false teachings our culture.
Endurance matters. Doctrine matters. Finish strong.