“Even if others do, I will never deny you,” declared the Apostle Peter some 2000 years ago just hours before he did exactly that, three times, when the heat was on. Ten others boasted the same, but when the risk was more than theoretical, all deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Only one was seen at the cross.
A fascinating story … the “old story” as the secularists like to call it. Barack Obama alluded to this in his speech in France. We need a new story, a discovery of “new ways” of thinking. We must throw off the old and embrace a much more enlightened, intelligent point of view. By doing so, we remove inconvenient barriers, cumbersome moral values and achieve self-determination with our new understanding of the world guiding the way. Surely we cannot be bound in this advanced new age by the old moral codes or put plainly, by what Jesus taught. Certainly not if we are to curry favor with the world in which we live.
This Holy Week, a key portion of the “old story” has been revisited in a very contemporary way. The last instruction Jesus gave as he left earth was Christ followers should tell His story of forgiveness and redemption not only in their communities, but to the “ends of the earth.” And as His followers told the “old story” they should not leave out all the other things as well. In the second part of the Great Commission, Christ admonished his followers to teach others “to obey all the things I have commanded you.” He wanted future generations to go beyond mere intellectual understanding and move to actually living out the principles … walking the walk.
One of those principles was marriage. “For this reason shall a man leave his parents and join with his wife and the two shall become one flesh,” Jesus instructed. One man, one woman, for a lifetime, with no sex outside of that union.
Fast forward to 2009: California voters of various religious persuasions, in a ballot measure called Proposition 8, held to the traditional view of marriage—a union between a man and a woman. Subsequently challenged in court, as the battle ensued, Pastor Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life” and pastor of Saddleback, one of the largest churches in the country, deeply influential, rightly told his congregation “…if you believe what the Bible says about marriage, you need to support Proposition 8. I never support a candidate, but on moral issues I come out very clear.” Until this week … Holy Week.
On the first Holy Week Peter promised Jesus, “Though others may turn away, I will never deny you.” But then in the chill of night in a courtyard just outside the place of Jesus’ trial, as others around the fire began to probe his relationship to Jesus, he quietly denied even knowing him. No one was threatening his life, but the derision increased and with every barb, until Peter’s denial escalated to a curse as he emphatically denied he had ever known Jesus.
Peter was worried about his reputation. He didn’t want to be the odd man out in the courtyard over the fire … it wasn’t a Roman soldier with a sword who challenged him, it was a mere servant girl.
“On moral issues I come out very clear,” declared Rick Warren when writing in the safety of his office. But when confronted by homosexual friends and Larry King this week, he folded just like Peter. Now, to be clear, he did not deny Christ, but he backpedaled so fast from where he previously stood and reinterpreted his previous statements in a way that strains credulity. He went on to describe how he has “apologized” to his homosexual friends for making comments in support of Proposition 8. He “never once gave an endorsement” of the marriage amendment, he declared.
And in one fell swoop, he not only separated himself from the biblical teaching on marriage, but distorted the past in the process. Seduced by the pressure of fame? Driven by the desire to please his friends? Afraid to be seen as bigoted to a national television audience? Whatever the motivation, the behavior is no less significant.
Rick Warren did not deny Christ on Larry King. But every believer who was watching had to question whether Rick was being faithful to the commission Christ left him with: Teaching others to “obey all the things I have commanded you.” And obedient biblical teaching on marriage is not a particularly difficult matter. Unpopular? Yes. Unclear? Hardly.
After Peter executed his betrayal, he went out and wept bitterly. On Larry King, Rick Warren went on to tell about his profuse apologies to his gay friends. In the broad scheme of things, I don’t think Rick Warren needed to apologize to them at all. An apology to Christ? Now that would be entirely in order.
This Holy Week, let’s pray America’s Pastor Rick Warren will not let this story end here.