Between writing a sermon and posting hilarious gifs from Suits, I watched a bit of the Royal Wedding on Saturday night. Of course—it was the sermon more than the dress that caught my attention. That’s no surprise—being a Christian, a preacher and having zero interest in dresses. What was a surprise was that everyone else focussed on the sermon too! When was the last time that happened?
It was also interesting to watch the reactions from fellow Christians on social media. ‘Great sermon!’; ‘Loved it!’; ‘I wish my minister preached like that!’ And then—‘Heretic!’; ‘Disappointing’; ‘Dangerous!’. How can fellow Christians have such opposing views when they listened to the same sermon? And what should we think about all this?
You need to know who this guy is
First of all, to understand the reaction from some Christians you need to understand who Michael Curry is. The Most Reverend Michael Curry is the presiding Bishop of the Episcopal church of the United States (TEC). He also is an outspoken advocate of same-sex marriage. The US Episcopal church has long rejected Christ’s teaching on sexuality, appointing an openly gay bishop back in 2003. In 2016, TEC was suspended by the worldwide Anglican communion for their affirmation of same-sex marriage, relegating the church to a non-voting ‘observer’ status. Archbishops from around the world voted to condemn TEC’s actions as a, ‘fundamental departure from the faith and teaching’ of the Anglican church. In a statement, the Bishops wrote, “such actions further impair our communion and create deeper mistrust between us”. And yet two years later, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby invites Curry to preach at a royal wedding, viewed by millions around the world. Welby tweeted days before the wedding, “Curry is a brilliant pastor, stunning preacher and someone with a great gift for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.”
The US Episcopal church has long rejected Christ’s teaching on sexuality. In 2016, it was suspended by the worldwide Anglican communion
This raises two serious concerns for those who know who Curry is. Firstly, Michael Curry is a false teacher who has denied the teachings of Christ. We should be deeply concerned when any church allows a heretic to enter the pulpit. We should also be very wary of welcoming his message. As the Apostle Paul instructed, “Have nothing to do with such people” (2 Tim 3:5). Secondly, Welby’s invitation (and embrace of Curry as a ‘brilliant pastor’) will further distance confessing Anglicans and make unity within the communion even harder. To the outside observer, this may not seem that important. He just asked the guy to preach, right? But the sanctions of 2016 are what brought the Anglican church back from the brink of a schism. To now act as if those sanctions mean nothing is a slap in the face to confessing Anglicans around the world.
You can preach Christ and not preach Christ
But what about the actual sermon? If you put all this Anglican stuff to one side—couldn’t you say that it was a half decent sermon that preached Christ to millions around the world? And whilst reactions were mixed (check out the Queen’s face during the sermon), people from all persuasions have embraced Curry and his passionate preaching. BBC presenter Jeremy Vine said, “The preacher is doing 50 in a 30 zone and it’s brilliant”. ABC News anchor T.J Holmes tweeted, “I’m from west Memphis … and my wedding wasn’t even this black”. And from Labor MP Ed Milliband: “Rev Michael Curry could almost make me a believer”. And some of it sounded good. Curry quoted 1 John, teaching that those who do not know love do not know God, because God is love. He spoke of the death of Christ and, “unselfish, sacrificial redemptive love”. Sure, by the time he started preaching “that fire” makes Twitter possible it was probably time to sit down. But there were some good lines in there. Shouldn’t we rejoice that the gospel was preached and well received, despite who it was that preached it (Phil 1:18)?
Some of it sounded good. Curry quoted 1 John, teaching that those who do not know love do not know God, because God is love. He spoke of the death of Christ and, ‘unselfish, sacrificial redemptive love.’
Well, yes—if the gospel was preached. But it wasn’t. Curry demonstrates that you can use all the right words without actually teaching the right message. Proclaiming a toned-down liberation theology, Curry taught that it is when we discover the redemptive power of love in our own lives that, “we will make of this old world a new world.” Christ did not die to atone for our sins, but to set us an example to follow. Some might argue that this is mere nitpicking and that we shouldn’t expect a full gospel-presentation in a wedding sermon. But that misses the point. The issue is not about what he didn’t say, but what he did say. For Curry did not preach a gospel of salvation from sin, but salvation through love. Our love. Our redemptive love to save the world. It was humanism in all its glory, and a message that the world can get on board with. And they did. Curry reminds us that you can preach Jesus without actually preaching Jesus (2 Cor 11:4).
How should we talk to our friends this week?
Nevertheless, this sermon has provided every Christian with an opportunity to share the gospel. Millions of people around the world this week will be discussing a sermon about Jesus. We mustn’t let this opportunity pass us by. Nor do we need to delve into Anglican politics over coffee at work. My only caution is to be wary of associating ourselves too closely to Curry. The mainstream media have already jumped on the fact that he is a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage.
Rather, let’s use this sermon as a conversation starter about Jesus: “Did you hear that sermon at the Royal Wedding—what did you think”; “Have you ever looked into the message of Jesus for yourself”; “Would you be interested in reading the bible with me to find out more about Jesus”?
It’s an easy in. Let’s take it—and use this sermon for good.