“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I don’t know where this saying came from, but many of us have heard it as children and probably shared it (or at least wanted to share it) with others. I generally like to keep things positive online, sharing something funny or helpful or posting something from my studies. However, lately I’ve spoken out quite a great deal about the recent issues that are bombarding us from every media outlet: the gay marriage SCOTUS ruling, Bruce Jenner, and most recently, Planned Parenthood. I know that people generally would rather read positive, encouraging things on Facebook. I certainly get more likes and comments when I share “nice” things online. I’ve even been unfriended for the things I choose to say and share (this isn’t persecution, by the way). So why so serious? I’m glad you asked.
There are generally two extreme responses from the church concerning these kinds of issues and I’m sympathetic to both to a degree. One is to become angry and use the pulpit as a sounding board against the evils of society. This approach does little good. It generally abandons any Great Commission emphasis and only serves to calcify those already convinced of their view. It is a blowing-off of steam that accomplishes next to nothing. The other response is one of minimalizing at best and ignorance and avoidance at worst.
Many churches and pastors have reacted against the political activist response to the point that they don’t even want to deal with issues that are perceived as “political.” I get it. I really do. However, evil is evil, even if it has political baggage. Sometimes the refusal to speak to these issues comes from a less conscientious motivation. Some churches heavily rely on corporate excitement and momentum. Calling gay marriage a sin harshes the mellow. Demonstrating the evil of abortion doesn’t generate excitement. The pastors that lead such churches generally try to connect with their congregation with an abundance of funny stories and culturally relevant illustrations and it would be difficult to tackle these issues in their typical manner. Such churches and leaders will typically shy away from cultural issues because they want to remain “true to the mission” or they want people to “know what we’re for, not what we’re against.”
We expository preachers don’t get a pass here, either. Preaching verse-by-verse through a book or a through a large section of Scripture is in my opinion, the most faithful way for a pastor to preach to a congregation. However, it is sometimes easy for us to continue in our exposition on Psalm 23 rather than prepare a specific sermon for such a time as this. We boast that expository preaching declares the whole counsel of God, but “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11). Sometimes, it’s just time to speak specifically to what is at hand. Also, it is difficult to sufficiently tackle contemporary issues with a strict verse-by-verse model. There are no texts specifically on abortion or about internet pornography. Sometimes these sermons have to be crafted with special care.
But why tackle these issues? Why not remain true to the mission and not get involved in politics? Shouldn’t we just try to win people and stop ostracizing and polarizing with our political stances? First, let me say that marriage and sanctity of life were theological and moral issues long before they became politicized. The fact is, we aren’t invading the government’s territory, the government is encroaching on the church’s territory. I’m all for less political involvement by the church, but sin is sin and the truth is the truth. This isn’t a partisan issue, it is a gospel issue.
Secondly, we have a responsibility to speak concerning these issues. John Piper recently tweeted “They weren’t martyred because they were vague.” I love this. John the Baptist baptized thousands in the river Jordan. He called individuals to repentance and was beginning a spiritual revolution that was upsetting all of Judea. But it wasn’t until his message of repentance got very specific toward Herod’s unlawful marriage that he was imprisoned and subsequently beheaded. We have a responsibility to serve as a prophetic voice to the culture around us. If the church does not set forth God’s perspective on the issues at hand, who will? We also have a responsibility to serve as a voice of perspective to the congregations that God has entrusted to us as pastors. Any Christian minister that has not provided his congregation with a biblical perspective on these issues in light of the times is not a faithful minister and is more concerned with the bodies in the pews than the souls in his care. Those who sit in the pews not only need assurance of the truthfulness of Scripture and what Scripture says to these issues, but they also need help to process what is happening around them from a biblical perspective without erring into panic or apathy.
May God grant us as pastors and believers in the inevitably difficult days ahead of us to speak with prophetic voice both to the opponents of truth and to the believers reeling from the many voices on both sides of the argument. May we not lose sight of the Great Commission and may we commit to evangelism and missions with a laser focus, knowing that we are calling people to repent and abandon the sin and philosophy of this present world order.