By / Feb 22

The events I dreaded the most when I first became a pastor were funerals. But not every funeral.  

Some funerals are easy: you know the person, and you know that they were a believer. There is nothing easier than pointing to the hope that a Christian has as they enter the grave and into eternal life.

But the funerals that scared me most were the ones that I would have to do for people I didn’t know and who were unbelievers. Some unbelievers know they’re unbelievers. Many more think that because they quoted the pledge of allegiance and said “under God” with gusto, they are probably good with God and will go to heaven. There are also a fair number of families that don’t know what else to do when someone dies, so they call the Baptist preacher and have a Christian funeral.

But we are people of conviction and kindness. This means that we cannot just preach anyone into heaven, because we haven’t been given the authority to do so.  And we can’t condemn anyone because we don’t know their heart. A man with a past like the thief on the cross may spend this day in paradise, while a man with a resume like Judas may, this day, find himself in hell.

Whatever circumstances bring an unbeliever to the church house for a funeral, here is my strategy for preparing to do an unbeliever’s funeral:

1. Don’t lie. Don’t preach a person into heaven when they’re not there. Remember: the family knew that person better than anyone, and they know if you’re making them into something they weren’t. Conversely, don’t assume that everyone there understands the eternal ramifications of belief on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  At the most vulnerable point of many of their lives—when their hearts are soft—this is a time for a us to bring clarity and gain credibility with the living, not throw it away.

2. Tell the truth in love. We must resist the temptation to use this phrase: “Billy’s in hell right now, and the thing he’d want you to know more than anything is that you don’t have to go there”. If we say that, we’ve denigrated the dead and ostracized the living, all while being a stumbling block that people trip over before they even see Jesus. Are we a bigger rock than Christ? Do we absolutely know that, in the seconds before he breathed his final breath, he didn’t call upon the name of the Lord? We have to remember that we are not the Lawgiver—we are gospel-proclaimers.

3. Find redeemable, Christ-magnifying qualities. Did that person love his wife well? Was that person active in her community? Were his grandchildren his delight? Was she generous or kind? Frugal or hard-working? Even the most miserly old man has exhibited something that images his creator at one point or another. When we find it, we should use it as a transition to what the Word says about the One who displays quintessential character. We need to redeem that trait, while making sure we redeem it in order to point to the Redeemer.

4. Find something unique that reminds the audience of the gravity of the situation. Did old Bill like Duck Dynasty? Then we can try something like this:

Every time you’re flipping through the channels and come across Bill’s favorite show, and you see uncle Si up to his crazy antics, think of Bill. Think of all the wonderful memories y’all shared. But don’t stop there. Think of this moment, when you lost Bill, and let your mind wander to matters that we consider today. Matters of eternal weight and gravity. Matters of life and death. Heaven and hell. Gospel and belief. You know, Christ said that those who call upon him don’t have to fear a moment like this.”

Then, we should tell them why.

5. Proclaim the gospel. We cannot let one of the best opportunities for gospel proclamation pass. We are ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we owe people the gospel. We should not be ashamed of it—it’s what everyone  expects from a faithful minister. But more importantly, it’s what Christ expects of his servants. I am tired of going to funerals and not hearing the gospel proclaimed. If we, as preachers, do a funeral and don’t explicitly share the gospel, then we need to find another line of work, because we’ve been unfaithful to the kind of kingdom-calling of preaching the Word.

Doing funerals is scary, weighty and grave. It’s an occasion for eternal souls to ponder their future. We  should strive to do it well, speaking the truth with kindness and evangelizing the lost. This is our holy task as ministers of the gospel.

By / Jan 27

Phillip Bethancourt, Nathan Lino, Thabiti Anyabwile, and Dean Inserra discuss what it looks like for churches, pastors, and ministers to be faithful pro-life leaders in their contexts.

By / Jun 8

Ministry and mission opportunities have taken me to several “closed” countries, nations whose governments consistently silence Christianity. I have seen how routinely and brutally those in power attempt to intimidate Christians into silence. I have returned from each of those experiences with a greater appreciation of the democratic and representative republic in which I live, but also with a deeper resolve to exercise the rights and responsibilities of my citizenship.

Participation in our government is not merely a right, nor even a high privilege, but a sacred and inevitable responsibility for Christian—and especially, Baptist—citizens. My silence on the moral and social issues of the day is a desecration of every drop of blood shed by every American soldier who fought in defense of that right. If I cower now in the face of public pressure and popular sentiment, I betray bold Baptists before me who built the wall of separation between church and state that ensures the government cannot muzzle or mute my message.

I have the unique privilege to pastor in Kentucky’s capital. Consequently, my congregation is inherently political because the majority of them work for the state in some capacity. The Scripture has often led me to positions that are at odds with one or both political parties. I have had reporters show up at my house to ask my response to unflattering things a governor has said about me. And yes, I have had members whom I loved and cared for deeply leave our church over my position on one issue or another.

The consequences of truth should never become a factor in some complex calculation of whether or not we preach it. Nothing I ever preach will be more controversial or more objectionable than the gospel of Jesus Christ. If I am bold enough to preach that God created the world and made man in his own image, how could I possibly keep silent about abortion? If I dare proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way of salvation, how could I fear to preach the truth of his words, “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’”

While I earnestly desire to preach the truth with grace, humility, and patience with those who are struggling or even rejecting it, my great desire is to preach in my church and to engage the public outside my church under the anointing of God’s Holy Spirit. Spirit anointed preaching avoids no subject, compromises no truth, and fears no reaction.

Under the authority of Scripture and the anointing of the Spirit, no preacher can keep silent as the culture around him rushes headlong toward hell. If we understand that sin causes misery and sorrow—and it does—and that sin cost the life of our Savior—and it did—how can we sit silently and fearfully when our culture attempts to normalize sin and stigmatize those who expose it? We must speak the truth in love, to be sure, but me must speak. No social, political or moral issue of the day should supplant or eclipse the gospel, but the gospel should inform every political and social issue.

Exodus chapter four records the familiar narrative of Moses at the burning bush, but it also relates the strange truth that God nearly killed Moses as he travelled back to Egypt to lead the Israelites out of slavery. God wanted Moses to fear Him so he would not fear Pharaoh. If we fear God—failing Him, disobeying Him, misrepresenting Him—we cannotfear man. If we spend time with Him and saturate ourselves with His Word, we will never fear to stand before the King and speak the truth.

By / Nov 7

Editor’s Note: During this week where Americans go to the polls for midterm elections, Canon and Culture is running a counterpoint series about the church and political activity. Today is the third and final part in a three-part series. The first post is available here; and the second here.

With refreshing zest, Jonathan Leeman’s contribution abounds with pastoral care and concern – something needed but frequently omitted in many of today’s “cultural discussions.” Yet, his contribution never really interacts with the central issue actually framed by this exchange: Is it the State or the Church via its ordained servants who decides the content of what is preached from the pulpit? Instead, despite its many good cautions, we see a stream of fallacious and/or incoherent cul-de-sacs that cloud the analytic waters. Each of his prime assertions will be assessed. Their surface plausibility is wholly illusory.

At the outset, Leeman claims that what’s at stake when preaching is “dividing the church from the world.” He uses this premise to assert that because a pastor could be mistaken or less than certain regarding a political issue or a candidate, a pastor should rarely, if ever, address these areas. Even overlooking his dubious and reductionistic description of preaching, this assertion lacks merit.

EVERY time a preacher says anything, whether “political” or not, he could be mistaken; more problematic: how confident or certain must a pastor be before he passes Leeman’s “certainty test”? And, how would he (or anyone else) know? If Leeman’s assessment were correct, no prudent pastor would say anything. While wisdom is always “at issue,” it should sound in warning, not as a trump card gagging all political commentary.

The point here is not that every pastor should unwisely spout inane political or partisan slogans, but rather that a pastor possesses the liberty – liberty that should not be constrained by the State – to wisely address these matters and that in wisely addressing such matters, he edifies and equips the sheep and glorifies the Lord.

Leeman instead implies that addressing politics and candidates may be (somehow?) deviating from proclaiming the gospel by exceeding the preacher’s authority. But, that is not Paul’s understanding. In Paul’s calculus, ethics, including ethics in the public square applied to persons (“law”), aligns with the faithful application of the gospel: 1 Tim. 1:8-10

Now, Scripture equips people for “righteousness” and “every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Does the public square need righteousness? Is politics a good work? (Rm. 13). Yes and yes. These matters (good works and righteousness) form the very core of being salt and light and should be the directional beam of our conduct; and that conduct, that is, those good works, are ethical in nature (Mt. 5:13-20, and 6:33). This means they also have political implications. Ethics/law written on the heart and then applied to all of life – that is, drawing and applying distinctions between the moral and the immoral – forms the very essence of the New Covenant, effectuated by the means of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension (Jer. 31:33). Failing to address such matters withholds God’s full word from the flock.

If a pastor refuses do this from the pulpit, he is not faithfully executing his calling. A moral or ethical matter labeled “political” does not cease being a moral matter that would benefit from the light of God’s word.

Note how Leeman frames the issue: “Should pastors support or oppose political candidates or leaders from the pulpit?” [emphasis added]. But, this formula prejudices the question. The real issue is whether a pastor’s liberty to address moral matters should be cabined by the State. Moral matters necessarily include both issues and people – issues don’t repent; people by grace do.

Leeman next creates a false and frankly palsied dichotomy contending that addressing issues somehow differs from addressing particular candidates, which he finds particularly problematic and even pernicious. This is erroneous:

HOW do institutions, including political institutions, operate and address matters? They do so via agents who are persons. Issues are effectuated by persons. One cannot coherently divorce the agent from the issue because the agent IS the actor who effectuates the issue.

Leeman asserts nevertheless that with candidates the issues are complex and this somehow precludes addressing persons. This too is mistaken:

In the first place this contention fallaciously assumes a moral equivalency among issues, which is plainly false. A candidate who wishes to close pregnancy resource centers is different from one who wants to raise the tax increment finance ratios. The issues may be complex, but they are not morally equivalent. And some issues, such as those predicated on or derived from the Decalogue, define the “weightier matters of the law.” After all, Jesus tells us that the greatest in the Kingdom follow and teach others to follow God’s law. (Matt. 5:19). As the context makes plain, this includes the public application of the commandments, beyond the congregation.

EVERY matter may be complex in some sense; a leader’s very job however is to discern (Heb. 5), not avoid, the complexities occurring in God’s fallen, but redeemed, world . . . and then, address them using the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:27)

Leeman’s examples dealing with pro-abortion candidates show only that he is willing to implicitly, but (somehow?) not explicitly endorse or oppose a candidate. How does this distinction make a moral difference? He claims that a “direct application” from scriptural principle to the issue provides the decisive standard. This lacks merit.

A “direct” application of a scriptural principle may very well directly mean not supporting the person who holds certain unchristian positions. Paul and John do this as indicated below and the underlying principle they use is nowhere limited to dogmatics or heresiarchs.

The sheep draw inferences from sermons – at least that should be the goal; it’s called applying scripture. To say that preaching scripture does not apply to persons effectuating issues, but only to the issues themselves, is to truncate scripture’s witness and intent. The pastor is not somehow “safe” or faithful if he only draws the scriptural line to a key issue but omits “naming names”.

From a less abstract perspective: If a congregant sins in the way he is addressing a public issue, including voting, how can he learn to repent absent spiritual guidance from the pulpit? Is our public and political life to remain unsanctified by Scripture? Is our political life, including voting, a zone of supposed neutrality? What if these matters are addressed in a Sunday School class? Can the pastor “name names” there, but not during his sermon? On what principled basis?

And, what if a political candidate or office holder is a member of the congregation and he sins publicly and gravely?   Presumably, Leeman would at some point in the discipline process deem identifying the unrepentant candidate as a proper step of church discipline. But somehow, this application of scripture to a public person magically becomes improper if the person is not a member of the preacher’s congregation, or if he or she is a member of a different congregation or no congregation at all? This distinction is arbitrary and thus unreliable.

Positively put, Scripture often “calls out” actors by name, warning the faithful to avoid them and thus NOT support them: see, e.g., Alexander, Hymenaeus, and Diotrephes, (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 4:14 and 3 John 9).

“Naming names” enjoys biblical warrant as to individuals. The initial essay illustrates this as to political actors as well. Leeman either ignores this scriptural evidence or dismisses it with special pleading.

As to political parties, which Leeman injects into the conversation, he fails to note that Jesus “names party names” as well. (E.g., Rev. 2 and 3 – Jesus identifies several parties with whom church members are affiliated and then commands them to repent and disassociate). And, of course the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, and the Roman officials are all collectively addressed as parties as well.

Leeman apparently confines his analysis to the positions a candidate holds (but only as to issues held, detached from the person advocating the issues). This limitation artificially truncates crucial biblical considerations: Scripture is concerned not only with “issues,” but also with the person, the leader, himself – irrespective of the issues. Leeman ignores these crucial criteria:

What about a candidate’s competence? Is this biblically off-limits? Certainly, if a pastor knows about a gaping defect in a candidate’s competence for the position, he ought to seek the “welfare of the city” (Jer. 29) by alerting the congregation to that deficit. We should not elect deaf and blind folks to serve as health inspectors.

Similarly, Leeman’s proposal overlooks a candidate’s character. A pastor who remains silent withholds good from the City if he knows that a particular candidate lacks the character to hold a position of responsibility and leadership.   See e.g., 16:19 (bribe takers); 17:14ff. and 2 Chron.26 (King Uzziah’s pride)

Thus, aside from specific policy matters, a candidate – as a person – may lack the competence or character suitable for holding office or exercising leadership. Limiting preaching to issues and not addressing persons qua persons is necessarily incomplete.

Leeman lastly contends “division” may result from a pastor “naming names”.

This assertion is fallacious as it commits the “false cause” fallacy (post hoc ergo propter hoc) as well as committing the hasty generalization error.

Moreover, this point cuts both ways: what about division “caused” by a pastor who refuses to address a prominent cultural issue that impacts the congregation’s ability to discharge its calling? A pastor’s silence can just as easily precipitate division as well as threaten the congregation’s ability to do what it is called to do.

And, according to Paul, division is not necessarily bad; division can be the means by which the faithful are made evident. (1 Cor. 11:9).

Accordingly, invoking the “unity” card – without more – therefore provides no guidance to the question at hand. Why? Because every assertion from the pulpit potentially could precipitate disunity at some level. If three people depart from a 6000 member congregation, is that inappropriate division? What if two depart? One? The entire analytic thread unwinds because it manifestly lacks a sound principled basis. Thus, this point comprises a classic red herring fallacy as well.

Solomon says it well: “Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive against them.” (Pr. 28:4). By refusing to “name names” and instead by counseling silence, Leeman is by default (not design) orienting pastors (and their flocks) to ultimately praise the wicked. And, this should not be. Exposing evil, including those who do evil, is part of what Christians are called to do (Eph. 5:11). Query further whether voting for an ungodly candidate constitutes participating in “unfruitful works of darkness” which Paul forbids.

While Leeman’s well-intended and wise pastoral concern does at points resonate, his overall proposal is unfortunately out of tune with the canonical organ and therefore, should be rejected. Jesus is King of Kings and Lords of Lords; that’s about as political as one could be. His faithful followers must take every thought captive – including political thoughts – to this King; preaching is not exempt from this command. In fact, preaching should be emblematic of it.

The view expressed in this commentary belongs solely to the author and is not necessarily the view of the ERLC.

By / Nov 5

Editor’s Note: During this week where Americans go to the polls for midterm elections, Canon and Culture is running a counterpoint series about the church and political activity. Today is the second in a three-part series.


Should pastors support or oppose political candidates or leaders from the pulpit? Jeffery Ventrella says yes in the conjoining article based on three premises: the Bible offers warrant for addressing political leaders; the argument against it is a recent partisan innovation; and doing so contributes to the common good.

Yet here’s my question for Ventrella or any preacher who thinks likewise: are you, preacher, so confident in your political calculations concerning the complex of issues represented by your preferred candidate, leader, or (I’d add) party that you are prepared to teach that your calculations are the path of Christian obedience, to divide the church from the world over them, and to fasten them to the gospel and the name of Jesus Christ himself? “Everybody who has repented of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ as Resurrected Savior and King of Kings should vote for Bob.”

Those are the stakes. That’s what a preacher does when he preaches. The Holy Spirit has made him an overseer to give life to the dead by proclaiming the gospel, and then to help both the living congregation and the not-yet-living outsider know where the Bible draws a line between life and death, between the church and the world. A pastor’s work includes answering the question, what beliefs and behaviors should differentiate disciples of Jesus Christ as a property of the gospel or an implication of the gospel? A preacher lays out the path of obedience. Walking contrary to that path is disobedience and, in some cases, disciplinable. His is a conscience-binding occupation. And he should only bind the conscience of his hearers with the Word of God. A pastor without a Bible is a man with no authority and no message. But a pastor with a Bible stands in God’s place—so long as he speaks from it. It is not his political opinions, calculations, or best guesses that calls into existence the things that are not, and then gives order to this glorious new creation. (See Ezek. 37; Rom. 4:17; 10:17; 2 Cor. 4:1-6; 1 Thes. 1:5; James 1:18, 21; 1 Peter 1:23; etc.)

Other than in extraordinary circumstances, therefore, no, I do not think pastors have the authority to reveal the mind of God, to divide the church from the world, or to fasten the gospel and the name of Jesus to particular candidates, leaders, or parties.

A Political Issue vs. a Package of Issues

It is one thing for a pastor to address an issue based on biblical grounds; it’s another thing to address a package of issues, which is what addressing a candidate, leader, or party involves. If a pastor is able to trace a direct line from a biblical principle to a political application, he should. Here he has biblical warrant.

Addressing a package of issues, on the other hand, is something different. It involves assessing the ethical weight of dozens of issues, comparing those weights against one another, and then gauging the likelihood of their implementation in light of current events, the present field of political actors, and all the whirlwind dynamics of real-life law-making. Whenever you support or oppose a candidate, leader, or party, you are making such calculations.

So let me be clear: I am not saying that pastors should refrain from supporting or opposing candidates, leaders, or parties because I think the church is “spiritual” and not “political.” I actually believe that, while the political and the spiritual can be conceptually distinguished, they cannot be separated. Everything a church believes and does is political, and everything that occurs in the public square is spiritual. Indeed, everything every human believes and does is in obedience (political) to some god (spiritual), no matter what office we hold or building we’re standing in.

And Christians should feel free to speak into the public square—within the constraints of wisdom—on behalf of the true God every bit as much as the secularist can speak on behalf of his or her false gods. Borrowing from Ventrella, there is biblical warrant for that much; only recent partisan decisions would deny it; and such activity contributes to the common good. More precisely, love and justice require it. For that reason I teach a 13-week adult Sunday School on Christians in government in my church for the sake of all the Hill staffers, lobbyists, and lawyers who populate our Capitol Hill congregation. It shows no love of neighbor to withdraw from the public square other than on grounds of higher stewardship priorities, i.e. prior obligations of love.

But to support or oppose a candidate, leader, or party is to make a complex political calculation concerning multiple issues and current events. And the question at stake in this conversation is, does the pastor possess biblical authority to do that?

A Case Study: Abortion and the Pro-Choice Candidate

Let’s think about the difference between an issue and a package of issues through the lens of a major point of political division today: abortion. When a pastor preaches, “You must not practice abortion,” he is implicitly, by virtue of his pastoral office, dividing the church from the world over the issue of abortion. He is saying abortion is wrong for everyone, yes, but gospel-believing Christians in particular must not practice abortion because they wear the Jesus’ nametag through baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He is using his God-established and church-recognized office to bind the conscience over abortion.

And I believe this is biblically and pastorally legitimate because there is a direct path from biblical principle to political application (to borrow language from Robert Benne) with abortion. Abortion is murder, and the Bible commands governments to protect its citizens from murder. The path is basically that simple. As an isolated issue, abortion is different than, say, education or health care policy. Christians might have principled convictions about these latter issues, too, but most would admit that the path from biblical principal to political application is more jagged, dim, and certainly debatable. It is my personal and pastoral conviction, therefore, that abortion, unlike education or health care policy, is an issue over which pastors can lean into the consciences of their hearers and divide the church from the world. I would even say that a church should discipline from membership abortion doctors, women who refuse to stop having abortions, or politicians who devote their careers to supporting abortion.

But would I be prepared to say that voting for a pro-choice candidate is inherently sinful? And that such a vote should never occur among God’s people—indeed, that a church might even consider formally disciplining someone who does vote for such a candidate?

In fact, a very godly member of my church voted for a vocally pro-choice candidate because, by my friend’s political calculations, the office for which this candidate was running would have little impact on abortion law. And the candidate stood for a number of other justice issues that were important to my friend, issues where the candidate arguably could have an impact. His conclusion was that putting this candidate into office would be a net gain for godly justice.

Now let me be slightly more forthright than I typically would in my church by putting my cards on the table about my friend’s reasoning: I disagree with it vehemently. I think he miscalculated. Part of me wanted to shake him by the shoulders and say, “C’mon!” What’s more, I’m personally convinced by John Piper’s observation that one issue is not enough to make a good candidate good, but one issue is enough to make a bad candidate bad, as with a candidate who believed all the right things but also supported embezzlement. Those are the convictions that guide my own voting. But I say that somewhat nervously here because I wouldn’t ordinarily say that much in a church setting where my pastoral office was in play. Or if I did, I would be careful to qualify it as a “What I do” and not a “What you must do.” Is it hypothetically possible that my friend’s political calculations concerning his vote were strategic—wise like a serpent? I think it’s at least possible for such a vote to be without sin. For example, in the case of two pro-choice presidential candidates, one might choose to abstain or one might vote for the best candidate (or least-bad candidate). Remember, Joseph worked for Pharaoh. And Daniel greeted the tyrannical Nebuchadnezzar and Darius with words like, “Oh, King, live forever.”

I admit I feel some tension here. Abortion is a tough topic to use as a case study because the stakes are so high—life and death and murder. But lower the stakes and hopefully the principles I’m articulating become clearer. What’s more, if you don’t feel the tension, I’m not sure you’re thinking pastorally, which is all about balancing competing principles and not saying everything you might want to say, especially if it’s outside of God’s Word. In short, I want to be careful not to presume that I can, with gospel clarity, tell the members of my congregation whom they should vote for in elections. Honestly, I just don’t have enough biblical confidence in my political calculations to identify the gospel with those calculations, to identify the church of Jesus Christ with them, or to push toward church discipline over them. I am, by contrast, confident in my understanding of the gospel, or God’s Triune nature, or the truth of Genesis, or the commandment against murder and (by implication) abortion, or the fact that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church. I will bind the consciences of church members and divide the church from the world over those things. And at that point I believe I can leave it to the Holy Spirit and church members’ consciences to figure out which candidates, leaders, or parties to support.

Political Strategy and Pastoral Jurisdiction

Let me try to make the unique nature of pastoral authority even clearer by discussing political strategy for a second, an area in which I have never been accused of possessing wisdom. If the Alliance Defending Freedom for whom Ventrella works, the Ethics and Religious and Liberty Commission on whose site this article is located, and a host of other such organizations tried to convince every Christian in America to never, ever vote for a pro-choice politician, they would have my support. Let the press releases fly. Start the campaign today. Imagine if every Christian Republican or Democrat in the country together decided to never support a pro-choice candidate or leader. My guess is that there would be a major realignment of the political playing field. Maybe we would even move to a three-party system, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

That said, I am unwilling, based on Capitol Hill Baptist Church’s affirmation of me as possessing a God-sanctioned authority over their souls to interpret the Bible and apply it to all areas of their lives, to say to any members of my church who happen to be reading this article that they must absolutely never, as a matter of conscience and faithfulness to the gospel, vote for a pro-choice candidate, lest they call into question their profession of faith and their congregationally-affirmed membership in our church. Such claims are outside of my pastoral jurisdiction. My favored candidate is neither the gospel nor an implication of the gospel.

Pastoral Authority

As one of the lay elders or non-staff pastors, I have the authority to interpret, teach, and—I’d even say—apply the Bible. But some applications go too far. Some cross the boundaries of Christian freedom. Never eat meat sacrificed to idols. Clergy must never marry. Don’t play music with a beat or dance. Vote Republican. Statements like these are outside a pastor’s jurisdiction.

Can we find examples of God’s people addressing political leaders in the Bible? Of course. Ventrella points to several. But consider his list. Either God’s man has a specific word from God (e.g. Moses or Micaiah); he’s addressing a specific sin or set of sins (e.g. Nathan or Elijah); or he’s generally telling a leader not to oppose God or pursue injustice (e.g. Ps. 2; the prophets). And a pastor might decide to do all these things. I’ll do it now: “President Obama, pursue justice, and don’t oppose Jesus or his Word, whether we’re talking about abortion, the definition of marriage, religious tolerance, welfare, health care, national defense, or any other subject. Our church prays either for you or another leader like you every Sunday on such matters. And please, oh please, start working against the institutionalized slaughter of countless baby boys and girls in the womb!”

Apart from unique moments of direct revelation in redemptive history (as with Moses and Pharaoh), and apart from the unique structures of theocracy in ancient Israel (as with Samuel and Saul), what you don’t see in Scripture is either an implicit precedent or an explicit license for pastors to use their office to advocate for one man or another, one administration or another, one regime or another. You certainly don’t see a list of preferred candidates. To preach a candidate’s name almost mimics the logic behind the divine right of kings, which sought to justify not just the office, but the individual: “God ordained me to rule you.”

There are operatives in both political parties who would love nothing more than to conflate the gospel with loyalty to their platform and their candidates. To heed them is to subvert Christianity.

Just This Last Sunday…

Just this last Sunday at church, John (not real name) asked me for counsel on how he should vote in the upcoming Washington DC mayoral elections. He was deliberately approaching me in my capacity as an elder.

Now, were John a close personal friend, say, from another church, and we were having dinner together, and I knew my pastoral office wouldn’t weigh on his conscience, I might offer my opinion about what he might do. I certainly wouldn’t tell him what he must do.

As it was, standing at the back of the church with a member I barely knew, I knew that my answer would leverage my office to bind his conscience, even if only slightly. By that I don’t mean he wouldn’t be free to go against my counsel, or that other, heavier factors might not weigh into his decision. But the fact that it would be “a pastor” speaking, by God’s delegated design, would impose on his conscience the subtle suggestion that my opinion on the best candidate for DC mayor represents the church, and in representing the church represents the gospel, and in representing the gospel represents Jesus Christ.

So I told John, “You’re free in Christ to vote for any of the three main candidates. I think that one is probably better than others. In fact, I can offer a couple of principles to keep in mind. But more important than my own opinion on the best candidate, which I will not share, you want to be careful with this stewardship. On the Last Day, you and Jesus will re-examine whether you acted by faith for the sake of love and justice, relying utterly on the wisdom he gives. Can I pray with you for this wisdom?” No doubt, my policy with John in a setting like this also translates into how I would speak from the pulpit or a newspaper op-ed page.

Aside from trying not to overstep my bounds, I hope my restraint had the additional affect of reminding him that salvation will ultimately be found in Christ, not in the next elected official.

Last Few Cards on the Table

A last couple of cards on the table: Lately I have begun to wonder if a political party could ever reach a point that it became so blatantly opposed to God, the justice of God, and the people of God that a church should treat membership in that party as grounds for church discipline. Presumably, my church would discipline a faithful member of Hitler’s Nazi Party. But should churches in China likewise excommunicate members of the Communist Party? Or could one or both of the parties in America ever reach that point? What criteria would we use to say when it has?

I’m unsure of the answer to these last few questions, but I don’t believe America is there yet. And until such an extraordinary moment in history comes, which, who knows, might be soon, we want our American churches to be filled with men and women, educated and uneducated, rich and poor, Blacks and Whites, Republicans and Democrats. Shouldn’t gospel power and gospel unity reach that far?

The view expressed in this commentary belongs solely to the author and is not necessarily the view of the ERLC.

By / Nov 3

Editor’s Note: During this week where Americans go to the polls for midterm elections, Canon and Culture is running a counterpoint series about the church and political activity. Today is the first in a three-part series.

Ask any pastor you know and he will tell you that it is forbidden for a pastor to support or oppose political candidates or leaders from the pulpit. This idea seems to be accepted almost as firmly as some Gospel truths. But is it justifiably true legally and theologically? Should the IRS really determine the content of a pastor’s remarks? Should tax exemption pivot on the pastor’s prose? Most pastors have not thought through this issue at any level and merely accept this censorship as “conventional wisdom.”

There are good reasons, however, why a pastor should fearlessly, freely, and from the pulpit, support or oppose political candidates.

1. Scripture warrants addressing political leaders and how they align with God’s word

The Bible evidences many examples in which spiritual leaders address political leaders both positively and negatively. This occurs negatively when a leader’s efforts conflict with God’s word or commands. In the same vein leaders are praised when their behavior aligns with God’s word.

One of the earliest examples occurs when Moses confronted Pharaoh (Exodus 5-12). God specifically tasked Moses to confront Pharaoh because he was enslaving and oppressing the Israelites. Moses didn’t respond by explaining to God that a spiritual leader should not address politics and political leaders. No, Moses obeyed and confronted Pharaoh.

In another example, Nathan confronted King David after he committed adultery and murder (2 Sam. 12). Nathan didn’t respond by telling God that politics is off limits or that political leaders shouldn’t be confronted with God’s truth.

In 1 Kings 17, Elijah confronted King Ahab with God’s judgment of draught because of Ahab’s sinful behavior. In 1 Kings 22, King Ahab summoned Micaiah and ordered him to prophesy victory for Ahab. Micaiah vowed only to speak what the Lord told him and then proceeded to confront Ahab with God’s decree that he shouldn’t go into battle, and if he did he would die. And he did.

Additionally, the Psalms, which are, among other things, worship songs, frequently address political leaders, including those outside the covenant community of Israel. Psalm 2 calls political leaders to “kiss the Son” and follow His ways. Psalm 83 calls out several political leaders of nations who have wronged God’s people, and petitions that God destroy them. Psalm 58 specifically addresses and confronts “rulers” who “speak unjustly” (Ps. 58:1). Psalm 94 notes wicked leaders who “frame injustice by statute.” It would be odd to sing about these things poetically in worship songs, but be off limits in the pastor’s prose proclaimed from the pulpit. A pastor can sing it, but not say it? Tax policy should turn on such things?

God spoke through numerous prophets, the spiritual leaders of their day, to political leaders who were violating God’s dictates. And lest you think that in the Old Testament the spiritual leaders of the day only confronted the kings of Israel or Judah, remember how Daniel confronted Nebuchadnezzar over his pride and told him that he would be driven away from his kingship like an animal until he acknowledged “that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes” (Dan. 4:25). And remember how Jonah confronted Nineveh, including its leaders because of its sin (Jonah 3:1-9).

And we cannot simply write off the Old Testament examples as inapplicable under a misunderstanding that religion and the state were one and the same back then. The fact is that the Old Testament contained a version of the “separation between church and state.” Priests, with a few exceptions, came from the tribe of Levi, and kings came from other tribes, primarily the tribe of Judah. Kings who tried to exercise priestly roles were punished by God (See Saul in 1 Samuel 13 and Uzziah in 2 Chronicles 26). Moses was not Aaron; there was an institutional separation – but not an ethical one – between the priest and polis.

The New Testament continues this biblical practice of religious leaders addressing political leaders. John the Baptist was imprisoned and ultimately beheaded because he had confronted Herod when he had deviated from God’s design for marriage (Matt. 14:3-4). Jesus called Herod Antipas, another leader, a fox and refused to leave when Herod wanted to kill him (Luke 13:31-32). And, when on trial, Jesus reminded Pontius Pilate that he would have no authority — that’s legal and political authority – unless it has been granted to him from above (John 19).

There are also Scriptural instances in which political leaders are praised or urged by God’s people to do the right thing when facing a moral choice. For example, Nehemiah petitioned Artaxerxes to allow the return of the Jewish exiles to Jerusalem (Neh. 2:1-8). When Artaxerxes does the right thing, he is praised by the religious leaders. Esther intervened with King Xerxes to prevent a planned slaughter of the Jewish people (Esther 5, 7, & 8). When President Clinton signed the DOMA and RFRA bills, should not the religious leaders be free to commend (or condemn) his action in doing so?

The Bible also instructs the followers of Jesus in ways that imply addressing civil magistrates in the context of the corporate religious-congregational gathering. For example, God commands believers to “honor the emperor” (1 Pet. 2:17). How are believers to honor the emperor if we do not know how (or whether) the “emperor” aligns with Scripture? Pastors can help to bridge the gap between when those words were written and today by being willing to speak about what it looks like for today’s Christians to “honor the emperor.”

Scripture also commands that “prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving” be made for “kings and all those in authority, that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). If believers can pray for Bill Clinton’s marriage to be saved after his adultery was revealed, why can’t pastors address that same issue from the pulpit in order to direct the believers to obey that scriptural command? To maintain fidelity with this command, why can’t pastors express thankfulness that a President’s actions and policies respect life, marriage, or religious freedom? It would be odd to have tax exemption arbitrarily pivot on whether an issue is “prayed for” by the flock or “preached upon” by the shepherd.

2. The idea that pastors should not support or oppose candidates is a recent partisan invention, not a constitutional principle

The idea that pastors should remain silent when it comes to supporting or opposing political leaders is something that is new. This is true even if we only consider American history. The first 166 years of America, from the time of the ratification of the Constitution, until 1954, pastors could, and indeed did, speak freely from their pulpits both supporting and opposing political candidates for office. Pastors were not timid in doing so.

The pulpits of New England thundered with revolutionary fervor that was grounded in a Biblical resistance to tyranny. Jonathan Mayhew, a colonial pastor was not shy in preaching against tyranny. In the preface to a sermon he gave in 1750, he addressed the very issue of this dialogue:

It is hoped that but few will think the subject of it an improper one to be discoursed on in the pulpit – [that it is] a nation that this is preaching politics instead of Christ. However, to remove all prejudices of this sort, I beg it may be remembered that “all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” [2 Timothy 3:16]. When, then, should not those parts of Scripture which relate to civil government be examined and explained from the desk [pulpit], as well as others? Obedience to the civil magistrate is a Christian duty; and if so, why should not the nature, grounds, and extent of it be considered in a Christian assembly? Besides, if it be said that it is out of character for a Christian minister to meddle with such a subject, this censure will at last fall upon the Holy Apostles. They write upon it in their epistles to the Christian churches; and surely it cannot be deemed either criminal or impertinent to attempt an explanation of their doctrine.

Mayhew’s view was not his own but was shared by many other pastors throughout American history. In a sermon in 1800, William Linn opposed Thomas Jefferson’s candidacy for President. Linn said: “I will venture it as my serious opinion, that rather than be instrumental in the election of Mr. Jefferson, it would be more acceptable to God and beneficial to the interests of your country, to throw away your vote. . . . Let me further repeat, [in this address] the single thing intended, is to show that . . . he ought not to be honored and entrusted with the Presidency of the United States of America.”

In 1864, Pastor William Stearns endorsed Abraham Lincoln for President, saying: “There is a power in this land hardly second to that of an immense army. It is the wisdom and honesty, and the reputation of it inspiring confidence at home and abroad, which belong to the character of Abraham Lincoln.”

Other pastors likewise throughout American history spoke from the pulpit for or against candidates for office. That all changed, though, in 1954 with the passage of the Johnson Amendment. In 1954, Lyndon Johnson was running for reelection to the United States Senate. In the midst of a campaign he was supposed to easily win, he found himself opposed by two secular non-profit organizations. One was called Facts Forum and one was called the Committee for Constitutional Government. These two organizations were dedicated to opposing communism and they believed that Johnson’s stance against communism was too lenient. The organizations began distributing thousands of pieces of literature opposing Johnson’s reelection bid.

Johnson tried to find ways to silence these organizations. He even inquired of the IRS as to whether the organizations were violating tax law by opposing his candidacy but was told that they were not. With his reelection chances in jeopardy, Johnson came up with a cunning idea to change the law to prohibit non-profits from supporting or opposing candidates for office.

On July 2, 1954, Johnson appeared on the U.S. Senate floor and offered an amendment to a massive bill that modernized and overhauled the tax code. The legislative history shows that no debate occurred on the amendment and it passed with a voice vote. It went on to become part of the law that President Eisenhower later signed into law on August 16, 1954.

One scholar who studied the history of the Johnson Amendment concluded:

The ban on electioneering is not rooted in constitutional provisions for separation of church and state. It actually goes back to 1954 when Congress was revising the tax code, anti-communism was in full bloom, and elections were taking place in Texas. In this highly-charged political environment, Lyndon Johnson introduced an amendment banning section 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations from participating in any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office. His amendment was directed at anti-communist groups such as Facts Forum and the Committee for Constitutional Government which stood between him and his goals of crippling McCarthyism, thwarting Allan Shivers’ efforts to control the Democratic party in Texas, and defeating Dudley Dougherty. Johnson was not trying to address any constitutional issue related to separation of church and state; and he did not offer the amendment because of anything that churches had done. Churches were not banned from endorsing candidates because they are religious organizations; they were banned because they have the same tax-exempt status as facts Forum and the Committee for Constitutional Government, the right-wing organizations that Johnson was really after. … The ban on electioneering has nothing to do with the First Amendment or Jeffersonian principles of separation of church and state.

This history discloses that a muted pulpit did not arise from any enlightened or noble constitutional principle, but rather became an unintended casualty from a partisan end run that was wholly unconcerned with religious expression—pure politics that were not pure at all. The current ban and censorship on pastors supporting or opposing candidates flows from a rank incumbent-protection measure passed by a powerful Senator bent on keeping his seat in the halls of power. Perhaps, as Jesus said of Herod Antipas, Senator Johnson too was a fox.

3. Addressing public policies and those who make them contributes diversity in seeking the common good

As believers, we are commanded to “do justice” (Micah 6:8). And, God calls His people, especially when living “outside the religious bubble” to “seek the welfare (shalom) of the city” (Jer. 29). The God of Scripture loves justice and hates when injustice pervades a society. (See Is. 61:8; Amos 5:23-24; Prov. 14:34; Prov. 29:2). Confronting evil and exalting righteousness by being salt and light, seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness (justice), are hallmarks and evidences of fidelity to the Christian faith. Christians as saved FROM something FOR something (Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14). How can a shepherd equip the sheep to reflect these ethical mandates without addressing them in his calling as a vocational preacher?

Is a religious perspective irrelevant to the common good? Does religious motivation undermine or motivate the common good? Recall that Christian leaders and their words—many of them uttered from the pulpit—undergirded and sustained the abolition movements in the UK and the U S, as well as the subsequent the civil rights movement. The IRS would have silenced Wilberforce and the Clapham sect as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. and his allies. Silencing such giants of justice would impoverish the public square and curtail the expansion of public justice.

Finally, note that in the US, it is the people—not the politicians—in whom political power resides. Many of those people practice religion publicly, that is, they try to live according to religious precepts. Far from being irrelevant, those religious precepts enrich the public discourse. Proclaiming how religion affects public life is part and parcel of informing a citizen on how to live faithfully. But, to do so, they must learn how their faith applies outside the church doors, including how it applies to matters of culture and yes, public policy.

And remember that the politicians these citizens elect make and enforce policies and laws that impact people and our society as a whole. For too long, politicians have gotten a free pass from moral and Biblical scrutiny by the church and its pastors. Silencing the pulpit from addressing such matters withholds a crucial mechanism for developing and enriching the political checks and balances held by the citizenry which are integral to a well-functioning constitutional republic. As Jefferson wrote, governments are instituted among men to secure—not confer—inalienable rights, rights bestowed by the Creator. The IRS rule treats voters more as subjects than as citizens. Politics in the pulpit is neither profane, nor provocative; rather, it is a prudent practice for promoting public justice.

The view expressed in this commentary belongs solely to the author and is not necessarily the view of the ERLC.

By / Feb 17

I fear that evangelicals have won the battle for the Bible in the academy, but we have lost our awe of the Bible preached in our pulpits. Our greatest preaching weakness is not lack of sound exegetical methodology or broad theological understanding, but it is our failure to understand what is happening in the preaching moment. Many stroll to the pulpit to talk to their congregation about God. They don't really believe that in Christian preaching they are speaking for God.

When I teach Christian preaching and simply assert the testimony of the biblical narrative regarding what occurs when the Scripture is faithfully proclaimed, I am often met with looks of incredulity. Most of my students possess an unswerving commitment to the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible, but they often shrink from the audacious claim of Scripture that the faithful preacher is the voice of Christ to a congregation. They are far more comfortable thinking about preaching as providing hearers with abstract information about God. I would agree that such a thought appears safer, but I would disagree that it constitutes what the Bible calls preaching.

In an “Introduction to Christian Preaching” class I taught, I referred to the famous quote D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones made in Preaching and Preachers on the primacy of preaching, when he asserted, “I would say without any hesitation that the most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is obviously the greatest need of the world also.” I naïvely thought the comment would be met with rousing affirmation in a confessionally conservative evangelical seminary. However, one student with a questioning look on his face slowly raised his hand and asked, “You don't really believe that, do you?” I replied, “Yes, I really do.” I still do believe it today. In fact, I believe preaching is an act of spiritual war at the apex of the cosmic battle.

In Romans 10, the apostle Paul asserts the necessity of worldwide proclamation of the gospel. He argues that God is at work in the world saving sinners, Jew and Gentile, by grace and not legalism. In Romans 10:13, Paul provides the promise: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He follows this promise with a series of rhetorical questions. First, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?” (Rom. 10:14a, NASB). Second, “How will they believe in him whom they have not heard?” (Rom. 10:14b). Third, “And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14c). Fourth, “How will they preach unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:15a). The logic is clear: Preachers are sent, they preach, people hear Christ as they hear the preacher's sermon, they believe, and they call on him in faith. Romans 10:17 offers a summarizing conclusion of this stunning claim about what happens in preaching, ” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.”

In The Pillar New Testament Commentary: Romans, Leon Morris explains that in Romans 10:14, “The point is that Christ is present in the preachers; to hear them is to hear him (Luke 10:16), and the people ought to believe when they hear him.” In faithful preaching of the word of God, the listener is not simply hearing about Christ, they are hearing the word of Christ. Christ himself speaks through his feeble but faithful preachers. Salvation comes when his voice is heard, and the listener responds, not to the preacher, but to Christ in faith. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul commends the church in Thessalonica saying, “…because when you received the message about God that you heard from us, you welcomed it not as a human message, but as it truly is, the message of God, which also works effectively in you believers.” To the Corinthian church enamored with trained rhetorical eloquence, Paul states, though he came to them, “in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling,” his proclamation among them was “a powerful demonstration by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:3-4).

Jesus was the preacher par excellence, and his message, the message of his kingdom, was urgent. Luke records the Galilean crowds pleading with Jesus to stay and continue his ministry of healing and exorcism, to which he responds, “I must proclaim the good news about the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because I was sent for this purpose,” (Luke 4:43). Jesus elucidates that preaching is the preeminent necessity because it was the ministry to which he was ordained; and, further, his message was the presence of the kingdom in his own person. The word of the kingdom (i.e. the preaching of the gospel) was even more important than the miraculous signs of the kingdom. Jesus performed miracles but they were subordinate to his preaching ministry. I fear some present day evangelical preachers do not believe Jesus in this essential matter and would trade their pulpit for the ability to heal the sick without a moment of hesitation?

After his resurrection Jesus continues his work in the world by calling and gifting men to preach the word. Jesus’ apostles possess the apostolic sign gifts but they minister in the same way Jesus did, recognizing the primacy of preaching. After healing a man lame from birth Peter asked, “Why are you amazed at this? Or why do you stare at us, as though we had made him walk by our own power or godliness?” (Acts 3:12). Peter immediately transitions to preaching, explaining that God had already spoken to them “by the mouth of his holy prophets,” (Acts 3:21) and is now speaking to them about Christ and his kingdom. The religious leaders are filled with rage, not about the healing, but about the bold preaching and “ordered them not to preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus,” (Acts 4:18). The disciples respond by praying for more boldness in preaching, and by continuing to preach in the name of Christ with boldness (4:29, 31). The incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the final word, ushered in a new dawn of global gospel preaching (Matt. 28:16-20, Mark 13:10, Rom. 10:18, Heb. 1:1-3).

Evangelicals spend a great deal of time talking about the mechanics and delivery of sermons but such talks are of little value among preachers who have lost a sense of the glory of what happens in the preaching moment. In fact, I believe many, if not most, of the problems in contemporary evangelical preaching would be rectified by rightly understanding what is at stake in Christian preaching. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “True preaching, after all, is God acting. It is not just a man uttering words; it is God using him.” Do you believe that? I find many evangelicals are committed to biblical inerrancy and have sound theology, but possess a casual attitude toward preaching. The difference between understanding the preaching task as identifying with the people and talking about God and as standing under the authority of God and preaching his word as his voice to the congregation is profound.

One way in which a minimized view of preaching is evident is in contemporary willingness to accept or even prefer video preaching or dramatic reenactments to flesh-and-blood sermonic proclamation. A few years ago, when Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ movie was released, I was stunned to hear an evangelical leader I deeply respect pronounce, “This is the greatest evangelistic tool in the history of the church.” The attitude seems to be that big budget films are a more powerful medium than preaching for conveying the gospel message. But, as Edmund Clowney argued in Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, “It is deeply flawed in its conclusion at this very point: the presence of Jesus. An actor pleads with the viewer to come to him and to trust in him. The effort to give reality beyond the preached word fails as fiction. The actor is not Jesus.”

It is also increasingly common in some churches to provide the sermon in corporate worship via video rather than a live preacher. The thought is that some men are exceptionally gifted preachers and the people will benefit more from hearing them even if it is by means of video. What is striking, as Carl Trueman has noted, is that none of the churches providing video preaching also provide music via video. Some musicians, choirs and praise teams are more gifted than others, right? The communal uniqueness of song in our worship gatherings is ordinarily acknowledged but we have relegated preaching to a simple function of conveying information. Actors and disembodied sermons are inadequate imitations of the genuine face-to-face gospel utterance described as preaching in the Scripture. The face-to-faceness of preaching is the reason D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones disliked tape-recorded sermons, referring to them as a “peculiar and special abomination” because, in his thinking, they sever the living transaction between preacher and congregation.

Every person lives based on an eschatology. We all fit today's decisions into a story that is headed somewhere. Biblical preaching confronts rival eschatologies. Simply passing on information about God abstracted from the biblical storyline that centers on Jesus is inadequate and dangerous, because listeners simply incorporate the information into their existing eschatology. All the truths of the Bible fit together in Jesus. Faithful expository preachers call people to abandon the rival eschatology they are ordering their lives on, and trust the gospel story through faith in Christ and his kingdom. Preachers do not echo the story of any culture but rather proclaim the word that comes from outside of us—the word of God. To the degree the preacher is faithful, however weak and unimpressive, his preaching of Christ and him crucified is God speaking to his people. As Gregory Edward Reynolds explains in The Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures, “The face-to-face presence of the preacher is a reminder of what is coming (Rev. 22:4). It is a down payment on eschatological glory.”

It seems to me that many evangelical preachers are focused on countless lesser things to the neglect of the primary purpose for which they were called. We are right to engage the culture, pursue righteousness through the political structures, and contend for morality in a culture of decadence. But nothing is a greater priority, or will have more influence on the church and the world than faithful proclamation.

Preaching is dangerous—an indispensable act of spiritual war. Martin Luther explained the cosmic combat in the way: “Indeed, to preach the word of God is nothing less than to bring upon oneself all the furies of hell and of Satan, and therefore also of . . . every power of the world. It is the most dangerous kind of life to throw oneself in the way of Satan’s many teeth” (“On the Councils and the Church,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings). I fear Luther’s words sound melodramatic to many contemporary evangelicals. It is a hollow victory to win the battle for the Bible in the academy only to domesticate it in our pulpits.

By / Feb 14

NOTE: Dean Inserra will be one of the speakers at the ERLC National Conference: “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The conference is designed to equip Christians to apply the gospel on these issues with convictional kindness in their communities, their families and their churches. This event will be held at the iconic Opryland Hotel on October 27-29, 2014. To learn more go here.

I believe there are four types of churches when it comes to preaching on or addressing homosexuality. As culture continues to move toward a “post-gender” mindset, those who wish to expound a biblical worldview that points to the work of Christ will need to be clearer than ever. Unfortunately, those churches are the minority.

Here are four types of churches who take different approaches to addressing this massive cultural shift:

1. The Macklemore Church

The Macklemore Church just simply thinks the Bible is outdated, or just plain wrong on homosexuality. This church has been on the fringe left end of the spectrum, but recently exists in some traditional mainline circles. The Macklemore Church believes as long as one truly loves, then his or her sexual preference is a personal decision, and God is okay with that. Anything spoken against that is judgmental, and unlike Jesus who would think it is all the “same love.” Those who oppose this approach are also outdated and need to evolve with the times.

The issue, however, with the Macklemore Church is not sexuality. The issue is the Bible. There is zero confidence in the authority of the Bible, as inerrancy is mocked. As Macklemore raps in “Same Love” about those who have confidence in the authority of the Bible, “…we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago.”

The beliefs about sexuality held by the Macklemore Church are the least of their problems.

2. The “Wrecking Ball” Church

This is the “America is going to hell in a hand basket,” crowd. The pastor does not shy away from preaching on sexuality, but comes in like a wrecking ball, dropping bombs and mentioning homosexuality every single Sunday. There is zero controversy because all 87 people in the church agree 100%, with their Christian voter guide in hand, saying “amen preacher” after every sentence. The context seems to always be “America” rather than the gospel when discussing any issue of sexuality. This church could also easily be called the “Preaching to the Choir Church.” Good folks and faithful brothers, but fighting a culture war they don’t even realize they actually aren’t a part of, because nobody is listening.

3. The MC Hammer Church.

This Church is growing, innovative, has an amazing band, A-list “communicator,” is young, sexy and when it comes to the issue of homosexuality…

Can’t touch this.

After all, we have gay friends. Why is it that the only sin we can’t talk about with our friends if they are engaged in the sin, is homosexuality? This church usually affirms everything the Bible says about marriage, gender and sex, but outside of a “how to” marriage series every three months, they just aren’t going to touch anything about homosexuality. The fear of offending or upsetting the young base that makes up the majority of the attendance drives the bus.

Eventually one will have to understand that you can’t stay neutral on this issue. The idea that we want to “focus on Jesus” or whichever lines people use to excuse their silence will lead to perceived acceptance of homosexuality. They will also at some point, have to deal with the issue when a practicing homosexual wants to be in leadership, have the pastor perform a wedding ceremony, or embrace the lifestyle all together.

I believe the MC Hammers are the largest group of churches today.

4. The “Ring of Fire” Church.

I do not mean hell, fire and brimstone, but rather entering the most heated areas of discussion in today’s culture, based on biblical convictions that lead one to engage with kindness. There is a deep desire in the Ring of Fire Church to speak with clarity, out of being compelled by the love of Christ and to speak to areas where God has certainly not been silent. Gospel centrality is the key and driving force of these churches. When the lens through which one preaches homosexuality is the gospel, the emphasis goes from a moralistic divide, to an understanding of God’s purposes. Failing to communicate this is a big miss on an opportunity to make the riches of the gospel known, by neglecting visible portrait God painted for us and by the one flesh union between a husband and a wife. That visible portrait points us to the invisible reality of our union with Christ, in the relationship between Christ and his bride, which was purchased by his blood.

These churches seek clarity and speak with strong conviction, but are very careful of their approach and tone, out of awareness of their own personal failures with sexual sin, and out of love for those currently living in it. The gospel centrality also leads these churches to not believe the key issue is sex, but rather the changing of one’s heart toward Christ, that will then lead to repentance. There is not a crusade to win with the Ring of Fire Church, but hearts to be won, and a gospel to be proclaimed.

Ring of Fires also believe that the greatest human flourishing happens when we do things the way God created them to be, and therefore seek this common good in strengthening marriages by God’s design. They speak to cultural issues on sex because God has not been silent, and in those discussions is where the souls of men and women lie.

At City Church we decided we were going to be willing to step into the conversations in our city and beyond that are hot. May we continue to have these discussions, out of a convictional kindness, as God allows, while refusing to pretend God has not spoken clearly on sex. Let us continue to take his everlasting truth, to our ever-changing culture. The witness of the gospel is at stake.