Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Politics From the Pulpit?

"Should pastors speak about in the pulpit about contemporary issues? [sic] Yes, but only when the texts of Scripture clearly articulate it. They shouldn't bow to any party's talking points. They shouldn't slant their sermons to fit a political profile. They shouldn't become wannabee pundits in the pulpit. They should preach the Word and let it do it's work in the hearts of the people, who will then go influence their communities." ~ Daniel Darling, "Three Reasons Not to Preach Politics in the Pulpit"

I really like this article (shared by a friend of mine on Facebook) and the above quote. Very few things bug me more than the pulpit being used as a political soap box or puppet. In summary, his three reasons to not preach politics from the pulpit are:
  • Our text must be the Word of God
  • The Bible cuts both ways
  • We must never dilute the message of the gospel
These are all good points, and I recommend going to and reading Daniel's article. Go read it and then I would like to add what I think is an important fourth point.

Now that you have read Daniel's excellent article, I would like to add one more that I think is very important. It is the issue of conscience. I follow the Reformed tradition and am a preacher in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In our tradition, we have a statement of faith called the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). It is an excellent document from the seventeenth century that summarizes biblical doctrine well. It is not infallible and is no way to be held on the same level (or even close to it) as Scripture, but it is wise and I think very biblical for the most part. In it, there is a great statement that addresses the issue of conscience, "God alone is Lord of the conscience (Js. 4:12; Ro. 14:4), and has left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to His Word; or beside it, in matters of faith or worship (Mt. 15:9; 23:8-10; Ac. 4:19; 5:29; 1 Co. 7:23; 2 Co. 1:24)." (WCF 20.2) God alone is Lord of the conscience. Pastors should preach on the issues of contemporary culture that Scripture addresses, but how we apply that truth in our individual social-political lives is a matter of conscience. No Christian has the right to say to another Christian that they have the "Christian way" of doing something unless it is prescribed in the Bible or may be deduced from it by good and necessary consequence. I believe voting and candidate choice falls in the category of conscience. If we say, "Christians must support Mr. So-in-So in the election," we have bound the consciences of Christians in a way Scripture has not commanded and that is wrong. We have no right to say it is "un-Christian" to vote a certain way unless Scripture tells us that Christians must always vote Republican or Democrat, and I am pretty sure it does not say that anywhere.

I recently read an excellent book on Christians and culture. It is Living in God's Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture by David VanDrunen. I do not agree with everything in it, but it is overall an excellent work and I do not mind recommending it. (I plan to write a review of it soon, when I get the time.) In it, he has an excellent statement on this issue of conscience:
In my judgment, the general rule is that the church must teach—and Christians may hold one another accountable for believing—all that Scripture says about such topics as moral issues but should be silent about such topics as concrete political or public policy issues. The biblical teaching on these topics clearly has political ramifications. In nearly every case when a moral issue becomes a concrete political or public policy issue, however, believers must make discretionary judgments in order to decide how to apply the clear biblical teaching to the particular situation. And whenever the application of biblical teaching is a matter of discretion and not specified by Scripture itself, the church must be silent and Christians may not impose their own discretionary judgments upon the consciences of other Christians. (pp. 199-200)
For example, let's look at one of the more relevant issues: abortion. It is clear that Scripture is against abortion. I think that Scripture is pretty clear that life begins at the earliest days of pregnancy. (It may be debatable whether or not life begins at conception or implantation, though I think the arguments for the former are strong than those for the latter, but I believe it is not debatable, from a biblical perspective, any later in pregnancy.) However, does Scripture say how we should apply this in our social-political lives? No, and to say otherwise is to bind the conscience of a fellow Christian, which is wrong. Christians find themselves in a fallen world in which many people (with whom we might otherwise agree) advocate abortion rights, the issue is social and political, candidates and judges hold a variety of stances on it, and in which a black market would probably be formed if it were made illegal. The application of our stance on the issue is thus very complicated. There are some who could never vote for a pro-choice candidate because of their consciences, and I completely understand that. Others may weigh all the views of a pro-choice candidate and find those other views tip the scale in a political environment where all candidates are imperfect. Some may look at the possibilities of affecting abortion policy in a particular political environment and find it is unlikely that it will affected one way or another. Others might choose to fight abortion by a strategy that is more "grass roots" and write pieces for local news outlets, picket clinics, serve at crisis pregnancy centers, or raise awareness in some other local way. The point is that two Christians with equal commitment to the biblical teaching on abortion may evaluate the political landscape differently and make different decisions about what will serve the long-term good of American society and the world at large. We may debate with each other about the "best" or "wisest" way to fight abortion, but no Christian can look at another Christian and say they have the "Christian way" of doing it. God has left the Christian's conscience free from the doctrines and commandments of men.

So, let's preach on the issues from the pulpit when the Bible addresses them, and then let's trust the Holy Spirit (remember all believers have Him too!) to guide each believer to vote in the way their consciences believe is most wise. Let's not violate the Word of God by adding to it, let's not dilute the gospel by saying more than Scripture allows, and let's not bind the consciences of other believers by commanding what God has not commanded. "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." (Ga. 5:1) Praise Jesus for our freedom!

By His Grace,

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