The Wilberforce Test: Preaching and the Public Square

The following thought provoking article was written by Owen Strachan,  professor of theology and church history at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. It was originally posted on the 9marks site. He raises some important questions that our churches really need to begin to think about. We need men like Wilberforce today; why are our churches not producing men like this any longer.


William Wilberforce was born with life laid out like a Persian carpet before him. He was from fantastic wealth, had access to high society whenever he pleased, and had the social graces to charm most anyone he encountered.

Wilberforce was raised by an evangelical aunt but had drifted from a close connection to Christianity. When as a 26-year-old man he found himself empty and unfulfilled by his worldly trajectory, he secretly contacted famous pastor John Newton for counsel. Through Newton’s influence, Wilberforce soon embraced the religion of the “enthusiasts” of England, a derogatory term for Christians who zealously preached the new birth.

Two Paths Out of TrialsWilberforce became the champion par excellence of abolition in Great Britain. He lived to see the defeat of slavery and the slave trade in his homeland and its imperial territories. The striking thing about Wilberforce’s story is this: he did not work alone. His pastor, John Venn, the Rector of Clapham, is basically forgotten. Yet week after week, Venn fired the conscience and stirred the heart of Wilberforce and his activist peers. The public work of Wilberforce—world-changing work, that is—was shaped by the pulpit ministry of Venn.[1]

In considering this example, I would like to pose a question: could our preaching today raise up a Wilberforce? Could it pass, in other words, what we could call the Wilberforce test? In what follows, I will sketch out how it is that a pastor can meet this mark. Every pastor, I argue, is a public theologian, called by God to bring biblical truth to bear on all of life such that his people storm the gates of hell and promote righteousness and mercy in a fallen world.

THE CORE OF A PASTOR’S LABORS: EXPOSITORY PREACHING

Too often, we are presented with just two choices when it comes to the pulpit and public-square witness. Either the pastor is a political activist, or he is effectively removed from cultural concerns. Both of these models have serious problems.

The central conviction of the pastor is the truthfulness of the gospel. This gospel announces that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified for our justification and raised to life for our vindication. This message is the foundation of every minister’s work, which means that every minister stewards a theological reality. Every pastor, in other words, is a theologian. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. has noted that “The pastoral calling is inherently theological. Given the fact that the pastor is to be the teacher of the Word of God and the teacher of the gospel, it cannot be otherwise.” Mohler sharpens the point: “The idea of the pastorate as a non-theological office is inconceivable in light of the New Testament.”[2]

This is a very different conception of the pastor than we often hear today. The pastor in the historic model is not a coach, executive, administrator, cheerleader, or entrepreneur. Fundamentally, the pastor is the steward of the most precious message there is. But the pastor does not only loft this message into the air. He preaches it to all who will hear and watches as the Word and the gospel build a church. This church is not incidental to the gospel. As Mark Dever has said, “Christian proclamation might make the gospel audible, but Christians living together in local congregations make the gospel visible (see John 13:34-35). The church is the gospel made visible.”[3] To a degree that we rarely acknowledge, the church is a living picture of the gospel.

This means that the pastor is a theologian, but a theologian attached to a people. The pastor serves as theologian to his people not primarily by writing dense articles in the church newsletter, but by preaching the truth and shepherding the flock. This is, as noted, expressly theological work. Mohler has said it like this: “There is no more theological calling than this—guard the flock of God for the sake of God’s truth.”[4] Pastoral ministry is not a retreat from theological work, an escape to the adoctrinal hinterlands of what is sometimes called “practical ministry.” Pastoral ministry occurs on the front lines of the great theological conflict between God and the devil. Every pastor a theologian, then; every pastor a warrior-priest, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Melchizedek, following the one who is greater than he.

Pastors are not politicians. They are appointed by God, however, to shape the worldview and thus the convictions of their people. Faithful handling of the Word of God means preaching the whole counsel of God. Preaching the whole counsel of God, in turn, cannot help but form and enliven Christian conviction, the principles that a believer must advocate in a fallen world, for the world lacks them even as it desperately needs them. Christian conviction is not made only for business meetings and quiet times. It is forged in the furnace of biblical exposition. Christian conviction looks like fire. It smells like smoke. It feels like a burning ember plucked from the flame. It emerges from the furnace of Scripture, and it is fashioned to sear and to awaken.

THE PASTOR PREACHING IN PUBLIC

Too often, preaching is described in much quieter terms than this. The grandeur and daring of biblical exposition is damped down. The private, solitary nature of the homiletical event is emphasized—each person quietly considering the claims of Christ. Preaching, to be sure, is aimed at the human heart. In biblical proclamation, God does business with the sinner. Though a pastor exposits the Word to dozens or hundreds or thousands of people, he understands that through his exposition, God meets with each individual person.

Let us hold fast to this “private” dimension of preaching. But perhaps we should ponder the recovery of the public dimension of preaching. As we have made clear, preaching is centered in the gospel of the Word. The gospel is a public announcement of a public event. Jesus was not crucified in private. He was spread out on a Roman cross, humiliated before all who would cast an eye upward at his foaming mouth and his heaving chest. His death was orchestrated and approved by the Roman political hierarchy. But the public nature of his horrific death goes far beyond Christ’s humiliation. His death, unlike every other death, was not only a cessation of life, but an act of atonement. No other person has atoned for sin in their passing. Only Jesus.

In paying for the sins of his people at Golgotha, Jesus accomplished a public work with profoundly private dimensions. All who will ever be found in him had their “record of debt cancelled” at the cross, according to Colossians 2:14. This cancellation was a “public spectacle” (2:15). It was the enactment of triumph over “the powers and authorities” of Satan’s kingdom. The cross that paid for private—or individual—sin was public, in other words. It was a display of divine force. It was a celebration of theistic power. It was an act of public shaming. Though Rome and her soldiers looked at Christ’s cross with disdain, God and his angels knew the truth. The power of Satan was broken. The head of Satan was crushed. Though hidden from the world, the defeat of darkness and death was accomplished.

Every time a pastor preaches the cross, they preach publicly. By this I do not only mean that they deliver a sermon in a forum to which the broader community is invited. I mean that from Bangladesh to Bangor, Maine to Bristol, England they announce to the cosmos that Jesus has won and Satan has lost. The church in which a pastor preaches is local. But the “theater,” to use Calvin’s language, is universal.[5] Every Sunday, across the world, 100,000 pastors announce together that the Messiah-King has come, and has triumphed. Satan must hear this every week, and must gnash his teeth every time he is reminded of his certain destruction.

There is another dimension of this public ministry to consider as well. The pastor’s message is not only addressed to the broader world, but is applicable to it. The Word and the gospel lay claim to all they encounter, advancing the kingdom of Christ over all the earth. The kingdom is dynamic. It does not shrink back. It is not overcome. It is undefeated, even as Jesus is undefeated, and his gospel is undefeated. The kingdom is inherently spiritual. It is the reign and rule of God. But though spiritual, the application of Christ’s Messiahship to this realm has powerfully public effect. By the preaching of the Word of Christ, human hearts are claimed, human behavior changes, churches are birthed, and Christians live out their faith in their community and culture. When all this happens, the gospel is working in the private sphere to influence the public sphere. The city of God, to quote Augustine, is ministering grace to the city of man.

The church, in other words, is the true culture. The community of God is created by the very mind of God. It is no mere organization. It is a living-and-breathing body, the spiritual entity that displays the glory of God and advances the kingdom of God. This means, as William Willimon has said, that the church is not only a change-agent in the world, but “is a world.” The church dares to “claim that this world, this culture—the church—is God’s way with the world, the appointed means by which Christ is bringing all things unto himself.”[6] To join the local church is not only to mark oneself as a believer as part of a larger body. It is to enter a new world, the true world.

So it is that preaching is public, for in preaching, the doorway to this other world, the true world, opens.

PASTORS AS PUBLIC THEOLOGIANS IN A FRAGMENTED WORLD: THREE CONSIDERATIONS FOR TODAY

Thus far we have sketched out what it means to be a pastor. I have argued that every pastor is a theologian, stewarding and announcing expressly theological realities. All the work of the pastor—discipling, counseling, evangelizing, leading, and everything else—proceeds from theistic truths. If God is not Triune, if the Word is not inerrant, if Jesus is not the only Savior, then pastoring is just community service with a spritz of spirituality. But it is not. Pastoring is essentially and inescapably theological work.

It is not only this: it is public. The pastor has the privilege of declaring that another world exists, and that this world is not far-off, but has broken into our own world. The kingdom of Christ is advancing with relentless pace, and though it suffers violence, no one can stop it (Matthew 11:12). Thus far we have a general understanding of the pastor as public theologian. In what follows, let us look briefly at three specific ways that pastors can function as public theologians for the good of their church and their world.

1) Pastors can publicly speak the truth in love on all kinds of ethical matters.

John the Baptist is a major forerunner in this regard. Consider the account of his death in Matthew 14:

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” (Matthew 14:1-4 ESV)

John sets a bold example for us in calling public sin to account. This example of ethical courage is for pastors and leaders of God’s church. We minister in continuity with John the Baptist. He is the original herald of Jesus Christ. He had no pulpit to call his own, but his work was the pastor’s work in its essence. John preached the truth. The truth is no respecter of feelings. The truth is no respecter of monarchs. The truth is no respecter of public/private divides. As Shakespeare said, the truth will out. If we were to put it more biblically, the truth must out.

We do not have the option, then, of quieting our theological witness on certain matters. Where wrong is being committed, the truth compels us to confront it. Where sin is being practiced, the truth inspires us to denounce it. Where evil is flourishing, the truth moves us to oppose it. This holds whether we are counseling a young believer with bad Internet surfing habits, discipling a world-making politician caught in a sinful relationship, or preaching to a church body perplexed by transgender identity. The truth is theological in nature, but it does not stop there. When it makes contact with the world, it creates an ethical witness. Pastors have no choice but to fill this role.

The gospel of Jesus Christ has fitted every pastor to call out sin and to promote goodness. This is not necessarily a complex calling. Ethical issues surely take on complexity, but at base, the ministry of John the Baptist that ends his life is a simple one. Pastors need not have written a dissertation on Reinhold Niebuhr’s applied theology of depravity to be fitted for public witness on matters of sin and righteousness. They need to know Scripture. They need to have a biblically informed conscience. Then, they need to search their world and see where Herod still reigns, and where he must be opposed and called to repentance.

2) Pastors can train their people to be salt and light.

No text more speaks to this sense of identity than the call to be salt and light of the Sermon on the Mount.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).

This means that as a pastor, you are called to equip your people to be salt and light. This in turn necessitates that you train them in knowing how to be a set-apart Christian. This sort of training comes by hearing sermons, week after week, that describe and differentiate the Christian as a blood-bought witness of Christ. It is also crucial that the church body understand that it needs no degree, no credential, and no voice from heaven to be activated as an embodiment of salt and light in their community, their world.

We discussed this in terms of William Wilberforce in the introduction. Wilberforce was not a pastor. But he was profoundly moved by the preaching and activism of John Newton and John Venn. If there was no Newton, there would have been no Wilberforce. No Venn, no Wilberforce. It is this simple in historical terms. If we would have the slave trade ended, we would need not only a high-flown politician of sterling talent and an enviable network, but a preacher of the Word. The Word is what made Wilberforce what he became. Sermons were his diet. Exposition was his food. He practiced public ethics because his pastor and his mentor commended and preached public theology as the Bible presented it.

Newton awoke a young Wilberforce to the evils of the slave trade in 1787. On October 28, a Sunday, the two men had a lengthy conversation that led Wilberforce to pen a now-famous entry in his diary. “God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.” We do not know the specifics of the conversation that preceded this momentous—and ultimately predictive—statement, but it is clear that Newton exercised a powerful effect on his young charge. The very next day, Wilberforce contacted the Quakers, who were known for their persistent if underappreciated campaign to end slavery. Clearly, through Newton’s vibrant pastoral counsel, God set the wheels of history in motion.[7]

Newton continued to talk with Wilberforce over the years, and the politician came to hear him preach at St. Mary’s Woolnoth in London. In the late-1780s, Newton wrote the famous pamphlet Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade, testified before Parliament on the horrors of slavery, and supported the burgeoning abolitionist cause among evangelicals. He was a powerful force in British society for the cause of abolition and lended Wilberforce no small amount of aid in his work.

But it was Venn who provided Wilberforce with a steady diet of pulpit instruction. Were every person to live godly, Venn once thundered, “No scenes of cruelty would shock the eye; no cry of oppression would wound the ear. Tyranny and slavery would be only remembered with a sigh that human nature should once have suffered them.”[8] Every person did not live in such a way, however, and so it was the duty of Christians to show the world the virtues of faith:

Benevolence towards our fellow-creatures will produce [true religion] by depriving the heart of every angry passion, and leading us to sympathize in all the happiness of our fellow-creatures. The hope of glory will gild every prospect in life, and render all its afflictions light. Trust in God will impart abiding comfort to us, “for God will keep him in perfect peace who trusteth in him.” Above all, the love of God is an unceasing source of happiness; for this will make us satisfied with every dispensation of our Heavenly Father, and gladden our hearts in the view of his infinite goodness.[9]

These swatches of Venn’s preaching show that his heart was attuned to human suffering and the need of justice in the world. He did not hold back from preaching on ethical matters relevant to his Clapham context. In one famous address for the Church Missionary Society, he suggested rhetorically that Christians had done much to advance the cause of justice in the world:

Was a single hospital founded through their persuasion? Were schools provided through their suggestions for instruction of the inferior orders? Did they bear testimony against slavery? Or was the civil state of the poor at all meliorated by their labours? [10]

Venn preached directly against the slave trade. Yet his sermons also suggest that the primary way that believers could influence their context was by living godly lives characterized by love, hope, and trust. This life was no mere exercise in piety, but was anchored in the very nature of Almighty God.[11]

This pulpit ministry moved parishioners like Wilberforce to action. Yet the young man came to see that many Christians did not have what he had. Believers had too often seen their faith as inherently private and thus without connection to the greater struggles unfolding in their world. In his famous book, A Practical View of Christianity, Wilberforce decried the severing of theology from ethics in his native land:

The fatal habit of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, and as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment.[12]

It is appropriate to read this passage as a verdict on the sleeping consciences of English Christians. Why did so few speak out against slavery and the slave trade? Why were the Quakers a lone voice years before the Clapham Sect mobilized against these evils? There are likely numerous factors, but a crucial one is this: the church’s doctrinal interest was weak. Where this happens, as Wilberforce notes, “the moral system itself” also begins “to wither and decay,” for it has been “robbed” of its ballast.

This is a powerful charge from a wise man. If the pulpit is theologically weak and ethically disengaged, the church’s call to be salt and light in a decaying, darkening world will go unheeded. The people will focus on their 401ks, their vacations, their school sports. Their faith will shrink. They will embrace “prosperity lite” theology such that they come to think that Christianity is fundamentally about their security and comfort. They will lose sight of the fact that they have been appointed as gospel agents in their communities, and that if they go silent, few exist who can take up the work.

The pastor is the one who stands against these woeful trends. The pastor must fundamentally and continually remind the people of their distinct identity and their divine calling. We are not here for ourselves, the pastor must regularly preach. We are here for the lost, and we are called to work while there is day to oppose evil and promote righteousness.

In this way, the pastor avoids making the pulpit political in the stereotypical way. He does not usually comment on ballot initiatives and candidates. But he is fearless in forming in his people the theistic and ethical convictions embedded in the Word. He is unapologetic about calling sins both ancient and modern what they are. He nurtures his people’s instinct for justice, debasing injustice wherever appropriate—social, racial, economic, and otherwise. Like Newton with the young Wilberforce, he offers counsel to his congregants that helps them probe the dimensions of their vocations and callings.

He does not hold back from encouraging his people to be who they already are in Jesus Christ: salt and light.

3) Pastors can call their people to love their neighbors.

In Mark 12:31, Jesus details the second greatest commandment, the one that follows from the first: loving God with everything you have. Jesus tells his disciples that “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Christianity suffers from a malnourished doctrine of “neighbor-love.” Such a doctrine does indeed mean baking cookies and befriending our neighbors, each a revolutionary action in a world that celebrates bowling alone. But it means much more than this. There is a world of activity and agency in the second commandment. We would be advised, like the crew of a spaceship in a Christopher Nolan space epic, to explore this world.

Texts like James 1:27 illuminate what neighbor-love can and should look like. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father,” James says, “is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” If we would claim to walk purely before God, we must be practicing “actional” faith. The Lord wants our faith to have an edge, to be directed in some way at those who cannot care for themselves. Christian faith is not only vertical, aimed toward the heavens. Christian faith is aimed at the whole world.

We cannot singlehandedly “change the world,” as we are sometimes told. We yearn to instantaneously overcome evil and instantiate goodness, but we are finite, limited creatures. So much of what is wrong in our realm will only be made right by Christ when he comes in glory. Until he does, however, God intends for us to be reaching into the darkness. He wants us to love our neighbor not only by speaking, but by acting on their behalf. He wants us not simply to critique the darkness, but to plunge into it.

We do so not as lone rangers, but as the church, led by faithful pastors. As the pastor preaches the whole counsel of God, he builds the convictional framework of his people. The gospel creates ethics. The people, in turn, begin to see in ways great and small how they can love their neighbor. They can volunteer at a homeless shelter, counsel abortion-minded women at clinics, mentor fatherless boys in their neighborhood, start a soccer league for struggling teens, and invite refugees from war-torn countries to their homes for dinner. None of these actions will likely make the evening news. None of them require a massive programmatic structure or even budgetary investment on the church’s part. All of these and many other forms of neighbor-love are small, incidental, humble, and gospel-driven. All of them are deeply meaningful.

As the church hears about such efforts, and prays for members who are loving their neighbors near and far, a cycle of investment begins. The gospel is seen not as a means to an end, but a message that creates a way of life. As this happens, the church shows the world that Christ’s body is a dynamic, others-centered institution. More than this, it reveals that it is not a culture, but the true culture. As Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon have argued, it demonstrates that it “embodies a social alternative that the world cannot on its own terms know.”[13]

TRUE CULTURE IS OFTEN COUNTER-CULTURE

If pastors do not preach the true culture, then no one will. This is the essential reality of our modern situation: voices who speak for the permanent things, who advocate for the good, true, and beautiful in the public realm, are disappearing. In days past in America, pastors could assume that a coalition of institutions and individuals stood alongside them in their work to strengthen marriages, help the weak, rescue the fatherless, and champion the good of the family.

Today, there are fewer and fewer like-minded partners in the public square. Our government looms ever larger, suggesting in a friendly but insistent voice that it can solve our problems, fix our families, and cure our ills. With hesitation, and a vague sense that this might not be a good choice, we cede it the ground it requests. With resignation, we sigh, Sure, government. You can fix my problems. You can teach my children sexual ethics. You can regulate my home. That’s fine—after all, who else is offering to help?

Christians increasingly buy into this mindset, failing to see that Caesar offers us not only a political program, but a theological system. The state can be our god, and our friend. The state can be our salvation. The state can give us meaning. The state is ready and eager to teach us theology, a theology of itself. If we doubt this tendency on the part of the state, we must reconsider the lessons of the totalitarian twentieth-century. Have Whittaker Chambers, Hannah Arendt, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn spoken—and suffered—for nothing?

When Caesar encroaches, Christians go numb. Pastors stop forming principles in their people borne of Scripture. They leave it to other voices to shape their people. But the church today must rouse itself. Pastors today are tempted to think that they need not equip their people for public-square witness. That, they have been told, is the job of professional ethicists. They do not see that they have been appointed by God to stand on the front lines of theological and ethical formation. The view that others will take up the public cross we are called to carry is a fiction, a pleasing illusion. In reality, those who would stand for the good, true, and beautiful are vanishing like shadows passing on the mountains.

Let us make this as practical as we can.

  • If pastors will not speak for marriage, who will?
  • If pastors will not speak for the unborn baby, who will?
  • If pastors will not equip the congregation to reach the fatherless young men who tear up their communities out of anger, who will?
  • If pastors will not speak a word on behalf of religious liberty, but will allow it to be taken from them with nary a word, who will?
  • If pastors will not instruct the youth of the congregation in biblical sexual ethics, views directly opposed by the culture, who will?

Let us see a generation of pastors who does not go quietly into the night. Let us witness a generation of pastors proclaim the whole counsel of God from Scripture, forming their people both theologically and ethically as they do so. The pulpit is not political. But the pulpit must be convictional. We are not yet a people weakened by the state, crippled by Caesar, as pastors were in Germany and Russia and China in the twentieth-century. They lost their voice. They could not offer protest. They could not equip the church to be what it fundamentally is: a witness, a sign and symbol of the true culture, and the dwelling-place of God.

In a fallen world, the true culture must often be a counter-culture. It must make the case that a secular kingdom does not want it to make. It must, like Christ and the apostle Paul, offer protest against injustice (John 18:23; Acts 22). We must not muzzle ourselves, for the prophets and apostles did not do so. We must make our case and preach the gospel. As long as we have strength, we must speak and act as the true culture. By our word and congregational witness, we must be a counter-culture to bring life to a secular culture that is in many respects an anti-culture.

CONCLUSION

Filling this role will be a lonely task. It was for William Wilberforce. It was for John Venn. We laud Wilberforce today for his successful campaign, but he paid a mighty price for it. We note Venn’s name, but he is unknown today, forgotten despite his epoch-making influence.

But as we think about Venn, and about Newton, we are reminded that the cause of Christ is a humble one. It is not a call to glory. It is a call to self-sacrifice. It is a call to be a man of conscience, unafraid of what the world may do, unashamed of the gospel. It is a summons to equip the church to be salt and light, to love its neighbor, to collectively seek and pray for the advancement of the kingdom over every corner of the earth.

The pastor who preaches for the transformation of his people is equipping them for service in this life that will echo into eternity. As he forms the doctrine and ethics of his flock, he is pleasing the Lord. To return to our original query, he is passing the Wilberforce test, preaching such that his people can plunge into the darkness.

The question before us today is this: will we?

Editor’s note: This essay is an expansion of the author’s talk at T4G 2014: “The Pastor as Public Theologian in an Increasingly Hostile Culture.” In 2015, he has a book coming out on this topic with Kevin Vanhoozer entitled, The Pastor as Public Theologian (Brazos, 2015).

*****

[1] See Jonathan Aitken, John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace (Crossway, 2003), 314-17; Eric Metaxas, William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (HarperOne, 2007), 185.

[2] R. Albert Mohler Jr., He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 106.

[3] Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville: B&H, 2012), xi.

[4] Mohler, He Is Not Silent, 107.

[5] See John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.6.1.

[6] William H. Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (Abingdon, 2002), 209.

[7] See Jonathan Aitken, John Newton, 309-312.

[8] John Venn, “Godliness Profitable to All Things,” Sermons of the Rev. John Venn, M. A., Rector of Clapham, Three Volumes in Two, vol. II (Boston: R. P. & C. Williams, S. Etheridge, 1822), 22.

[9] John Venn, “On the Nature of True Religion,” Sermons, 247.

[10] “John Venn—The Forgotten Center of the Clapham Sect,” Kairos Journal, accessible at http://kairosjournal.org/document.aspx?DocumentID=5092&QuadrantID=2&CategoryID=10&TopicID=17&L=1.

[11] Venn also derived into more directly political matters at times. Wilberforce sometimes took Venn’s sermons home with him as a guide to thinking through governmental policy. See Michael Hennel, John Venn and the Clapham Sect (London: Lutterworth Press, 1958), 198.

[12] William Wilberforce, A Practical View of Preferred Christianity (Cosimo, 2005), 205. Originally published as A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes, Contrasted with Real Christianity (1820).

[13] Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 17–18.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

see+no+evilThe very public failing of Mark Driscoll and the troubles faced by Mars Hill have been discussed repeatedly. While reports seem to demonstrate that Driscoll was overly arrogant and abusive towards many who were under him, I don’t believe that he bears the majority of the blame for the problems Mars Hill is facing. The failure at Mars Hill was caused both by Driscoll’s actions and the actions of a majority of elders who refused to hold him accountable. While I believe that Driscoll’s failings were very serious, I believe that the greater failure was that of the elders who failed to hold him accountable; Driscoll could not have caused the damage he did at Mars Hill if good men had not chosen to do nothing. If Driscoll’s sin had been addressed by the elders years ago, he might have repented, matured, and still be a leader of a healthy and thriving church today. Because of Driscoll’s celebrity status and the failure of the elders to act, those outside of the church, who have demonstrated a hatred for both what Mars Hill was doing wrong as well as for what Mars Hill was doing right, gained a foothold that began a witch hunt that propped up every accusation, legitimate or not, against Driscoll until both he and the church were destroyed. The damage at Mars Hill was far greater because the sin was ultimately addressed by those who wanted nothing more than to see the church destroyed rather than by those who should have addressed it in love. However, before we place too much blame on the leaders of Mars Hill, we should recognize that the problems that led to the downfall of Mars Hill are not unique. Ignoring spiritually abusive actions by those in leadership is a problem that arises far to often in many churches today. And, just like at Mars Hill, our silence is allowing many to be driven away from our churches. We need to remember that the damage done by abusive leaders who are not held accountable is just as troubling when it happens in our own churches. We need to be asking questions like:  Are our own churches are tolerating the same kind of abuses that were tolerated at Mars Hill? Do similar issues in our own churches remain unaddressed only because no one committing these kinds offenses has the celebrity status that would attract the attention of those outside the church? And most importantly, will I stand up and be counted in the face of issues like these at my own church or will I do nothing and allow evil to triumph?

 

For the Kingdom of God

Paul GarnerWritten by Paul Garner (His blog can be found here)

As Christians we try to influence our society for the Kingdom of God much like yeast or leaven influences a batch of dough hopefully becoming bread. In doing so we are often in a struggle about whether we Christians are influencing society or if society is actually influencing us.

Recently I heard a Christian woman justify her affair with the phrase, “You don’t know the whole story”. Even more recently we have heard that a pastor of a large evangelical, charismatic church has come out to support the gay lifestyle including involving gay people at every level of his very large church. The context seems to imply that gays in his church are eligible for all levels of leadership including pastor. The pastor has a tremendous heart for people especially young people. “When a married man in a congregation has an adulterous affair with another woman—and he’s confronted about it—we don’t have suicides as a result. But, we do have teenagers committing suicides at higher rates when they are part of congregations that have these exclusionary teachings about homosexuality. Is this really the teaching of Jesus when our exclusion of people is contributing to a rise in suicide?”

The problem with this pastor’s view and the view of the woman above and many others claiming to follow Jesus is that they are defining God and God’s Word through their emotions and experience. Instead they should be defining their experience of life by the Word of God.

When we come to Christ we hear of His Love for us and how he gave His life for us that we may have eternal life. How do we know this? We found it in the Word of God. We trust our eternal destiny on what we believe is actually the living and active Word and words that have come to us from the Living God.

Still though we put our faith in the Christ of the Bible as savior some people stop there and live as though the rest of the Word and words of the Living God are irrelevant because they don’t line up with how they feel.

Consider what Jesus might have said to the woman who was brought to him having been caught committing adultery (John 8). Jesus asks “Where are those who condemn you?” “There is no one.” she answers. “Neither do I condemn you. Go on. Continue as you were. I know that life is hard for you and that you have good reasons for why you do this.” Is that what He said? Jesus, who loves all people and gave His life for everyone without bias or favor, did he say that to her? The Word of God says that Jesus told her “Go and sin no more”. Jesus demonstrates that Love speaks strong words about what is right and wrong. Jesus loves completely but He also calls people to a life without sin. I believe that Jesus would be found in Gay bars and at Gay parties. He loves people. But He would not be there to affirm their sin but to call them out of it. He is the great physician. It is not the healthy that need a doctor (Matt 9:12) but those who are sick. He was accused by those who thought themselves righteous of hanging out with all sorts of sinners. I love that about Him. But while He does not condemn He still does not condone.

The problem with many in the Body of Christ who are trying to bring the Kingdom in the world is that too often they bring love without truth. They allow human experience to determine what God meant rather than applying the Word of God that they claim to believe in to life and experience. The same Word of God where we find our invitation to eternal life through Christ. It’s either all the Word of God and worthy of our obedience and faith or it is nothing but literature and our eternal destiny is a sham.

Most of us are familiar with 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul writes that even though we possess all knowledge and practice all of the spiritual gifts but don’t have love we are useless. And so some people may take this out of the context of the whole Word of God and say Love is all there is and that’s the end of it. There is no call for righteousness. In 1 Corinthians 6, the same letter and same author, Paul writes this, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” And so we have the same author in the same letter to the same church writing about lifestyles that will not inherit the Kingdom of God as well as loving people with a passionate love as Jesus did. Some will over emphasize one or the other and some may exclude one or the other. However, if we trust that the Bible is the Word of God then we must accept that both chapters are true and both are God’s Word.

The odd part to me is that somehow Christians can feel comfortable carving out homosexuality from this list in 1 Cor 6 for special treatment because of pressure from our society or maybe because they have a friend or family member living that lifestyle and leave the others as conventional lists of sins. Even though most of these other lifestyles are portrayed daily in the common entertainment media, no Christian leaders I know are coming out claiming that adultery and other immorality is acceptable as a lifestyle for church leaders. That’s just crazy business.

How can someone rationally say that the Bible that tells us that Jesus died for us to give us access to eternal life by faith in Him is the true Word of God and then not accept the rest of the Bible as God’s Word and apply it? This makes no sense.

We know that Jesus invites all of us to confess our sin, turn away from it and trust Him for our eternal life. No one is outside of this invitation. But we cannot deny our sin and still accept His invitation. 1 John 1:8-10 “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” Homosexuality is not different than other sins. All sin leads to death. Homosexuals are not different than other sinners like us. They can accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross and join him in eternity in the same way as all other sinners.

The Bible also tells us in 2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

Make sure that those leaders you are paying attention to are teaching properly from the Word of God, all of it. We must reach out to our culture with the Good News of God’s love for all but we cannot exclude parts of the story that make people uncomfortable. Jesus had to die for us because we are all sinners. We must all repent and confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father.

Are Christian Hip Hop artists disobedient cowards?

Holy Hip HopThe response to a question about the legitimacy of “Holy Hip Hop” from a panel hosted by the National Center for Family-integrated churches erupted into a social media firestorm this past week. The views of the panel can be summed up in the following statement made by Geoff Botkin, he said And what concerns me about this so called art form, it is a picture of weakness and surrender on the part of people who think that they are serving God and they’re not. They are serving their own flesh, they’re caving into the world, they’re disobedient cowards! They are not willing to engage in the fight that needs to be engaged.” The panel’s harsh criticism of “Holy Hip Hop” has incited a number of responses from men like Mike Cosper, Ligon Ducan, Carl and Karen Ellis, Paige Patterson, Owen Strachan, Jonathan AkinBrian Davis, and others. What was the heart of this controversy? It was not about the message communicated by these Hip Hop artists (something the panelists acknowledged was doctrinally sound), it was wholly about the style in which it was being presented. The heart of this controversy goes far beyond questions about the legitimacy of “Holy Hip Hop.” At the center of this controversy is a much bigger question, a question that every minister of the Gospel must ask: What are valid expressions of contextualization in Christian ministry?

It is critically important that we do not confuse our cultural standards with the Gospel message. We must be uncompromisingly committed to upholding the truth of the Gospel in all our teaching but we must do so without imposing our own cultural biases on those who come from other cultural backgrounds. We need to remember that we, as Christians, are called to share only the Gospel of Christ. When we elevate our own cultural standards to the same level as the Gospel, we alienate the people around us and draw attention away from the Gospel message we are called to share.

Proper contextualization of the Gospel message is something with which we all must wrestle. Too little contextualization hinders the spread of the Gospel message by imposing barriers that Scripture does not impose. When we suggest that obedience to Christ requires one to abandon a particular style of music, kind of food, style of dress, etc… we have imposed a standard not given in Scripture and have raised an unnecessary barrier to the Gospel. At the same time we must remember that too much contextualization can so compromise the truth of the Gospel that the message of the Gospel itself is lost. While the Hip Hop style of music itself does not compromise the Gospel message, there are aspects of Hip Hop culture that do and we must be willing to abandon those aspects of culture that stand in opposition to the Gospel. For instance, we can praise our Lord with the sound of Hip Hop but the lyrics of many secular Hip Hop songs truly do not belong on the lips of those who proclaim faith in Christ.

The Worship of God Q&A: Holy Hip-Hop from NCFIC on Vimeo.