After the 2016 election I was struck by how churches responded to their various congregants reactions to the election. I say struck, I mean disappointed, angry even. It seemed to me based on the reactions of both parties the election was like a ancient near east clash of the gods. Each army had lined up, and sent out their Goliath. Champions of this sort represented not just their army but the deity of the present company. For the Philistines it was Dagon, Egyptians Ra, Israel YHWH, and so on. This then meant that when the champion was defeated, not only was the nation possibly defeated, but so was their god. And in the showdown between Hillary and Trump one deity was defeated and the other prevailed. And the people acted accordingly. On one side jubilation: praises sung, parades, gloating. On the other nothing short of weeping and gnashing of teeth if not some in sackcloth and ashes. It did not help that both sides had spoken of themselves in messianic terms. And all of this brought in to specific relief what many of us had known for years; People are idolaters, they worship, and the objects of their worship in 2016 were by in large, power, and a particular candidate of their choosing. The trouble arose for me in how the church at large responded. Telling one side to calm down and be nice (If not patronizing them for their wrong choice) and rushing with a hanky to pat the boo boo of the other. None of these responses do I think were right.
Wherein you Begin to Understand why I am not Invited to Preach very Often
Given the opportunity I would not have preached one of the many sermons I heard that were full of comfort for, “the people of God.” In my view we have church buildings filled with idolators. They must be called to repent. The truly converted should be held by their profession of faith. The unregenerate should be shown their grotesque idols in all their horror (And in that election it was not as if either candidate were anything less than grotesque) and called to turn and be welcomed to Jesus Christ.
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” – Martin Luther Thesis 1 (of 95)
Repentance we don’t want to make
There are safe things to confess in the church and then try to repent of. Which makes me want to paraphrase the Prophet Yoda “Repent or do not, there is no try.” Among those safe things are, porn, racism (perceived and actual), sexism (perceived and actual), toxic masculinity, and being a big ole meanie head. I’m sorry, I mean being insensitive, I’m working on this. Things that rarely get brought up* to instruct a congregation to repent of are, shacking, feminism, ingratitude, gossip, drunkenness, socialism (government theft), men who are soft, and idolatry in all it’s forms. Preaching that exposes these idols would get a pastor fired pretty quickly. If one is so bold as to once a year pull his punches one any one of theses sins he is liable to get an inbox full of rebuke on Monday.
I have been teaching the Bible now for nearly twenty years and I have never had a person come to me and say, “Thank you for showing me that I am only evil always, because my heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, thank you!” It has never happened. I could easily throw the decisionist revivalists under the bus here for being too hard and we don’t want to come off like them. Obviously though my thoughts lie elsewhere. Not only is preaching true repentance not popular, it is hard work. And I suspect that the reason it is avoided or punches are pulled is described well by Lewis Allen:
“A few years later, I would learn that to become a preacher was to enter the company of men who seemed to attract trouble without looking for it.” – Lewis Allen, The Preachers Catechism
Why kick a hornets nest when the denizens therein are already giving you the stink eye?
Returning to the Subject at Hand
We got into this hole by not preaching true repentance consistently. Congregations are not primed to repentance. They are not even primed for statements of objective truths, especially if those truths conflict with their personal “truth” or opinions. In short they are used to encouragement, chiding, occasional gentle correction or to put it Biblically, flattery.
“But nowadays, of course, our ears are made so sensitive by the mad multitude of flatterers that as soon as we find that we are not praised in all things, we cry out that people are vicious; and when we cannot ward off the truth under any other guise, we escape from it under the pretext of the snappishness, impatience, and immoderateness of its defenders. What good does salt do if it does not bite? What good does the edge of the sword do if it does not cut? Cursed be the man who does the work of the Lord deceitfully!” – Luther, What Luther Says, 1057
I do not think that pastors are so stupid as to not know these things, nor are they incapable of following Scripture to it’s logical applications. My concern is that we have spent years with instruction on church growth and none of it has been more than lip service to faithfully preach the word in season and out and to trust God to build his church. Faithful seems to mean more about successfully directing programs and bums in seats than, well, faithfulness.
Let me give an example. Ingratitude may be confronted as a sin on the level of not showing gratitude to your barista by tipping well. And while this point is valid and frankly not enough Christians do that. This is still a fairly shallow application. Because Christians who are actually grateful to God can not vote for a socialist, or a pro choice candidate. Progressivism is based on ingratitude. It is sin. If has a laser like focus on what it does not possess, it is envy politicized. Pro choice people do not see a human in the womb as a live given by God, it sees it as future selfishness denied. It directs the woman to look at all she will not have as opposed to what she currently has, A being pulsating with the life that made the universe.** Socialism does not direct the person to take stock of what they have and give thanks to the God who gives them their every breath. Tomorrow is not promised. Instead it looks to what others have, which historically the church has called blessings, renames it privilege, and seeks to use the sword of government to steal.
Gratitude is kryptonite to progressivism, and the left knows it. Why else are riots over the existence of a day of thanks starting to spring up? The risk that people might even consider in a cursory way that they have been blessed is anathema. And the tragedy is if a pastor ascended to the sacred desk and delivered a word from the Lord like this he would be blasted as a partizan, trying to politicize, and a party hack.
Consider, why is it that we don’t hear sermons that actually motivate us to end end abortion? Could it be that the fear of man is causing obligatory sermons to be flat and impotent?
I am not sure where abouts it became wrong for a pastor to preach a truth and attack a sin when it offended someone, or a political party. Perhaps it is the fear that the bugaboo the IRS might take away the coveted tax exempt status. And while loosing that would certainly make the life of a church far more difficult. I have the voice of Francis Schaffer in the back of my mind asking, “Why are you a Christian? What is loyalty to Christ worth to you?”
Loyalty to Christ
It must never be forgotten that truth is not an abstract concept. Truth is a person.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 (emphasis added)
Our allegiance as Christians is to Christ. Politics can sometimes align with the Truth, in fact sometimes a particular party is more in line than another (I might suggest that it is the party against baby murder and property theft). But Truth is our God and we worship there not at the alter of Demos, the god of the people. Pastors who fear man will have churches that reflect them. Rather than an embassy of the Heavenly Kingdom. They will be compromised, assimilated to the world, not salt and light. Or, just like evangelicalism today.
Dutschke’s long march though the institutions has not overlooked the church. And though it is joked that the American church is ten years behind the rest of the world. That is really something that should concern us more. It simply means that the march is ongoing in our midst and we are nearing the terminus.
I don’t say fear though. I said concerned, and that should not be overlooked. The most frequent command in Scripture is “Fear not.”
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” – 2 Timothy 1:7
We are not to be afraid. Not of man most certainly. We have much larger concerns.
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28
We are to have a healthy fear of God. In a small way like you would of a lion or bear. My concern is that we have, out of fear, cowed to the marchers in our pews. This is an irrational fear taking over the healthy one. And it has blurred our vision causing us to lose sight that we are assured of victory in the long run.
“…I will build my church, and the gates of hell[b] shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18
The Church is to be offensive not defensive. Cool shaming, Monday emails, cancel culture, up and though loss of funding should not separate us from a full proof preaching of Truth. The Truth is offensive, we worship a guy who got himself murdered by declaring that He is the Truth. We must align ourselves with Him. Truly worship Him. If we do this we can not fail, not eternally, the feelings and opinions of the unregenerate should not faze us. Sinners will sin. The regenerate must be taught to repent. We can not coddle their idols. The high places must be torn down. And while we are doing it can we be men enough to do better then Gideon? Let us not wait till night fall when the village is asleep. Instead, let us like Narnians not have long drawn faces, grave and mysterious, but walk with a swing let our arms and shoulders go free, chatting and laughing ready to be friends with anyone who is friendly to us not giving a fig for anyone who isn’t. The idols must be torn down but is should be done in a joyfully masculine way. Repentance is turning from sin to face Christ. A course is set and pursued, and by God’s Grace we shall arrive.
*bear in mind here I am talking about a mainstream evangelical church not the tiny ultra legalistic one you may have grown up in or interacted with on occasion in your formative years.
**Let us have no nonsense here about the exceptions of rape or incest. These are not the norm and are to be dealt with on a case by case basis (even then the answer is no, murder is murder no matter how you slice it).