When I was preaching week by week to the same congregation, one of my fundamental convictions was that I needed to keep politics out of the pulpit. Perhaps I should express that more precisely: I needed to keep party politics out of the pulpit. I was—and still am—convinced that how an individual votes at the ballot box should be shaped and informed by their Christian character as nurtured through Word, sacrament, and worship in the community of the church. But I am also convinced that the pastor’s first task is to point people to things above; and not to anathematize anyone in his congregation because of matters of earthly politics.
Of course, that is easier said than done, particularly in an era such as ours where the pre-political has been all but abolished and everything—even the color of icing on cakes—has been turned into an acrimonious political warzone. Rejecting the transcendent and seeing nothing beyond the material, we have allowed the trivia of the present to take center stage and become both the battlegrounds and the weapons of a total cultural war of all against all. In such a world, I suspect that any application one is likely to draw from the biblical text and any illustration one might choose to use are likely to run the risk of offending somebody somewhere. That is the nature of things in out tribalized world.
According to new research by the Barna organization, nowhere are pastors feeling the pressure on this point more than on matters surrounding the ethics of sexuality and of reproduction. Summarizing the research, Barna says the following:
“Interestingly, the discussions in which pastors feel limited and pressured mirror each other. They are not only afraid of offending some in their congregation, but also pressured by others to speak up on those very same topics. These hot-button issues run parallel with some of the most significant religious freedom issues of our day, including those related to the LGBT community, same-sex marriage rights, abortion, sexual morality and politics.”
This is most worrying. It is no surprise that LGBT matters are among the things pastors are most wary of addressing. The cultural tide is flowing fast against biblical convictions on these issues. And while the strange politics of the last few years have perhaps provided something of a hiatus in the speed at which the legal situation has been becoming increasingly hostile, we all know that those who criticize the new orthodoxies of identity thereby risk their public reputations. But that is surely no reason to avoid them. The stakes are simply too high and, Mayor Pete Buttigieg notwithstanding, the current politics of sexual identity are lethal to biblical Christianity. At its heart, the sexual revolution is not about sex; it is actually about what constitutes the human person and for what purpose, if any, humans exist. And to fail to make that criticism is to fail to assert a biblical anthropology and thus fatally to undermine the message of the gospel: that God in Christ triumphs over our fallenness; he does not simply affirm us in rebellion.
Yet more worrying than the specific examples cited by Barna is the more general point: pastors are frightened of offending their congregants. In part, this is a function of choice: the West, especially America, has for centuries offered a religious marketplace where churches effectively compete for customers, a mindset reinforced by the wider consumerist ethos of the post-World War II economies. And that means awareness of what the consumers will find attractive and what they will not tolerate is critical to the business of church. How many pastors have found many congregants more concerned about ‘the programs’ offered for young people than the quality of preaching or the reverence of worship?
When this market mentality comes to grip the preaching ministry, it can only end in disaster. The minister who preaches with half an eye to not offending the young people, or the members with deep pockets, or the person whose daughter had an abortion, then the temptation to avoid preaching the whole counsel of God is likely to become overwhelming. The danger to which the Barna research points is not so much the death of orthodoxy via its outright rejection but rather via careful curated silence on particular issues. Read more»
Carl R. Trueman | “Faithful Preaching In A Fashionable World” | Modern Reformation | July 30, 2021
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Recently, in our congregation, our associate pastor preached about parenting and mentioned divorce; that riled up a couple of women, one of whom was going through a rough spot in her marriage and was seeking a divorce, as a consequence. She accused him (behind his back, of course) of being unfair to women who were emotionally and verbally abused by their husbands. Divorce is still not taken seriously in the church, and her response was evidence that biblical preaching is often rejected by those who seek to follow worldly guidance on marriage and commitment.