A pastor I know recently told me that he was criticized for being “too political.” He has heard such an indictment throughout his ministry, he said. Today he leads a major ministry in the U.S. battling daily for the rights of pastors to speak so that believers can speak. His prophetic word upsets the establishment. His voice is prophetic. His heart is pastoral. Can the two coexist?
I have heard similar charges in my ministry through the years. I accept the critique. However, if the matter is important, I am compelled to address it in preaching or writing, and I believe that is just being pastoral to God’s people. I cannot compartmentalize the Lordship of Christ to only one area of life. He is Lord of all.
Is it right that pastors should remain silent about important matters in society that are being debated in the public square because someone is trying to establish in our culture that there is no place in politics for religious beliefs or moral convictions that have been born out of a faith commitment? Because people squirm when sin is exposed in politics or culture, does it mean we should refrain from preaching? No. It may mean just the opposite.
Is a pastor solely limited to sharing the gospel to his flock on Sunday mornings? Or was the late Dr. John Stott right that one of our identities as gospel preachers, in a faithful biblical portrait of a pastor, is a “herald”? The pastor is not a prophet, yet he most certainly does carry a prophetic voice and speaks with biblical authority to other Beast-like powers when there are souls at risk or the honor of Christ and His Church is under siege.
I have an intuitive concern that the liberal professor who won’t let the young believer raise her hand in a state university and speak from her conviction is now trying to govern public discourse. Well, I am not governed by political correctness that has been born out of a liberal educational system or by the pressure of a liberal press but by the one and only true God. The public square is not the university professor’s classroom nor is it the TV news studio. This is my Father’s world. Therefore, I speak, and I speak publicly, as the Lord gives an open door, through media, because I am compelled by compassion for souls that may be victims of systems that will ultimately enslave them.
I believe that pastors must speak to our declining culture. I am pastorally concerned that that there are dangerous idols masquerading under the banner of politics in this increasingly secularized culture. These heaven-rejected powers prefer that we keep quiet. But when the powers move beyond the Machiavellian machinations of politics to the advocacy of principles at odds with God’s Word we must call them out.
The prophets and church fathers of old spoke forth concerning the actions of governments, individuals yielding power, and the idols of culture. Our Lord Jesus did when he said of Herod “Go tell that Fox” (Luke 13:32), St. Paul did, the church fathers did, and the Reformers did. In the 20th Century I thank God that J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) was not afraid to speak to the ungodliness in his culture (read Stephen Nichols’ fine biography). And what of Bonhoeffer? Solzhenitsyn? Martin Luther King, Jr.? Today pastors like Ugandan Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi preach against the powers of darkness, expose evil in government, and even in churches in our own nation as missionaries to America, and warn people while compassionately inviting them to Christ. Why? Because pastors are like watchmen on the wall (Ezekiel 33) required by God to sometimes warn of coming danger, even if others cry “Off limits!” To do otherwise is to be disobedient to our calling. God says if there is harm to his people because the watchmen were silent they will have the blood of the people on their hands. This is a sobering warning to pastors and trumps any criticism of being “too political.”
Yet the challenge of discernment is acknowledged. What must we do?
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Dr. Michael Milton is the president of Reformed Theological Seminary.