I have a presentation that I call What Is The Mess We Are In And How Did We Get Here? In the presentation, I review the history of western churches over the last 150 years, how they reacted to the non-Christians who were attacking the integrity of the Bible. An all-to-common reaction was for Christians to retreat into the sanctity of the church rather than deal with the difficult issues they encountered in the world.
The result was predictable. If the Christians remove themselves from public discourse, they take their moral compass with them, and the only people left to direct society were those who fundamentally disagreed with Christian positions. Over much of the last hundred years, the cycle increasingly got worse, with skeptics increasing their attack on the Bible, and Christians either capitulating and agreeing the Bible is filled with error, or staunchly holding to the integrity of the scriptures while avoiding the problems by hiding from the world. The thought was that if Christians stay to the spiritual issues presented in the Bible, we will be safe and holy. The end result was either the liberals who capitulated about the Bible and watered down the gospel, or conservatives who held to truth of the gospel while avoiding all issues in the world.
The result was that both sides of Christianity, both liberal and conservative, allowed the world to fall apart. Christians removed ourselves from all public discourse that would influence the world in a Godly direction. On the liberal side, we can hold up the example of John Spong, who, while holding himself to be Christian, systematically denied every major doctrine of the faith, and most of the minor ones, too (see here). On the conservative side, we can hold up the myriad of Christian leaders who think it good and proper to not try to influence society, but think all we should do is teach the parts of the Bible that focus on regenerating sinners. These people somehow ignore the Bible passages that teach us to publicly engage a lost sinful world.
This week I heard a very talented young man give an excellently-delivered sermon. He was well-prepared, had obviously studied his topic, and gave an excellent presentation of the good news we find in Jesus. It was also one of the most unpleasant, distasteful sermons I have heard in a very long time. In the course of the message, we were told that all discourse with a lost world was empty arguing, and that all attempts to improve the morals of society were legalism.
While I applaud all attempts to give a clear presentation of the good news found in Jesus, I also find messages like the one I heard this week to be pietism, not piety. Are we not to engage the lost world to help make it a better place? According to this speaker, no we are not, for all such attempts are arguing and legalism, which he repeatedly denounced. He confused legalism with our obligations as Christians. Legalism is teaching others that rule-following will get them into a right relationship with God, while God’s command to Christians is to influence society because it is the right thing to do.
The speaker’s type of pietism thinks we are wasting our time getting involved in worldly issues. It sounds so spiritual, does it not? Let’s just focus on letting God regenerate lost sinners. But how would we apply such an idea? Are we to ignore sex trafficking? Are we to not speak against wives getting beat up by their husbands? Is it sinful for us to lobby government to reduce the raping of children? As Christians, do we not have a message that can help marriage, venereal disease, alcoholism, suicide, discrimination, and single parenting? What about pornography and voluntary child killing (abortion)? Are we to be silent on these issues, not offering the world a moral compass that they have long since lost?
No one is saying that we will fix society with human effort alone. Romans 3:23 is true, and no amount of human effort will get us closer to God. But we can make the world a better place to to do evangelism, and we can help people because it is the right thing to do. We can refute error in public as the Bible commands us to do. We can only help people eternally by introducing them to Christ, but we can help people temporally by introducing them to His ideas.
Why should we focus on issues? In my municipality, just within the last two years, there has been a struggle after the government issued a legal statement demanding all pastors to submit sermon messages to the government attorneys if their pulpit messages spoke about a recent law allowing men dressed as women to use women’s bathing rooms at swimming pools. Regardless of our personal feelings about gender confusion, think about it: the government wanted pre-approval rights of sermon messages, and the response from the speaker I heard was to not reason with the world, not engage in moral discourse with non-believers. Are we to remain pious until our rights to speak in public are gone?
Lest we think it is Biblical to lock our minds away into exclusively pietistic Bible study, I submit the following clear scriptural messages, all of which tell us to do the exact opposite of the message I heard this week:
–“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” (1 Cor. 10:5)
–“A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.” (2 Tim. 2:24-25)
–“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how to answer each one.” (Col. 4:5-6)
–“I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3)
–“. . . he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:7
–“When [Apollos] arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.” (Acts 18:27-28)
–“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15
There are more, but you get the idea. Bluntly, the teaching that we should “not argue nor give legalism” toward those outside the church is a one-sided view of the scriptures born out of a misguided attempt to be pious. The speaker I heard gave a very Calvinist gospel presentation, but followed with an incorrect teaching toward those who are outside the church. Such is reformed theology gone to seed, for this is not the teaching of such men as D. James Kennedy nor B. B. Warfield, both of which held to reformed theology but thought it our job to engage false ideas head on.
Luckily there are some teachers today that understand the true biblical position. In today’s radio broadcast of Pathway To Victory, Robert Jeffress told us “Jesus said ‘as my representatives on earth today, you are to be salt. You are to be a preservative in this culture. You are to keep this world from prematurely imploding so that people have longer to accept the gospel.'”
Jeffress is correct, and the young man I heard this week is painfully misguided.