Pastors, You Must Preach on Current Controversies (Part 1 of 3)
Back when Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code was selling like crazy, my pastor told me he would never mention it from the pulpit. He would only preach the Bible.
He and I have both moved to different cities since then. I always had great respect for this man as both a pastor and leader, and I still do. But I believe he was wrong on that — biblically wrong, even — and that he was missing a God-given opportunity to strengthen church members’ faith and witness.
Spiritual Readiness Depends on Equipping
Why does this matter so much? Four reasons:
- Church members have questions about current controversies. It’s inescapable.
- Many of these questions have significant spiritual implications.
- If church members don’t get answers at church, they’ll get them somewhere else. And then what will they be ready for?
- The Bible models question-answering — not always, but at appropriate times. True biblical preaching follows that model.
Maybe that’s enough of an explanation; maybe from this you can see how your people’s spiritual readiness depends on you — or other teachers at your church — equipping them in this way.
In case more explanation is needed, though, I have space in this article to cover the first two of these points. I’ll cover the other two in a follow-up article. Then in a third I’ll ask answer a further, important question: When should a pastor talk about these things? In order to answer that, I’ll have to touch on the how question, too, though just briefly.
Example: Abortion is More Than Just Politics
Questions are unavoidable. That’s easy enough to see. Many of them are loaded with spiritual implications. Hot topics change; this month it’s abortion. Two conservative justices were recently installed on the U.S. Supreme Court, and at least four U.S. states have enacted or at least discussed abortion options that really amount to infanticide instead. Others are restricting abortion.
Obviously that makes it a political issue, but the politics are secondary. We wouldn’t be fighting over abortion in state capitols or in the courts if it didn’t matter for other reasons.
Those reasons are tightly connected with God’s character and his word: He created humans in his image, so we all carry his stamp of created dignity upon us. Human life matters hugely. Abortion kills helpless innocents, whom God promised through the prophets he would protect.
Often abortion is a matter of the mother’s convenience, which is a horrible reason to kill anyone, but that’s not the case in every situation. It could be a matter of family conflict instead, or poverty, feeling hopeless or stuck, thinking it really is better for the baby, or thinking the child isn’t really a baby at all.
Many women who’ve had abortions feel shame already, or else expect the church will try to shame them, when in fact God’s way has to do with guilt and forgiveness, not shame and worthlessness.
So should you teach on abortion?
The answer to that begins with the questions. Does it matter that humans are made in God’s image? Do unborn babies matter? Do families matter? Does it matter whether we choose to do right, even if those choices are really, really hard? Do guilt and forgiveness matter?
And isn’t it likely that church members are asking these kinds of questions, when the whole rest of the country is, too?
The Spiritually Significant Questions of Sexuality and Gender
Something very similar could be said about other controversies. I’ll dwell on one more for just a moment. The Bible speaks to sexual morality, so homosexuality and transgenderism matter spiritually. Transgenderism, the hotter topic these days, matters spiritually because activists have tied it to homosexuality, which the Bible clearly forbids; because it’s a challenge to our createdness in God’s image; and because trans activism seeks to force everyone to agree with its altered view of reality.
And both homosexuality and transgenderism matter because someday, a same-sex couple is going to walk into your church holding hands, or a man is going to enter wearing a dress and makeup. Your church’s witness to these persons whom God loves (“such were some of you,” 1 Cor. 6:11) will depend on what you, as pastor, have taught them.
For youth especially, sexuality carries all kinds of moral freight, most of it heavily anti-Christian. Historic Christianity’s stance on it is “wrong,” “evil,” “unloving,” “harmful,” “bigoted,” “intolerant,” “suicide-provoking,” and on and on it goes. What young person would possibly want to associate with a religion like that? No one would; so they need to know that Christianity isn’t like that. But if I may steal a line from part two of this short series, they won’t learn that truth from social media.
Every Issue is Spiritually Significant
It’s easy to identify spiritual significance almost everywhere. And why not? Christ is Lord of all, and the ruler of this world, Satan, challenges his Lordship everywhere.
Now, I’m not about to say you must always preach on current cultural issues. Not even close to that! I can’t get into details here; I’m devoting all of part three in this series to the question of when to talk about these things. Here I just want to illustrate how frequently the news touches on things you could preach on, with spiritual impact.
The left is prone to saying America should open its borders as a matter of Christian love. Isn’t it possible some of your church members would wonder how biblical that is? Does it matter whether they understand Christian love accurately? Of course it does!
A majority of young people today prefer socialism over capitalism. Obviously it’s a political issue, but doesn’t it have spiritual implications? God speaks of economic justice in the prophets. He speaks of giving. He speaks of private ownership and the immorality of both coveting and theft. He speaks of work. He speaks of finding our security in himself, not in men or in institutions.
A key watchword on campus today is “safety.” Students are shouting guest lecturers off campus because their ideas “threaten” them. Clearly, God is unafraid of contrary opinions. There’s plenty of that going on in Old Testament history! Where is true safety found, anyway?
Diversity is a key word everywhere, from the campus to the corporation. Surely the Bible supports that! The worshipers in heaven include “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation” (Rev. 7:9). Of course that tells us a lot in answer to the question of race relations, among other things.
But does God favor every kind of diversity, even moral diversity? That answer may be clear to you. Is it equally clear to your church members?
Books and Media:
The DaVinci Code sold almost uncountable copies — and then was made into a movie, saying the Church lied, that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and so on. When a book like that comes out, isn’t it possible that someone would ask whether any of it is true?
Example After Example
I could go on with questions of race, heterosexual sexual behavior, the relationships between men and women, divorce, media consumption… the list is endless, or close enough not to make any difference.
In Summary: Your People Have Questions, and They Matter
Here’s the main thing for now. Your people have questions. It’s unavoidable. Those questions can have huge spiritual impact. That alone should lead a pastor to want to speak to them from the pulpit.
Yet there are objections. I realize that. Some pastors really want the pulpit to be a place for God’s word to be preached, not today’s passing issues. Some pastors aren’t sure what they’d say on these things, or how they’d say it. I’ll have further thoughts on both of those matters in parts two and three.
Originally published at the Spiritual Readiness Project. Used by permission.
Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream, and the author of A Christian Mind: Thoughts on Life and Truth in Jesus Christ. Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.