Should we denounce evil? Recently, a local pastor defended his decision to not protest New York City’s unjust ruling, barring the churches from renting space in the NYC schools:
- Unfortunately, one cannot rejoice at persecution while fighting for one’s rights in persecution. The two cannot go together…
Granted, we should be rejoicing, even in the midst of persecution, but does this prevent us from denouncing evil? Certainly not! However, this is just one of many reasons why Christians are reluctant to speak out against injustice. Others will defend a hands-off stance by invoking their belief that Jesus is soon returning, and therefore, our focus should be the “great commission” - evangelism. Similarly, the evangelical columnist, Cal Thomas, warned against speaking forth on the national platform:
- Real power doesn’t reside in Washington. Real power is Christ within you. Surely the Gospel is a more effective tool than the Republican or the Democratic Party. Just one example: More babies are being saved through pregnancy help centers than through anything Washington has done.
Thomas might be correct, but does this preclude raising our voices against the shameful infant holocaust? Doesn’t our calling require many forms of engagement? Shouldn’t we be raising our voices to demand justice and protection for the vulnerable? Isn’t this what the Hebrew Prophets were directed to do?
On the other side of the spectrum are the social-gospel folk – the liberals and emergent-churchers – who conflate the Gospel with social activism, reducing the Gospel to a set of actions. They forget that, instead, the Gospel is our launching pad – our joy, peace, confidence and love in the Lord – that energizes and directs everything else. It produces the fruit, which honors the tree.
If we love Jesus, we will keep His commands (John 14:21-24; 15:7-14; 1 John 5:3). Consequently, we will not only love one another (John 17:21; 13:34-35), but we will also, if need be, speak out to expose the hypocrisy that threatens them (Matthew 23; Eph. 5:11). Isaiah had called upon the people to,
- Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow. (Isaiah 1:16-17)
I think that the majority of evangelical churches recognize that we have a calling to care for the downtrodden. But we have largely forgotten that we also have a responsibility to “rebuke the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.”
Mercifully, our God is concerned about exposing and punishing evil. He consequently ordained a criminal justice system to address His concerns:
- Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. (Romans 13:1-4)
Consequently, we too have a responsibility to expose, denounce and restrain evil:
- Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephes. 5:11)
This kind of talk usually invites the charge, “Well, you’re legislating morality! You Christians are always imposing your views on others!”
Not to mention the fact that denouncing evil is part of the common law which God wires our hearts (Romans 2:14-15), this is also a vital part of the democratic experience. Aren’t we all supposed to have a say, as do others? Besides, isn’t every law an exercise in legislating morality, even if law doesn’t change hearts? Martin Luther King addressed this issue poignantly:
- “It may be true that a law can’t make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”
God also thinks that this is “pretty important!” However, many evangelicals warn against this kind of thing. Michael Spencer believes that the church’s prophetic ministry detracts from its first ministry:
- “Evangelicals have linked their beliefs with political conservatism and the culture war, which non-Christian leaders perceive as bad for society…We have done so at the detriment of our faith. Christians have been so wrapped up in the political process and especially over the last couple of years…that we have ignored our number one mission, which is to tell the world about a loving and merciful God.”
Although I don’t see how the prophetic ministry is in opposition to the Gospel ministry, I think that Spencer’s point should sensitize us regarding the causes we espouse and the way we espouse them. However, it is important to note that God associates denunciation and awareness of sin and moral failure with receptivity to the Gospel (Romans 3:19-20). The “bad news” has to precede the “good news.”
Jesus and Paul certainly exposed people to their “bad news,” not to belittle them, but to show them their need for repentance and forgiveness:
- At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!" (Acts 23:2-3)
As a surgeon has to open and expose the wound in order to correct it, so too must the spiritual doctor. Stephen exposed the festering wound of Israel, even as he cried out to God to forgive them (Acts 6-7). Jesus denounced the Pharisees but then cried over them (Mat. 23:37).
However, aren’t we alienating the very world we are trying to bring to the light by such involvement? Indeed, many express great contempt for us and misrepresent us. In Why the Religious Right is Wrong, Robin Meyers writes:
- Religious fanatics who run the country…are close to realizing their vision of a heaven on earth: an American theocracy.
Likewise, in Religion Gone Bad, ex-evangelical speechwriter Mel White writes:
- We must resist before fundamentalists do what they have promised and turn the world’s oldest democracy into a theocracy ruled entirely by “righteous men.”
Although we might have brought some of the contempt upon ourselves, we can’t forget the fact that the world crucified Jesus – the model of love and perfection. He warned us that we have to take the contempt in stride:
- "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)
We are going to be hated, especially if we are the light in a dark, self-justifying world. We therefore can’t use the response of the world as a measure of whether or not we are doing the right thing. The measure has to be our Lord Himself, as the Apostles affirmed, after the court forbade them to speak of Jesus:
- But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20)… Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! (5:29)
Ironically, the world has censured the church for speaking out, but has also censured us for not speaking. An article in a militant atheistic journal put it this way:
- European Christianity failed to prevent the mass slaughter between the faithful in the Great War and actually contributed to World War II, insofar as conservative churches supported fascism. The failure of the churches to provide sound moral guidance may help to explain the [European] Continent’s postwar lack of enthusiasm of religion.(“The Big Religion Questions Finally Solved,” Free Inquiry, Jan. 2009, 29)
Although the church was the only body that resisted Hitler and although it can be argued that the German churches had lost their Biblical rudder after years of radical criticism of the Bible, this article is certainly correct for censuring us for not resisting more proactively. To those who would retort: “Well, the politics of this world don’t involve the church,” I would simply refer them to James’ words:
- Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:17)
If this world is God’s world, it is also ours, and we are responsible for its people. We are our brother’s keeper, as God made plain to Ezekiel:
- “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.” (Ezekiel 33:6)
Mustn’t we blow the trumpet when we see the sword approaching? Mustn’t we warn about the murder of the unborn or about our pornography and decadent movies that are perverting the rest of the world? Even now, the radical Muslims gain credibility by pointing to the porn and violence coming out of the “Christian” West!
Sadly, many pastors are not being prophetic; they are not speaking out against those sins which are now popular in Western culture. However, we are culpable when we fail to do this. The Apostle Paul had “boasted”:
- “Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” (Acts 20:26-27)
Few of us can make a similar boast. Some pastors justify their silence by arguing that they don’t want to turn away any of their parishioners from sitting under the Gospel. However, I think that we wrongly assume that healing can take place apart from identifying the disease.
Instead, we can’t separate the two. Diagnosis and cure go together. The false prophets of Israel never taught against the Mosaic Law. However, they often preached that there was “peace” – that everything was okay – when there wasn’t peace (Ezek. 13:8-10; Jer. 8:11-12). However, Israel’s God was deeply grieved by this, because it failed to uncover the festering disease, and therefore this comforting message obscured the hope of a cure:
- The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading. (Lament. 2:14)
We tend to be myopic in our pragmatic preoccupations, and therefore need the lens of Scripture to see telescopically, even microscopically. We wrongly think that our passivity will better shield the church from the secular onslaught. However, even now, many are clamoring for the State to impose the same hiring standards upon the church. Others are indicting the Bible as “hate speech.” In Europe, Christian schools are increasingly required to teach on subjects ranging from evolution to same-sex marriage. The sword is now upon us!
This doesn’t mean that we should all be judging and denouncing sin. It is reserved for only those who have first judged their own sins, confessing them to our Savior:
- "Do not judge, or you too will be judged…You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
We first have to confront our own blindness, rationalizations and denials before we can have the clarity to confront others. Without first judging ourselves, we become hypocrites when we attempt to judge others. But judge, we must!