by Rod D. Martin
March 12, 2016
In the February 29 edition of the Washington Post, ERLC President Russell Moore laments that he now “hates the word evangelical.” In particular, he attacks pastors such as First Baptist Dallas’ Robert Jeffress (though only by implication) for their support of Donald Trump (also not named),
Now to be quite clear, I personally support the Southern Baptist in the Presidential race, the one who grew up in the Christian School at Second Baptist Houston, the one whose father is an evangelist, the one who’s never owned a strip club, the one who – in a year in which Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court vacancy gapes ominously before us – has won more cases before the Supreme Court than any other lawyer in Texas.
So I share many of Dr. Moore’s reservations about The Donald. But I will leave to you the question of whether Moore or Jeffress is right about him. My point is broader, not about believers’ decisions but rather how we make them.
Moore says that “the word evangelical isn’t, first of all, about politics,” and of course that’s true. He goes on to say that, like the earlier “fundamentalist,” evangelical “has become associated with those who [fight] over tertiary issues.”
This is where we simply must disagree.
For a Christian, there can be no tertiary issues. God created the Heavens and the Earth, He reigns over them, He numbers the blades of grass and the stars in the sky. There is nothing to which He does not address Himself, no subject to which His Word does not apply.
Some pastors act as though Paul’s teaching on the body of Christ in First Corinthians 12 (not to be confused with “One Corinthians 12”) is that they are the head, with all others consisting of the deacons, musicians, nursery workers and donors. They demonstrate an extraordinarily truncated view of the scope of God’s work, and of the all-encompassing variety of His callings.
Moore laments Christians who place other things – particularly politics – before the Gospel, and of course he is right to do so. But framing the issue this way compartmentalizes the world as wrongly as any secularist might. It is as though we were to say that anyone who works for a living, rather than volunteering full-time in that nursery, “puts eating, and sleeping indoors, ahead of the Gospel.”
That’s a pious-sounding thought, and one I’ve heard more than a few pastors brush up against. But the Lord says those who do not work shall not eat, and that he who does not support his family is worse than an infidel. To everything, He says, there is a season, including things seemingly less “churchy.”
Throughout His Word, the Lord gives great attention to the government of the Earth. A quarter millennium ago He gave Americans the virtually unique blessing of self-government, a system that removed kings – like Manasseh and Pharaoh – who might set themselves up as gods (whether de facto or de jure), oppressing the faithful or leading them astray. Self-government means that believers get to govern themselves, if they will just fulfill their civic duties and – crucially – evangelize their neighbors.
We throw God’s blessings in His face at our peril, becoming the swine before whom pearls should not be cast.
Despite this, pastors decry “politicizing the pulpit.” I do not wish them to politicize their pulpits. I wish these pathetic shepherds to apply the full counsel of God to every area of endeavor, so that their flocks may discern what God would have us do!
Some will object that this will get in the way of evangelism. But we know that cannot be, because there’s precious little evangelism now. The scandal of declining Southern Baptist baptisms, usually blamed on a changing culture, comes into stark focus through the lens of a recent study shared by Alvin Reid which found that 54% of Southern Baptist preachers had not shared their faith at all in the preceding six months.
The culture is indeed changing. It’s changing because the church refuses to engage it, evangelistically or otherwise. And that failure starts at the top.
One cannot extol the virtue of evangelism too much, but neither can one adequately decry what often passes for discipleship. Yes, we need greater Biblical literacy. But literacy without application is dead.
The average pastor I meet knows virtually nothing of economics, of government, of law, of technology. How can he apply the Word in a way that makes a difference in his hearers’ lives; or at least, a difference beyond “being nice”? And if he can’t, why should his people turn to him for answers?
I assure you: were pastors to open their churches’ minds to the sheer breadth of God’s interest and dominion, people’s reverence for the majesty, glory and centrality of God would grow to match.
Make the Gospel the center of that. And then show its centrality by showing the enormity of all that it affects. Expect shallow, disappointing results until you do.
This article was originally published as part of my Beyond the Church Door series in the Florida Baptist Witness.