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Selectively Calling on the Church

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

I read a blog today arguing that if last Sunday your church didn't speak out against the murder in Charlottesville, Virginia, that this is evidence that you attend a white supremacist church. That might be true. Then, again, it might not. What happened in Charlottesville was horrific, and the perpetrator should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The white supremacists marching for bigotry certainly do not represent anything like mainstream America. But I want to address the idea that if a church doesn't immediately preach on this, or any other particular issue, that church should be branded and rejected.

My response would be that churches which adhere to orthodox biblical teaching are busy addressing, every single day, not this problem and that problem, but the problem. If the Church addressed every significant problem happening between human beings everywhere based on what the media chooses to report, it would be whipsawed back and forth, constantly responding to events instead of leading forward with the alternative.

The Church is already addressing the problem in Virginia every time it teaches people to love their brother or sister, who they can see, otherwise it is evidence that they do not love God who they cannot see. It addresses the problem in Virginia every time it teaches that to harbor anger against your brother is tantamount to murdering him. In the same way, it addresses the porn epidemic by teaching about chastity and human value. It addresses environmental issues by teaching about stewardship. It teaches about overcoming divisions by revealing the reconciliation available through the blood of Jesus Christ shed for the forgiveness of the source of every human evil: sin. And it teaches about the alternative to sin every time it encourages its congregants to follow Jesus.

I train pastors to preach on pro-life and other issues, but I don't argue that if they fail to preach on it every Sunday, they are a "pro-abortion church." I show them how to incorporate the sanctity of human life into their sermons when the Bible text touches on the issue. Every advocate in every area of life wishes that they could commandeer the pulpits of America -- and the pulpits do have an obligation to address all areas of human conduct -- but addressing the human condition is always bigger than any single, particular issue. If the Church in the U.S. were mandated to preach on abortion every time a human being outside the womb intentionally killed a human being inside the womb, the church would preach on nothing else. It happens over 3,000 times every day.

The problem is not whether media types declare your church as "fill in the blank" if it didn't preach on the issue they wanted addressed that Sunday. If your church teaches the orthodox, historical faith passed down through the ages, it is already addressing the root cause of the moral calamities that beset human beings. G.K. Chesterton noted: "Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin -- a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or not man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt."

We cannot reject the reality of our devastating moral condition and hope to become well. We cannot abandon God and then hope to persuade with transcendent truths. As C. S. Lewis noted, regarding the removal of objective moral reasoning from our educational practice -- replacing it, instead, with relativism -- "We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." Western culture has been relying on the vestiges of the morality provided by Christendom even as it has determined to replace that source with materialism, relativism, and hedonism. Eventually, people can no longer ground the very morality they require to make sense of the world. As Alasdair MacIntyre explains in After Virtue, a culture can reach the point of moral no return. I'm not saying we're there yet, but we appear to be leaning into the abyss, tethered to nothing.

There are certainly churches which have abandoned their God-given calling to preach the whole counsel of God. Some have fallen away because they now worship at the altar of political power (a failing of both the right and the left), others because they have become unmoored from the Scriptures, and just want to be what is deemed "culturally relevant" or "popular."  But hearing pundits in the blogosphere railing against the Church for not addressing hatred and murder indicate that they have not been paying attention. What some of these folks really want is just another political opportunity to assail the Church -- this is nothing new. They want to paint the church as wicked, or at least impotent, regarding the confrontation of moral evil in their culture. But they are very particular about the moral evils they want the church to address.

Do these same people call for the Church to speak regularly and forthrightly about lying, fornication, disobedience to parents, abortion, or blasphemy? Well, if they attended a church where God's Word was fully preached, they'd hear all that from the pulpit, as well as the charge to love your neighbor as yourself. But we don't get to cherry pick. If you appeal to Jesus to be Lord of racial reconciliation, don't be surprised if He also demands to be Lord of your sexuality, your finances, and your conversation. He's not a political consultant. He is God.

The problem we humans face, as Chesterton so rightly noted, is not a failure of the Church: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult, and left untried." The Christian ideal has also been found, for any person wanting to point the finger at others while desiring to continue in their own favorite sins, frightfully inconvenient. 

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