I was asked recently by a friend why I don’t address more current issues and be more pro-active as a church informing people of the different aspects of the culture threatening the church; especially ISIS and the current jihadist threat on the west. This question got me thinking again on the focus and habit of the pulpit ministry. I say “again” because this is not the first time I have thought of this. I do not deny that the church has a responsibility to the world around it, but as far as my ministry goes I prefer to deal with current affairs “on the side” as it were, in an adult Sunday school class or in printed articles or in a blog. So here is my answer to the question why I don’t preach about current affairs. I have distilled it down to ten points.
- I am not qualified to deal with many of the issues.
Many of the issues affecting the Christian today extend beyond the realm of theology or biblical studies; they involve science (evolution, abortion, etc.) and other disciplines that I am not qualified in. Having said that, even if I did feel qualified in current issues, there are other reasons for not bringing them into the pulpit ministry of the church.
- I am called to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2; Acts 6:4).
Some argue that you can preach the Word around a particular issue or from the “platform” of a particular current affair; you can use the theme of a current affair and bring the focus on the Word. I believe the Word is to be the focus and the theme of the message. The focus is Christ as He is revealed in the theme of redemptive history.
- The model I find in the New Testament is the exposition of the gospel (1 Corinthians 7:21–22)
I see preaching as the exposition of gospel principles. This I believe is the basis for life in an anti-Christian culture. I find Paul in the New Testament era preaching in the midst of the sin of the Roman Empire and rather than preaching against the current issues, he preached and applied the gospel in such a way as to, by implication, condemn the culture around him. In 1 Corinthians 7:21-22 Paul did not attempt to abolish slavery, but he undermined it in his letter to Philemon by the application of the gospel.
- I don’t see the affairs of this world as the real threat to the church (Hosea 4:6; Daniel 11:32; Matthew 16:18).
We have been so used to the supremacy of Christianity that we tend to forget that the church is a spiritual kingdom, not a political institution. Many of the threats we worry about in the West are already active in other parts of the world, where the church exists regardless, and under which other Christians live. The real danger to the church is not external forces—political, military, or otherwise. We can get caught up too much in the present concerns and fail to recognize the flow and change of time. History usually plays out in ways that we do not expect. For example, the persecution of the Roman Empire, rather than destroying the church, scattered the church and spread the gospel (Acts 8:1ff). In more recent history, many of the dangers preachers warned about were more perceived than real. I’m thinking of the fear surrounding the first Roman Catholic president of the United States in the early 1960s and the supposed threat of Communism in the 1970s and 80s; they are non-issues today. I’m thinking also of the Protestant/Unionist struggles against Roman Catholic Ireland and the promotion of the imperial “Protestantism” of Great Britain. The irony is that Ireland is more conservative today in its morals than Britain is and also more open to the gospel. With regard to the threat of Islam, read older Christian literature and you will see that the church has been occupied with this for centuries (the Muslims were usually called “the Turks”).
I am not saying that the Christian should not be political or be so “other-worldly” that he is isolated or indifferent to the present concerns. The Christian is political simply by being a citizen of a country, and I do believe that an “other-worldly”—or spiritual—person, engaged in the present, will be of most benefit to the present world.
- The teaching ministry of the church should ground Christians in redemptive history, not in present uncertainties (1 Corinthians 2:2).
I am reminded of a very famous address given in 1787 by J. P. Gabler at the University of Altdorf. It was this address that introduced Biblical Theology (the progressive history of God’s working in humanity) to the church as a discipline of study. The importance of this address in Gabler’s mind was the looming threat of the French Revolution, which was “a new religion; a religion that is nothing but irreligion itself, atheism, the hatred of Christianity raised into a system,” and resulted in where we are today; what Francis Sheaffer called the “chaos of hedonism.” In Gabler’s mind the only stability that the church has is in a correct understanding of the working of God in history, particularly as it is seen in the Old Testament. He believed that if we understand the theme of Scripture we will be strengthened in our faith and confident that whatever is happening in the world is under a higher control than those who think they are in control.
- A ministry of current affairs has a short shelf-life (1 Corinthians 3:14–15)
I’m currently researching the life of a preacher from the mid 1900s. I have boxes of files, magazine articles, pamphlets, and books written by this preacher and most of them have no currency today. Although this particular man had a very successful pastorate, much of his ministry was consumed in current affairs. The reality is that he would have had a much richer and a longer legacy if he had focused on the timeless truths of Scripture. The richest collection of Christian literature available to the church today is the writings of the Puritans. These were men who lived in national persecution and yet maintained the focus of the gospel as a lasting legacy.
- The “whole counsel of God”—the gospel—applies to every area of life (Acts 20:27)
The most beneficial ministry is one that trains people how to think the gospel through from its eternal plan to its successful completion (Ephesians 1:3–11). The people who have thought the gospel through will be best equipped to think through the gospel, to apply it to every area of life. Everything in life is the object of gospel application; this is why I call my daily devotional and blog “thinkGOSPEL.”
- My calling is to lift minds out of this world to another and better world (Philippians 3:14; Psalm 119:36)
There is so much that distracts the Christian today from the “upward calling” (Philippians 3:14). If I was in the pew I would not want to go to church on a Sunday to hear more of the same stuff that I have heard all week on the news. The ministry of the Word is to direct the attention away from the world, to think on things that are not common to the world around us (Philippians 4:8).
- There are sufficient ministries and pressure groups and online resources available to supplement the pulpit ministry of the local church.
Someone might say, well there were not these groups two hundred years ago and no online resource. The difference with today is that we live in a world where news comes to us in real time and people across the world are processing ethical and moral questions as events happen. In view of this then, perhaps part of the ministry of the church would be to source good material for a church library, to direct to helpful websites and ministries where current affairs are being addressed biblically.
- Current affairs and politics do not interest everyone
History, current affairs, ethics, and prophecy might interest some but cause others to switch off. People are wired differently; some keep up to date with current affairs; others avoid the news because it is “too depressing.” Furthermore, what is interesting in the news is not always profitable. The only way I can be sure to address everybody in the congregation is by preaching and teaching the Scriptures.