5 off-limits topics we better preach about
The parsonage of our first church was surrounded by acres of tobacco crop. One day the man of the earth stopped by and said, "Preacher, you can preach about smoking and drinking all you want. But, I wouldn't be preaching none about growing tobacco or making liquor. Welcome to the community".
Since tobacco plants were visible as far as I could see I got the drift. It did make me wonder what was brewing in the woods past the last rows. His comments also reminded me that every ministry setting has peculiar community standards or preferences that may mark a no-entrance zone for pastors. A friend accepted the pastorate in a major east coast port city. One Sunday he made a disparaging side comment about labor unions. His church was picketed for weeks.
Times of cultural upheaval and political sensitivity can also establish no-cross lines for spiritual leaders, teachers, and preachers. Fifty shades of values and positions broaden those parameters and make speaking truth even more volatile. A world of itching ears and a desire for the applause of men raise the bar on declaring the whole counsel of God to a world in desperate need. Believing that Scripture addresses every area of life and faith must mean, however, that God's called spokesmen must announce HIs word regardless of human preferences. Today, five areas seem to be more critical than many others---
1. The sanctity of human life.
2. Human sexuality: gender identity, purity, education.
3. The biblical plan for marriage.
4. Scriptural guidelines for Christian citizens.
5. The intersection of biblical faith and science.
Someone has said that these are subsidiary, peripheral topics that should not distract the church from it's primary assignment of making disciples. Most of us would raise our hands in a vote to keep disciple making as our first priority. But, I would argue that these five hot topics, along with many others, are in fact essential elements in any disciple making process. If a disciple is a fully functioning follower of Christ, there can be no exclusion clauses in the areas of life that are shaped by Scripture and the disciplines of being transformed into the likeness of Christ. To asterisk or bracket them in our preaching and teaching plan surrenders those areas of everyday life to the prevailing secular trends.
One of the trip wires today is the reality that many of the standards in these and other areas have become partisan politics, that is, affirmed or negated by the political parties. Even more, recent government decisions establishing public policy in these super-charged areas raise the threat of violating the separation of church and state, further establishing them as no-fly zones for the church. The Johnson Amendment, enacted in 1954, prohibits churches from endorsing political candidates. However, it has been used to intimidate pastors, teachers, and spiritual leaders against speaking on a number of critical issues, including some of those mentioned above. From my limited research in this area, I can't find a single instance where a church has been successfully indicted in a Johnson Amendment case. Still, many pastors are threatened, often by people in the church, to stand clear of those themes under the threat of charges.
The Gospel is offensive. Paul wrote---
Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.
Romans 9:33, ESV
This is a Christ centered truth and is the focal point of the church's proclamation. It forms the underlying certainty of all preaching and teaching, and serves as the foundation for all disciple making. We must always be careful not to misapply Gospel truth to rationalize or justify our actions, pet projects or favorite themes. But, we should never permit intimidation to veer us around the topics that make disciples of all nations.
The Apostle Paul was usually on one hot seat or another. He spoke truth in Jerusalem, the spiritual center of Judaism, and was commanded to preach truth in Rome, the center of government. He wrote about it in The Acts of the Apostles---
The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you
have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in
Acts 23:11, ESV
There it is. We must take courage, and preach those themes that are necessary for the making of disciples.