Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Give Them the Sermon

Let me get this straight: lawyers from a major U.S. city subpoena sermon notes & recordings concerning anything said in the pulpit concerning a controversial law and/or the major who supported the law and/or anything topically related to the content of the law, and the general majority response of the church and pastors is basically, “h**l no, we won’t go”?!

Dr. Moore (whom I normally enjoy reading) of the S.B.C.’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission even managed to dig up a Bible reference to defend this attitude: “The churches, and pastors, of Houston ought to respond to this sort of government order with the same kind of defiance the Apostle Paul showed the magistrates in Philippi. After an earthquake, sent by God, upturned the prison where Paul and Silas were held, Luke tells us that the officials sent the police to tell Paul and Silas they could go. Paul replied. ‘They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned men who are Roman citizens and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly. No! Let them come themselves and take us out’ (Acts 16:37).”

Seriously? Why are we surprised by these subpoenas? Are we still so theologically thin that we think unbelievers will always act with logical consistence, clarity of thought, reason-guided passions, and true “liberty and justice for all”?

First, regardless of where you stand on apocalyptic biblical texts, it seems clear that just a cursory reading of them indicate difficult times for believers, be it in the past, present, or future (Daniel 7:17-26; Revelation 11:3-7; 12:17; 13:6,7; cf. John 15:19-21; 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12). “He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One, and he will intend to make alterations in times and in law; and they will be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time” (Daniel 7:25). “They will be given.” Who does the “giving”? Who measures the “time, times, and half a time”? Who’s in charge?

Secondly, and – most importantly from a Great Commission standpoint - why in the world wouldn’t we joyfully turn over every single sermon we’ve ever written and preached (they’re probably all on these churches websites for all to access anyway)?

“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city. Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (Matthew 10:14-22).

“But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved” (Mark 13:9-13).

“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Luke 21:12-19).

I interpret these passages to be exclusively about the events leading up to and including the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, but I know that most people understand these passages to refer to the “end times.” Given that popular approach to these red-letter passages, where do we find the civil disobedience as far as sermon material goes? Don’t we find the opposite, whether we interpret this to be general principle or specific command? Doesn’t the Lord tell us we will be brought before the government for the purpose of the Trinity (Father, Matthew 10:20; Son, Luke 21:15; Spirit, Mark 13:11), that He might speak through us as a testimony? Why wouldn’t we want city lawyers and their masters to hear the Word? Hopefully somewhere in these sermons the Gospel was presented and the Word faithfully taught – if not, why were any other things said in the pulpit?

Hopefully we have faith that the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a means of saving grace through the effectual calling of God the Holy Spirit when and with whomever He sovereignly chooses to extend it. After all, we were saved by it. These who oppose are not greater sinners than we ourselves were, are they? They are not deader in their transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1), more committed to being enemies of God (Romans 5:10), more faithful to dad the devil (John 8:43,44), are they? If so, we have a more serious problem – you don’t have a Christian view of the lostness of humanity and the grace of God, but ultimately have a thinly-veiled merit-based religion. I don’t believe that to be true of any of you protestors in this situation (I write this way by means of illustration). We believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that – by the power of the Spirit – saves absolutely dead human beings from their sin and the wrath of God against that sin and brings them into right relationship with their Creator through the work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit unto rebirth and eternal life by His great and amazing grace through faith. The dead – be they us formerly or massive cities of the lost with their democratically-elected leaders presently – can be brought to life by the Word of Christ. Give them the Word.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (Amendment I, December 15, 1791). Our confidence must not be in the Bill of Rights, magnificent as it is for a man-created document. The lostness of humanity and the Scriptures teach us that, apart from the divine imposition of general grace, there can be no legal or logical consistency when it comes to the people of God in Christ. We will be hated because they hated our Lord first (John 15:18). We need to be cautious about filtering our response through either American convictions or warrior bravado more than we do through Scripture. The Church is, and always will be, “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). We are far more than non-profit incorporations under the laws of this government or that government. We are something eternal and unstoppable. And we have the only message of life, life, eternal life.

I appreciate these pastors so much and all who speak out as heralds of the truth of the Word of God (despite how my over-use of rhetorical questions may skew perception of my attitude). I don’t think I’m bringing up Bible verses these guys (or you) have never read or heard. Of course not. Sometimes, though, in the emotional reaction to lawlessness (which is what these subpoenas are) and astoundingly corrupted logic, we momentarily get shifted on our firm theological/biblical foundations. Brothers and sisters, the lost cannot think or act with consistent justice or logic (2 Kings 17:15; Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:17,18). I am reminding us that the same Word which declares the folly of the world to be lawless sin also clearly lays out the consequences for proclaiming that Word and being faithful to its Author. Keep fighting, but be sober and prayerful, not shocked and dismayed. May we preach “faith in Christ Jesus” (which Acts 24:24,25 says includes “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come”) even more firmly anchored to the Word with “great sorrow and unceasing grief” (Romans 9:2) for their ensnarement to “the devil, since they have been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). This is a spiritual battle - the legal and political is necessary but not ultimate. Prayerfully proclaim the truth louder and stronger with hearts broken for those still in absolute darkness.

Give them the sermon.

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