I would like to draw your attention to Brad Littlejohn’s rejoinder to my post here. That rejoinder is down in the comments. This was my post on how an Obama vote disqualifies a man from ministry. Thanks to Brad for the comments, and for the opportunity for me to follow up on my initial post.
First, I happily grant that being a practitioner of abortion and presiding over a nation in which it is legal to be such a practitioner are two very different things. But while they are very different, depending on the stance and outlook of the president, the morality of the two positions can overlap completely. There is a distinction between the man who does mischief himself (Ps. 10:7) and the man who frames mischief with a law (Ps. 94:20), but not a moral distinction.
The Hindu practice of suttee and the laws that allowed it to continue were very different, but equally wicked. When the British governor Lord Bentinck suppressed the practice of suttee (burning a widow on the pyre of her deceased husband) he was doing a good and necessary thing. Had he decided not to suppress the practice, this would not make him personally guilty of practicing suttee himself. But it would have made him guilty in deeper and more profound ways.
But if he intended going to suppress suttee the first chance he got, and was laboring toward that end, marshaling his forces, I think he would receive praise from the Lord. Before you go to war, you are to count your troops (Luke 14:31). This is where the distinction Brad makes becomes morally relevant. Among those presiding, we must distinguish between the kings who detested the high places but did not remove them and those who built them in the first place, and who are running for reelection with the promise to build more and more of them.
So transfer Obama’s position on abortion into this situation. Suppose Obama were to become governor of India during the days of the British rule there. Suppose that during his prior time in a regional government he voted to support and continue the cruelest forms of suttee. Suppose that one of his largest constituencies was the pro-sut . . . excuse me, pro-choice faction of that society. Suppose further that when he spoke at the national convention of Planned Estate Planning (for what is suttee but an abrupt form of estate planning?), he concluded his remarks with “God bless you.” Suppose that it was a dead cinch cert that any justice he nominated for the Supreme Court was sure to uphold the legality of suttee.
Now, back to my thesis. Any minister of the gospel who supported such a man is not qualified to hold office in the church. I would take a dim view of any bishop who attended the gladiatorial games with the emperor. So the liberty of conscience that the Reformers fought for was not — whatever else it was — liberty to fail to identify temples of Molech.
Second, if someone wanted to justify an Obama vote because he believed there were other weightier matters that Obama would address more effectively than his opponent would do, and he is simply voting for the lesser of two evils — as many Christians have been persuaded to do when they vote Republican — I do understand the logic of the argument. But let’s move to particulars. It would take quite a bit to make a “million dead babies a year” the lesser of two evils. Obama’s opponent would have to pledge something like the nuking of a city the size of Dallas, and to do so every year for the foreseeable future. If that ever happens, come and talk to me.
Brad’s third point is the place where I would want to appeal back to my mention of Godwin’s Law. It is quite true that I am the product of what I have studied, read, seen, and done, and I know that there are many other Christians who are not in the same place as I am. I do look out at the world through my own eyes. But let’s change a few words and see if anything changes.
“There are plenty of evangelicals, in other sub-cultures, who have not had the benefit of being exposed to the same influences, and for whom the Jewish pogroms, while certainly a matter of serious moral concern, accordingly does not occupy as central or high-profile a place in the hierarchy of dangers facing their country, or for whom it is not readily apparent that it should be addressed at the level of national politics. Likewise, there are plenty of evangelicals who, by virtue of the rather different sources of information that they have seen, heard, or read, have formed a different estimation of how central a “Holocaust agenda” is to Hitler’s agenda.”
If this logic doesn’t fly in Germany in the thirties, it shouldn’t fly here. If it flies here, then let’s be done with our indignation about the German Christians who did “far less” than they ought to have done.
“Anyone who doesn’t have the blessing of being able to think like me is clearly blind and unqualified to pastor.”
Could this accusation be leveled at Bonhoeffer? If it were leveled at him, do you think he would care? He once told a seminarian that his desire to resist the regime with impotent gestures was like running east up the aisle of a west-bound train. Bonhoeffer said this because he thought he was right. So do I.
And last, there is the concern that my argument proves too much, and will simply have the effect of emptying our pulpits.
“If we can all start denouncing pastors as unfit to serve by virtue of their lapses in judgment on matters social, ethical, political, and economic that ought to be obvious, then who will be left in our pulpits?”
But of course, that is not what would happen at all. If all the pastors I am talking about suddenly had a realization that this position were right, the result would not be empty pulpits, but rather full churches. That is what happens when repentance and reformation occur. That is what I am after.
Now an extension of this principle into other areas is not something I brought up, but I am happy to go there, provided the issues are of a similar magnitude. The thing about God’s moral law is that it does extend across matters “social, ethical, political, and economic.”
“Thankfully, Scripture never requires such never-failing judgment for ministers. It requires that they be personally upright, and capable of ministering the Word faithfully to their flocks.”
Yes, of course. But I am not gnat-strangling. I am not talking about how many time you can flip the light switch on the sabbath. I am talking about the kind of cultural sin that got Sodom smoked. If we must lay off our pastors — if their approved credentials are in order — despite their blindness on issues like this, then we no longer have men in pulpits, but rather capons in cages.
Ministering the Word faithfully necessarily includes application. Cogent application means that ministers must understand the world in which they preach the Word. This goes there. And if a man cannot tell how and where the Word he preaches goes on Monday morning — for he is preaching to military officers, accountants, wedding cake bakers, photographers, bureaucrats, medical doctors, hospital officials, pharmacists, and so on — then he is not qualified for the office he holds. A man is not qualified to be a pilot just because he can fly the thing in the air. He has to know how to land that thing.