Empty Pulpits or Full Churches?

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.

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David Ethell
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David Ethell

When I repent to my children of my sin they are drawn to Christ, not away. In a similar way, as Doug points out here, a shepherd repenting over his support of Obama will draw his flock to Christ, not away.

Peter Jones
Guest

Thank you Pastor Wilson. An excellent response. One of the problems I see in young ministers is our refusal to take a stand on major issues because we are not quite sure about the minor ones. We don’t want to be Pharisees so we are careful to avoid sharp denunciations. Our inability to put sins in a ranked list leaves us either denouncing everything with a shrill cry or denouncing nothing because we are just not quite sure how evil it really is. 

JDM
Guest
JDM

It seems to me that a critical point in all of this is the past vs present view of judging the actions of others. As you have said if we are willing to give the “its complicated” answer to why we are not more forceful in our acting against evil in the present we must be prepared to accept the same response from everyone else. What use is it to identify and condemn atrocities past or praise crusaders for justice if you remain totally blind in the present? Generally speaking Christians seem happy to embrace William Wilberforce as long as… Read more »

J.D. Shaw
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J.D. Shaw

Doug:
If abortion were to be re-criminalized in the United States, do you have an opinion on how and who should be punished?  Should the abortion practitioner and the mother be charged?  If so, should they be treated like other murderers and accomplices to murder (e.g. subject to the death penalty)?
I did a quick search of your blog but didn’t find any previous post from you on the subject.  If you have commented on this recently and I missed it, I apologize in advance.
Thanks – I very much enjoy reading your work.  

Ben Bowman
Guest

Doug, do you believe that taxes support abortion in our country?

Moor
Guest
Moor

I’m not bright enough to quip something witty, but I sense an implication in Ben’s question, and for whatever reason, it reminds me of the question, “when did you stop beating your wife?”.

C. Frank Bernard
Member

Some decade I hope we can agree a minister should be disqualified for refusing to feed the flock in his care including infants…rather than for voting for a POTUS candidate that would not appoint justices overturning Roe v Wade, Doe v Bolton, etc.

JDM
Guest
JDM

@C. Frank Bernard, What does one have to do with other?

David Douglas
Guest
David Douglas

@ C. Frank Bernard: My guess is those two cases are significantly correlated:  The latter being a subset of the former. You are not necessarily fulfilling all your offices as a pastor by voting sympathetically to Doug’s position.  I.e. voting the “right” way will only partially predict if you pastor the “right” way. But my guess is if you are in the latter group your are very highly correlated with the former: I.e. voting the “wrong” way will only predict other failings as a pastor. You probably can’t read the middle of the eye chart well if you can’t make… Read more »

David Douglas
Guest
David Douglas

Remind me about paragraph breaks again?

Willis
Guest
Willis

Ok. I agree with this post. What about execution of this discipline though? Should the PCA, OPC, Crec, and whoever start pushing to add this to some book of rules. Or should this just be one of those informal things in which the wishy washy (and worse) pastors are publicly shamed?

kyriosity
Member

Ben — Probably. Just as rendering unto Caesar supported the slaughter of the innocents. But there’s a tremendous moral difference between surrendering your money to Caesar under penalty of law and willingly supporting him in the next election.

George
Guest
George

Remember our nation; give wisdom to those who rule in our government and in our courts
 
  Lord have mercy
 

Ben Bowman
Guest

Moor, Not at all an entrapment question. i just wanted to see how far Doug would be willing to take this line of reasoning.

George
Guest
George

There’s a right way to be wrong and a wrong way to be right… Don’t let Ben’s point be dismissed… and no, its *not* rendering unto Caesar…  Its funny how we would say that about abortion – but in the same breath use it as an excuse not to give the homeless money.  They’ll just misspend it. Have we already forgot the rhetoric of the 80s and 90s over this issue?  Have we already forgotten the “justice” of our divorce from England?  Its time to stop bitching and do something… not overnight… yes gradually… but the solutions need to be… Read more »

Brad Littlejohn
Guest

Pastor Wilson, Thanks for the reply.  Your counter-argument here rests almost entirely on the deployment of analogies, and while analogies are often very illuminating, indeed indispensable, for moral reasoning, they only work if you can forge the logical links that show how they relate to the question at hand.  It is not clear to me that you have done so here.  Your first main analogy is that of the British rule in India and the suppression of suttee.  The wickedness of the practice, and its cultural engrained-ness, provides a pretty good parallel to abortion here.  But where it breaks down… Read more »

Ben Bowman
Guest

Also, another question for Doug. Would you suggest that Pastors who voted for Obama step down, or do they just need to repent? Or is Repenting and stepping down the same in this situation? And for how long should they not Pastor?

George
Guest
George

Is a great pastoral “ejection” (of the Libs and Dems) going to really resolve the problems and quasi solutions you addressed in Black and Tan?!    What would their “martyrdom” *really* do?!    Now and in the long run…    Not to mention on what basis such an cross denominational, cross confessional, cross “faith” would be deriving its ecclesiastical authority on.    Such thought is fundamentally sectarian and individualistic… Very American (in the bad way), very Baptistic… not very practically “Christian”. 

Brad Littlejohn
Guest

Oh, by the way, just in case anyone’s wondering, I certainly did not vote for Obama either in 2008 or in 2012.  I opted not to vote at all, and explained my full rationale here: 
http://swordandploughshare.com/main-blog/2012/11/2/why-i-wont-be-votingan-apologia.html.

kyriosity
Member

Golly, George. I didn’t know that I, as one individual, had the power to effect such a change. Since you must know what this power is, why haven’t you implemented it?

Moor
Guest
Moor

Fair enough, Ben.  You know how the interwebs can be…I sometimes read ill intent where there is none.  Forgive me.

Ben Bowman
Guest

It’s all good Moor. I know how emotionally charged this subject can be. It can often get us riled up. :)

Nate Douglas
Guest
Nate Douglas

Tagging off Brad’s thoughts, if the supposed “lesser evil”, Mitt Romney, advocates a harsher and stronger military stance abroad (which he did in the foreign policy debate), should not those innocent lives be weighed also? Vote-for-Romney advocates conceded that there was only a slight chance Romney could save any unborn lives, but that slight chance was worth the vote. But if a pastor believes Obama is less likely to take innocent life abroad–something which his office actually has direct power over (and given the GOP’s warmongering history and Romney’s rhetoric), but has no power or sway over abortion, would it… Read more »

Jason S.
Guest
Jason S.

C. Frank Bernard, et al. – 
Give. Me. A. Break.

Everyone else, “lesser evil”, etc. You know the drill. Stop voting for unqualified men, period.

George
Guest
George

working at it and having it done are two different things… remember – long term plans… live in the real, fallen broken world… and I AM making an effort daily…  i like my working at it (and not getting *immediate* results) than your talking about it silly (i mean truly silly!) solutions (and just “rendering”/funding the slaughter of innocents unto Caesar)…  After all – every tax is legitimate and every expenditure justified.  at some point, the second half of Jesus’ teaching needs to be observed… and unto God which is God’s.  aborted “fetuses” aren’t a legitimate tax, neither is any… Read more »

Moor
Guest
Moor

Doug, are we ever getting paragraph breaks back?

kyriosity
Member

So you are making paying taxes the moral equivalent of child murder, yet not willing to make promoting child murder the moral equivalent of child murder? I am puzzled…

George
Guest
George

Matthew 18:20; 1 Corinthians 14:34 ; )         Alas, I digress…      You’re puzzled because your not engaging the actual content of what Ben and Brad have actually said.       In one sense yes… but in a more realistic sense, NO, my point is there are movements that are fighting the State and Federal underwriting of abortions…  That is a reasonable and realistic goal…         firing umpteen million “pastors” isn’t going to *really* do anything – much less is it even theologically or pastoraly responsible or feasible…   Its silly and… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Valerie wrote: “But there’s a tremendous moral difference between surrendering your money to Caesar under penalty of law and willingly supporting him in the next election.” This distinction is critical in permitting us to render anything to the current secular statist caesar.  We know how caesar spends the tax, but thankfully this knowledge, itself, does not transmit caesar’s culpability to us.  Even though tax rendered to caesar is not voluntary, the same principle even permits us to voluntarily buy meat that was sacrificed to idols.  Christ’s encounter with caesar’s image clarifies for us that God does distinguish their ends from… Read more »

Jane
Member

George, he explained that this isn’t about firing pastors, but calling them to account. The goal is not to purge, but to strengthen their arms for battle by pointing out what a minister’s duty actually is.

DanielBlowes
Guest
DanielBlowes

Mm.. Are not all authorities instituted by God? Don’t you get exactly the President you deserve? Are we not to honour The King? Are we not to judge The Church but not the world? How about denouncing women Pastors and those that support them? As Kissenger said ‘there is only ever a choice of evils.’

George
Guest
George

No one is addressing the actual content of what Ben or Brad have said…  Much less the logistical, practical, etc. side… Would you suggest that Pastors who voted for Obama step down, or do they just need to repent? Or is Repenting and stepping down the same in this situation? And for how long should they not Pastor? That’s a legitimate,  concrete-relational, *practical* question!       Typical of the reformed camp… always wanting to talk about the ideal and not (really and truly) live in the real.      What the gospel applied?  To our government?  God forbid! How… Read more »

Eric the Red
Guest
Eric the Red

For this post, and this post only, I am going to adopt Doug’s premises and presuppositions.  I think from a Calvinist standpoint, the real problem is that there’s no Biblical authority for democratic elections in the first place, and given sinful human nature, the very fact that a candidate appeals to a majority of the voters (who are, after all, fallen humans) should be troubling in and of itself.  In the Bible, most of the time majorities were doing things like telling Moses they wanted to go back to Egypt, and stoning the prophets, and worshipping Baal, and shouting “crucify… Read more »

Eric the Red
Guest
Eric the Red

And by the way, the practical reason voting Republican is a useless exercise is that the GOP is really three parties:  The Christian conservative party, the Wall Street Big Business Party, and the quasi-libertarian small government party.  “How can two walk together except they be agreed?”  The GOP just tried to stand up to Obama on the government shutdown, and you see the results; they’re now running for cover with their tail between their legs.  They may well lose the House next year.  That’s what comes of being so sharply divided ideologically that they can’t even cohesively join together to… Read more »

Ben Bowman
Guest

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. -Romans 13:1
Just a good reminder going forward in this great discussion. 

Tim
Guest
Tim

There are people on this thread talking like Obama would decrease the number of babies murdered if only those legislators would give him something to sign. (Which is almost as weird as Eric dropping by to give free advice on political tactics.) And then we’re launched into an equation where pastors supposedly weighed the probability of Obama killing fewer innocent civilians overseas against the change in murdered babies from his judge appointees…and we’re to believe that pastors weighed this equation and found – who? – Romney lacking.   This is bizarro world.   The simple truth is that if the GOP… Read more »

Mark H.
Guest
Mark H.

Eric – when you’re not being inflammatory, you make good sense. Being mostly of the “Don’t vote – it only encourages them” school, I still cast a vote in the last election. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” We get the kind of government we deserve – sometimes better (by God’s mercy), but never worse. Our current regime has come to us from God, through the instrumentality of the votes of both spiritual and venial people (very often – always?? – the two combined in the same person).

Tom S.
Guest
Tom S.

Even when evangelicals are presented with a candidate who has repeatedly introduced bills in the house which would remove the jurisdiction of abortion from the Supreme Court and return it to the states. And in the 2008 debates the same candidate  admits in front of millions his questions about just war and how he then went and read the church fathers for insight and how that influenced his opinion on US military power, we are told to ignore him. Don’t waste your vote. He can never win.  These are the same evangelicals that believe that what keeps us safe are… Read more »

Eric the Red
Guest
Eric the Red

Tim, if the Democrats wanted to legalize infanticide now, who would stop them, the Republicans?  You saw how politically powerful the Republicans are on issues like defunding Obamacare and not raising the debt ceiling and reducing spending; what makes you think they’d have any more sway on banning infanticide?  The reason the Democrats don’t legalize infanticide is because they have no interest in doing so; there is a broad national consensus that abortion should be legal in the first trimester or so of pregnancy, that it shouldn’t be federally funded, and that it should be legal after that only if… Read more »

kyriosity
Member

George — Actually, I was engaging with what Ben wrote. He asked a specific question (“Doug, do you believe that taxes support abortion in our country?”). I had worked through the implications of that question myself some years ago, so I shared the understanding I had come to. And then I found you attacking me for not singlehandedly solving the problem of legalized abortion. Yikes!

Robert
Guest
Robert

Mr. Littlejohn, I would suggest that you spend a little time studying the life or Pastor Martin Nimoeller, one of my personal heroes of the war. Pastor Niemoeller initially supported Hitler and later, realized it was time to stand against him. He survived a Nazi Camp. Christians like Niemoeller had one very good reason to initially support Hitler. Paedophilia was rampant in Berlin. The cops and the government knew it an no one cared. Everyone had been bought off. Hitler would shut the paedophilia down. After this had been done, Niemoeller realized that he had traded one devil for another.… Read more »

Wally Right
Guest
Wally Right

Dead cinch cert – please avoid these type of Americanism jargons, most readers won’t understand what is meant.
 
WR, New Zealand

Katecho
Member

I’m not persuaded by Littlejohn’s characterization that the millions of unborn are a political lost cause, but I am sympathetic to Littlejohn’s point that the President is not a dictator who can legislate directly to abolish abortion, and to his point that Obama (unlike Hitler against the jews) has followed the culture where it has already gone, in its abortion bloodlust.  However, Presidents can do a great deal in terms of judicial appointments and veto powers, etc.  Littlejohn seems to be thinking only in terms of complete abolition, or else nothing.  Yet even a slight reformational influence equates to many… Read more »

Daniel Meyer
Guest

Dear Doug,
I think you meant to say “If we must *not* lay off our pastors…”
Daniel Meyer

Matt Bell
Member

Katecho,
Mr. Littlejohn answers those questions at the link he provided: http://swordandploughshare.com/main-blog/2012/11/2/why-i-wont-be-votingan-apologia.html

Vishwanath
Guest
Vishwanath

Mr. Littlejohn has responded very wisely and charitably.  But I am afraid, Mr. Wilson, that you will not allow yourself to be persuaded.  In this matter you have shown himself to be the Right-Wing mirror-image of certain Left-Wing neighbours of yours. People who have read you will know that you have written at length about the fundamental decency of a past society that practiced profanity.  Yet you find yourself unable to extend the same courtesy to another society, even one in which you find yourself, which practices another type of profanity; even if the leaders of the latter finds themselves swept up by the profanity while the leaders of… Read more »

Nick E
Guest
Nick E

You brought up the grisly calculus voting in our elections can cause. I was wondering what you would say to someone who voted for Obama because
A. she doesn’t believe Pro-Life republicans are truly prolife. (A dishonest/false christian being worse than an honest unbeliever/liberal-Christian)
B. They believe Democratic policies are better for the economy thus leading to fewer abortions.
C. Bill Clinton oversaw fewer infanticides/abortions than George Bush despite being pro-choice.
D. The fight to end abortion is a lost cause politically.
Now obviously many people would disagree with her arguments, but I’m curious if they stand up from a moral perspective?

Ben Bowman
Guest

Valerie, I have not been ignoring you. Just thinking of the best way to respond. I would take what you say and go a step further. We should render to Caesar what is Caesars, but the womb was never Caesars. There is a big difference between those who supported a man who does not have any intention of ending abortion in our country and funding it outright. May I add that the last 3 Republican Presidents said they were opposed, and we still have it. Yes, more people repenting would fill more churches but a mass exodus of pastors (for… Read more »