Unpreaching the Gospel
It's What We're Doing by Staying Silent on Abortion
By Rolley Haggard
April 30, 2014 4:38 PM
A recent article in “World” Magazinetitled“Still-silent shepherds” summarized the top reasons evangelical pastors give for not preaching against abortion. Among them is that “preaching on the issue might politically stigmatize the pastor or politicize the pulpit, scaring seekers off.”
Aside from the fact that such reasoning is purely pragmatic—concerned with results (what works) rather than principle (what's right)—it is also severely problematic in three of its underlying assumptions:
One, that pulpits should avoid moral issues with controversial political overtones;
Two, that silence is justified on issues that may “scare seekers off”;
Three, that ignoring issues like abortion won't adversely impact gospel ministry.
I submit that pulpits operating on these assumptions are undoing the very work they hope to do. To varying extents, they are “unpreaching” the gospel.
Should Pulpits Avoid Moral Issues with Controversial Political Overtones?
The short answer is an unequivocal no. Moral/spiritual matters are preeminently the domain of the church. Political overtones notwithstanding, abortion is arguably the moral/spiritual issue of our day. If we don't speak to it, who will?
Abortion is, in essence, a moral and spiritual issue.It is a violation of the commandment “thou shalt not murder.”It is political only secondarily and arbitrarily. Just because it has been made part of the national political discourse, that does not alter its fundamental character. No court on earth can vacate the laws of heaven.
As heaven's ambassadors, therefore, it is not only appropriate but obligatory that ministers address abortion. Whatever political overtones may attach to preaching against the sin of abortion, silence is not an option for the church—unless the plan is just to quit preaching against sin altogether.
Christian leaders often act so afraid of political entanglement—of violating the treasured separation of church and state”—that if the devil himself should incarnate and run for president, it seems likely that many pastors would refuse to preach against him for fear of politicizing the faith.
But preaching against abortion is not politicizing the faith. It is not an encroachment of the church into the affairs of the state. In fact, the reverse is true: politicization of abortion is an encroachment of the state into the affairs of the church. Christians have not only the right but the solemn obligation to preach against abortion. When there is conflict or overlap, our duty couldn't be any more clear: We are to obey God rather than men and governments.
Is Pulpit Silence Justified on Issues that May Scare Off Seekers?
In answer to this we might well ask, “seekers of what?” Seekers of a pleasant but shallow church experience, or seekers of the living Christ? Seekers of a mere “form of godliness,” or seekers of “religion that is pure and undefiled”?
Preaching on abortion may indeed scare off those merely seeking a church, but it will attract and keep those who are seeking a Savior.
We are a morally sick society. When a patient has a life-threatening illness, no reputable physician minces words about the seriousness of the disease for fear of scaring off his client. The disease must be named. Before our Great Physician can heal, there must be sober appreciation of the gravity of the case and submission to appropriate treatment.
Whether a seeker has had an abortion, is contemplating one, is pressuring someone to have one, knows someone who has had one, or is simply buying into the lie that life is cheap, preaching on abortion will help that seeker understand the depth of human depravity and the vastness of God's mercy. It will open his or her eyes to the truth that human life is infinitely precious to God from conception to natural death, and that He is willing and able to forgive and restore any penitents who come to Him, no matter what sins they may have committed.
If we find ourselves reluctant to preach on the very sins that are ravaging our communities and families for fear of scaring off would-be converts, maybe it's time we take a refresher on what Christianity is all about.
Is It True that Ignoring Issues Like Abortion Won't Have an Adverse Impact on Gospel Ministry?
There is at the heart of evangelical silence on abortion another seriously flawed assumption, and it is this: that preaching on “social concerns” is superfluous to gospel ministry, and that Christ's Great Commission is best fulfilled by not “diluting” the gospel ministry with entanglement in so-called “secondary issues” like abortion. Avoiding such “entanglement” is frequently referred to as “keeping the main thing the main thing.”
While it is certainly true we don't want to supplant the gospel with issues like abortion, neither do we want to go to the opposite extreme and divorce the gospel from them, either. Like medicine for disease, the gospel is the remedy for all sin. And preaching the gospel is about calling sinners to repentance and faith. If sin is not preached against, those whom we would lead to repentance and faith in Christ are instead led to believe they have little or nothing to repent of. They are given to assume that Christ simply overlooks,rather than forgives,what they've done (and, in too many cases, go right on doing).
To the degree that we minimize sin in our preaching of Christ, we wind up preaching not grace, but license; not forgiveness of sins, but permission to keep on sinning.
We may be “preaching the gospel” in the technical sense of telling people something about Jesus, but by skirting abortion we are effectively unpreaching it by sending the message that sins are not a big deal to God, that He simply overlooks them in the same way we do when we seldom (or never) mention certain sins in our sermons. Within such a homiletic framework, it is small wonder that 20 percent of women who have abortions describe themselves as born-again Christians.
By failing to preach on abortion we are encouraging not only cognitive, but moral, dissonance of the highest order. We are not merely giving sanction to the evil of our age, we are also misrepresenting the gospel. We think we're making it easier for seekers to find Christ, but we're actually making it easier for them to never feel any real need for Him. After all, if God isn't all that upset over the heartless, cold-blooded murder of 56 million defenseless babies, how concerned can He be over any of our sins?
This article originally appeared on Breakpoint and is reprinted here with permission from the author.
Rolley Haggard is an IT manager for a multinational corporation in the Southeast, and a frequent commenter at the BreakPoint Blog.
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