Worship through preaching Gospel

January 11, 2016

Politics & Worship

Should a political message ever displace Gospel proclamation during worship?

This question arose yesterday when I visited a nearby church, having slept too late to attend my own.  I was looking forward to a sermon from a pastor there who is an Asbury Seminary graduate and highly regarded as a preacher.  Unfortunately she did not preach, as the sermon time was replaced by a question and answer session with a full-time Global Warming activist.  He was likeable and sincere, but the Gospel did not surface during the exchange except for brief reference to his faith having shaped his concern for the environment.

Setting aside the details and merits of climate activism, does any political message ever merit becoming the focus of worship?  I left the service spiritually deflated and, although the climate conversation received applause, the two worshippers with whom I spoke afterwards were similarly put off.  Had the worship presented a political cause that I support (more bike trails!), or offered a lecture about a fascinating topic not related directly to the Gospel (WWII history!) I expect I still would have been spiritually unquenched.  

Isn’t the sermon time always supposed to directly present the Gospel, evangelizing, discipling and glorifying the Triune God, offering His redemptive hope for the world?  Can there ever be a more important cause for the church during its worship?  Isn’t the imperative, during a brief church service, always bringing persons closer to Christ?  For most in the sanctuary during that hour, it’ll be their only direct Gospel exposure during their week.  Why lose that opportunity?

Global Warming activists believe their cause is very urgent.  For some secular climate activists it has become the defining human narrative.  Christian climate activists relate their concerns about climate to God’s care for creation.  Their arguments should be heard, but not as a replacement for a sermon or worship.  There are many urgent political and social causes, but none are more pressing for the church than the Gospel itself.

Should worship ever include direct calls for specific political action?  Churches should be wary.  Universal Christian teaching about God’s purposes for society should be explained but as broad principles, not typically as political specifics.  The Body of Christ for 2000 years has affirmed the sacredness of all human life, which should be boldly proclaimed.  Should a sermon focus on specific details about legislation or other political remedies regarding legal protections for the unborn or persons targetted for euthanasia?  Clergy should be reluctant to cede direct Gospel proclamation, especially in their sermon time, to the details or advocacy of even compelling political causes to which historic Christian teaching speaks consistently.

Climate politics are not an issue to which Christian tradition or Scripture speak directly.  Some scholarship claims that iron smelting and deforestation by the Roman Empire may have affected the climate in antiquity.  If so, Jesus did not address that issue during His earthly ministry.  There are teachings in the Scriptures that Christian environmentalists cite for their advocacy.  Broad teachings about God’s purposes for creation would be suitable for a sermon.  But debates about U.S. environmental policies are better suited for discussion in an after church forum or discussion, which ideally seeks diverse perspectives and doesn’t just assume that one political priority is self-evidently Christian.  Most public policy issues don’t have a dogmatic Christian position.

In contrast, a sermon in most circumstances should present timeless Gospel truths that would be understood and relevant to any person of any culture or time who needs God’s grace.

Do you agree?

(Photo at top shows Orson Welles as Father Mapple marvelously preaching about Jonah at the Whalers chapel in the 1956 film “Moby Dick,” an example to all preachers everywhere!)

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11 Responses to Politics & Worship

  1. NotAgnostic says:

    Strongly agree. I would add that I have witnessed many pastors use the pulpit to promote their socialist political and “social justice” agenda. They sprinkle in small amounts of biblical truth here and there, but it is not as you describe: “Gospel truths that would be understood and relevant to any person of any culture or time who needs God’s grace.” The best description I have this poor type of preaching can be found in the Emergent (or Emerging) Church. It isn’t unique to the UMC.

  2. Pudentiana says:

    Twenty-five years ago we left the United Methodist Church after too many sermons on the Peace Movement and Environmentalism, Pro Abortion and other liberal churchy themes. My family left a warm and friendly congregation behind which has since been taken over by the Reconciling Ministry crowd. Being the only UM Church in town, many have had to leave the denomination or drive a distance to remain. Our family suffered harm because our children left their “church home”, but the choice was to stay and die on the vine while being indoctrinated. Thanks be to God some three years later we wandered into a sound UMC and have remained in its safe haven. Here is hoping that this kind of deadly poison will be driven from our pulpits in the not too distant future. It will take a lot of prayer, a lot of truth telling, and a lot of time sacrificed. God help us.

    • NotAgnostic says:

      Many in the UMC in the U.S. are struggling with the same thing you describe. When you have an unenforced or selectively enforced discipline, and an agree-to-disagree mentality on first order issues like the authority of scripture it is to be expected. God help us. My prayer is that Africa will lead us back to Chrisitan orthodoxy.

    • CDGingrich says:

      After almost 20 years in the UMC, we could take no more empty Left-ism. My wife and I were blessed to find a loving, prayerful, faithful Wesleyan church.

  3. LeeRaleigh says:

    “Climate change” is just another hollow, false religion. That pastor, Asbury graduate or not, abrogated her duty to the true gospel, and should be held accountable.

  4. Detector331 says:

    Mark, I agree. Climate change has become a “blind faith” cult and the Devil is using it to sidetrack people from the call to respond to Jesus’ call to repent, believe, and follow.

  5. Ella Pauline says:

    In my neck of the woods (South Texas), worship is degenerating into more of a social hour focusing on us and what we are doing. The current pastor is very intrigued with modern pop culture. This past Sunday somebody included the celebration of a birthday in the prayer requests; the pastor was quick to pint out that the person shared a birthday with Elvis Presley and we ended up thanking God for the life of the person in our midst as well as Elvis Presley.One Monday last summer, I made a list of what I had retained from worship the previous day: the sermon was about putting on the armor of God, the pastor was going to Disney World, he was going to link his credit card to his Disney pass, he wears a fitbit and somebody within the church had made all the pastors a tote bag with the cross and flame and he literally said he was free to say anything he wanted because he was the one in the pulpit. One Sunday a year, there is a brief early morning worship centered on social concerns and then the people are dismissed to participate in work projects around the community; they are generally finished by noon so I have yet to understand why the suspension of the normal worship schedule. A couple of Sundays ago, the pastor was giving a fairly decent sermon until in the middle of it he declared his vision is for a world that is more tolerant and inclusive–not one word about persons living a transformed life centered in Christ. This past Christmas Eve the pastor presented a one man show in which he was the innkeeper who gave Mary and Joseph a place in the stable; his conclusion was that we need to be nice to everybody because it is just possible they may have a ‘little bit of Jesus in them”; many of those assembled found his presentation amusing and laughed through most of it. Every fall, on the Sunday before pumpkins arrive for the annual Pumpkin Patch fundraiser, every body is encouraged to wear orange and the pastors all have orange stoles. Overall, he can be counted on to micromanage worship into oblivion on the off chance a visitor walks in the door; he wants to make sure they understand what is going on. And I could go on. I recently read about a church that actually had a philosophy and theology of worship–given the last round of pastors in this local church, I sincerely doubt that anybody in the UMC has such a thing. I am hanging on simply because of the significant role the Methodist Church has played in my life; I would have been utterly and completely lost without her influence. I sincerely doubt she would have such an influence today. In fact I am extremely grateful that I grew up during a time when worship was not about me and my preferences and what made me feel good–it was its own unique hour that was unlike any other hour I experienced during the week. I miss it greatly!

  6. MarcoPolo says:

    We owe as much to God’s creation as we do to His/Her benevolence.

    It seems to me that if you don’t at least attempt to preserve the Earth and lead a charge to do so, there won’t be an inhabitable place where you will find a Church to attend!

    But then, this isn’t the first time the Church finds itself on the wrong side of a worthy cause, and thus the wrong side of History… as Time will tell!

  7. Byrom says:

    I believe that the Bible teaches us to be good stewards of our natural resources, but not to make them objects of worship or to think that we are more powerful than God. We have a very short history of keeping records on weather, and seem very prone to overlook in this case what science and research tells us. Who or what caused the Ice Age to disappear, long before there was an Industrial Age? Why did Greenland gets its name? What are the biases in the computer models which are the only predictors of future devastation?
    We are to reflect Christ to others and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to a hurting world around us. We are often admonished in the Scriptures to not worship idols or be tainted by false religions. When will some people ever learn to stick to God’s teachings and not to man’s?

  8. John S. says:

    “Isn’t the sermon time always supposed to directly present the Gospel, evangelizing, discipling and glorifying the Triune God, offering His redemptive hope for the world?”

    Not since a long time ago. Man has been the focus of the sermon for many a decade.

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