“If I profess with loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”—Martin Luther
Some years ago I was speaking at a conference in a country in which “hate crimes” legislation had been enacted. Already some pastors and others in that country had been charged with discrimination or hate speech because they had spoken out about the truth that homosexual practice was contrary to the Word of God. Being well aware that such legislation was being considered in our nation, I was curious to find out how Reformed pastors in that country were responding to this challenge by the civil authorities and the dominant culture.
On the Saturday morning of the conference, I was asked to address a group of such pastors from a variety of Reformed and Presbyterian denominations in an informal interchange of questions and answers. Once the pastors had finished their questions of me, I asked them: How did they intend to deal with this challenge as ministers of the Word of God committed to make known the whole counsel of God “whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account” (OPC ordination vow #6 for ministers)? For several long seconds, pregnant with significance, there was no answer. Finally, one of the senior ministers in the group quietly offered: “We simply avoid the issue.”
I was stunned. I was shocked. And in a response that smacks very much of the New Yorker that I am (for whom tact too often takes a backseat to bluntness), I retorted: “Brothers, do you fear God?” And, to this day, I have no regrets for my New York bluntness. When fear of man replaces fear of God, particularly in the church communities that are to be known by their faithfulness to the Word of God, we are in big trouble.
Now, as the threats of civil consequences for stands on such issues as “same-sex marriage” and “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender” matters come close to our doorsteps in our own nation, I am deeply concerned about how our own confessionally faithful Reformed and Presbyterian churches will respond. And, yes, I am particularly concerned about the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in all of this. I am concerned for its pastors, teachers, chaplains, congregation members, local churches, presbyteries, and the General Assembly itself. Will we be silent when the Word of God compels us to speak?
Some may be nervous about civil penalties when our proclamations and our practices run against the grain of faddish political correctness that increasingly seeks to impose itself by the force of law. Will you be charged with hate speech? With discrimination? With seeking to “convert” someone from a lifestyle for which God commands repentance and change? Will our churches lose their tax-exempt status if they seek to honor God rather than modern pundits (cf. Acts 5:29)? For some, this may be creating anxiety. In the face of that, will you become silent?
Others will retreat into what, according to my estimation, is a false view of church and state. According to this view, the state is a common sphere, and the church should never (or hardly ever) address it with what the Word of God says—even when it speaks to civil leaders (that is, magistrates)—who are meant to be “ministers of God to us for good” (Rom. 13:4). (In the face of this view, I am regularly struck by the sobering truth that arrogant civil leader Herod was struck down by an angel of the Lord “because he did not give God the glory” [Acts 12:23]).
Certainly the church should not try to impose on the civil realm those things that are distinctive to the church and its life, but when the creation ordinances, which are given to man as man—including marriage and procreation—and the moral law of God, which applies to “all men” (see Larger Catechism 95), are undermined and openly acted against by those in authority, are we being “steady on the battlefield” (to quote Martin Luther) or are we in “mere flight and disgrace” by flinching at that point? Will we be silent?
And for others (especially those of us who are in urban and suburban areas in which the winds of the trends of modern culture blow with particular force), there is the seeming tension between being faithful to all that God says in his Word and not wanting to appear inhospitable to those with “alternative lifestyles.” In short, we don’t want to offend the very people we are trying to reach with the gospel. I fear that this way of thinking is far more common than we want to admit.
I certainly agree that we must always be gracious and filled with the Spirit of the forgiving Christ, who bids all who are weary and heavy-laden to come to him, that they might find rest for their souls (Matt. 11:28–30). But are we to do this in such a way that we tone down or eliminate altogether the very truths about human sinfulness that make people hunger and thirst for the saving Christ and his righteousness? That would be like a doctor who knows that his patient’s case is terminal unless the patient pursues a specific medical regimen, but does not want to offend his patient and so is less than fully honest in disclosing his patient’s condition and the horrible consequences of failure to immediately pursue the only effective path to a cure. Is this truly loving?
Consider the physical, social, psychological, emotional, and spiritual consequences of patterns of life that are contrary to the Word of God. Many of us, I fear, have preferred to ignore these things, rather than allow ourselves to be impacted by the painful truth that “the way of transgressors is hard” (Prov. 13:15 KJV). When we are struck by these things, we know that it is not loving to be silent.
Is it loving to be silent when we know that certain sexual practices inevitably lead to some of the most painful and miserable forms of disease?
Is it loving to be silent when, by the vote of a slim majority of United States Supreme Court justices, the very nature of marriage, as an institution that is meant for human perpetuation and flourishing (as expressed so well in our own Confession of Faith, chap. 24), has been radically redefined for our nation?
Is it loving to be silent when the Scriptures declare unequivocally that certain patterns of conduct prohibit the unrepentant from entering the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9–10)?
Is this really love—or cowardice?
Randy Alcorn, in his article, “The Trend in the Church towards Silence” (www.epm.org/blog/2015/Mar/30/trend-church-silence), comments wisely on the call to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15):
As Christ-followers, we are not to choose between being loving and being truthful. We are to be both. And notice … that we are to speak.
Yes, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). But we dare not embrace the ease of silence and turn our backs on the hard work of truth-telling done in love.
When we believe and teach the Bible with courage and compassion, it’s guaranteed you and I will be seen as bigots—unless we either outright deny the Scriptures or are so quiet about out beliefs that no one finds us out. (Imagine an ambassador who lives in fear of divulging his King’s policies).
Of course we will be mocked and despised by some. But our call is clear: in the balance of grace and truth, (we are) to follow the example of Peter and the Apostles, who told the Sanhedrin: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Yes, we are living in a time in which difficult ethical questions and issues are challenging churches. However, for that very reason alone we must not be silent. To be silent is to leave God’s people in bewilderment when they are most in need of bold yet gracious and carefully thought-out answers. This has always been the strength of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in its unashamed commitment to the final authority of the Word of God. Now is not the time to be silent. It is the time to think carefully and biblically, seek wise counsel from others, and then speak—regardless of the consequences. Our doomed culture needs that—and, above all, God requires that.
Why are we silent? Because we have too much fear of man, but too little fear of God; too much desire for the approval of the world, but too little desire for the approval of Christ; too much of the spirit of the age, but too little of the Spirit of God.
Silent soldiers on today’s battlefield? No!
The author is the pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Franklin Square, N.Y. He quotes the ESV unless otherwise indicated. New Horizons, August-September, 2015.