“It is a poor sermon that offends no one” George Whitefield. but the offended need to wrestle with the Scriptures.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
On a recent Podcast for The Bulwark Tim Miller noted that we tend to become the very things we rant and rave against. Miller, who worked for the Jeb Bush Campaign in 2015 is old enough to remember all the talk among Republicans about having good moral leaders who have strong character, as am I. For this reason he was one of the most vocal Never Trump Republicans until he left the party last month in one of the most amazing Newsletters I have ever read. He also made the point that Conservatives have long railed against the kind of brand authoritarianism that they have embraced in the last four years. Christianity has had this problem for several decades, perhaps even a century, as we have railed against sexual immorality while propping up pastors who have willfully and unapologetically participated in it. This is what is called: “Blame Shifting” it takes the pressure off me and makes me a victim of something or someone else. When we blame shift we move from being the victimizer to the victimized and we never have to face a reckoning for our actions because, well, we are the victim. I was raised in a conservatism that was all about the consequences for ones actions. My parents never outlawed underage drinking in our house, but they did tell us that if we got caught and went to Jail, we would be spending the night there and then they would come a get us. If we broke the law, there would be consequences.
In the bible, there are consequences to our actions, in 1 John 1 and 2 we are told that if we say we are in the light and walk-in darkness the truth is not in us, we are liars, and if we say we know Jesus and do not follow his commandments then we are liars and do not have the truth. The consequence of this lying is that we are outside of the name of Jesus and we will face eternal punishment for that. Too many Christians believe the cultural Libertinism that has coaxed them into believing that their actions mean nothing in the grand scheme of salvation. I usually avoid Religious Litmus tests, but the one John gives us, in fact that Jesus gives us in John, is that if we love Jesus or know Jesus as Lord and Savior, we will do the things He has commanded us. Not out of legalistic obligation, but out of immense gratitude. The Jesus life and the way of Jesus are the way to exceptional blessings beyond what the citizenship of a nation can give. But the consequence of not living the Jesus life and not going the Jesus way is that we are outside the body, no matter how much we claim to be in. John does not want believers to sin, but when we do we can repent and go back to living the Jesus life because we have Jesus on the throne. Instead, Christians act as though their sin is justified by Christs Sacrifice, this is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer has called: “Cheap grace” which nullifies the cross of Christ. Sin is never justified, but you are justified only through Christ, not by making it up with good deeds, or ignoring it, pushing down the shame and going on to the next sin. The cross of Christ should drive us to repentance for our sins both before and after we are believers.
I say all this because censorship has been back in the news, specifically censorship of conservatives by “Big Tech.” I am not here to argue the merits of this argument, I do not believe there is a targeted war on conservatism. I believe in a free-market and negative rights meaning I believe that social media companies are private companies that have the right to protection under the constitution to make sure the government cannot infringe on their right to free enterprise. Because we live in a fallen world this is going to be abused or under applied or whatnot and demanded perfection from anyone is only going to lead to disappointment.
It is also disingenuous to argue against censorship when it was Christians who perfected the art of Cancel Culture and Censorship as far back as the nineteenth century. That is part of what it means to be a Historian who specialized in the nineteenth century, it is to study the history of the Church in America fighting with each other and trying to cancel each other out, it is the history of internecine warfare such as the debate over Slavery between Abolitionists and the Stonewall-Campbell Churches or the debate over the nature of the Church between Mercersburg and Princeton or the fight between Princeton/Mercersburg against the revivalists. If you understand this paradigm you can understand the politics of Christianity in the twentieth century as laid out in the incredibly thoroughly researched: “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristin Du Mez. You can even find the roots to all this in the debate between the Old and New Light Puritans during the First Great Awakening. With Charles Chauncy trying to “Cancel” James Davenport, though Davenport probably needed to be canceled, still Yale used Chauncy’s arguments to curb the Revivals that broke out on campus, even banning students from attending a church pastored by a Revivalist. The story of the beginning of Mercersburg Seminary’s fame begins with the revivalists trying to “Cancel” Schaff and Nevin for “Romanizing.” An effort that went down in spectacular fashion in a 42-1 vote. The Church should be on the lookout for heretics, to some extent censorship can be a good thing, we should all be glad that Nicholas and Athanasius had the gal to stand up to Arius and his heretical notions about Christ. To some extent the debates of the nineteenth century were over important matters of orthodoxy, the debate over the nature of the Church for instance, is important, but some were debates of selfishness, such as the debate over Slavery, by that I mean there should never have been a debate among biblical Christians over whether it was justifiable is one of convenience. Slavery was never acceptable, as William Wilberforce argued, it should not even have been a debate, slavery should have ended and reconciliation and yes, restitution, should have been enacted right away. This is like Zacchaeus’s repentance and restitution when he encounters Jesus, he repents, he commits to making restitution and then Jesus tells him that Salvation has entered the house. Christians in America should have led the charge against Slavery, instead we fought over it.
My point is, we have been doing this for years and in the last 10 years or so it has gotten worse as we descend into chaos and infighting over every little thing. Pastors then, have become the targets of wild conspiracy theories, abusive church members via phone call, emails and face to face conversations or anonymous notes left on desks and crazy internet trolls. Usually, it is because the Pastor has failed to preach exactly what the person or congregation has been listening to on the internet. The Pastor gets canceled because he is not telling the “itching ears” what they want to hear. Of course, given the 2 Timothy 3 reference above, this should not surprise us, but it is a concerning trend among Christians who claim the name of Christ.
The problem is, when Christians do this, they are forcing their pastor to violate the Scriptures by which they are bound. Those who want Christianity+ and force their pastor to go along with it are putting their pastor at risk, not before the public, but before God. We are not supposed to give in to the itching ears, we are supposed to hold the line as part of the foundation of the House of God. Congregations, are of course, putting themselves at risk too, of eternal punishment, by refusing to follow the teachings of Jesus and instead insisting they be comforted in their false teachings and heresies, that their conspiracy theories be confirmed, and their idols be lifted, they are putting themselves in danger of eternal death. They will not see heaven because they have spent their lives denying Christ while claiming His name. Pastoral Abuse is a significant problem in the Church, as I noted last week, we have likely lost all the ground gained on Pastor health over the last year.
Whenever I preach sermons on controversial topics I always tell my congregation not to respond right away, if they are angry or uncomfortable, I ask them to sit with that, then to go and study the Scriptures for themselves and to wrestle directly with the scriptures. Then if they still have questions they can come and speak to me during scheduled office hours as long as they are able to have a conversation and constructive discourse. If they do this, they will have to wrestle not with what I said, but with what the Bible says and if they hold the Bible to be authoritative, then they should be shaped by it as Disciples of Jesus.
On Sunday I preached a sermon where I was intent on calling out the sin that led us to what happened on Wednesday. My expectation was that my congregation would get angry, that I may even face the possibility of losing my job, not because I do not trust my people, but because of the nature of the material and the experience of pastors around the nation. Thankfully, once again, it seems a majority of my congregation have been receptive to the message and call for repentance and Gospel renewal, an answer to be prayer, and not the experiences of some of my friends who went the same direction I did. Too many pastors, last year, reported abuse after mentioning everything from “BLM” and Policing, to Politics and Religion. This is unacceptable, abusing anyone, is unacceptable. After the sermon I told them what I mentioned in the paragraph above, so far I have not heard from anyone, but at the time of writing, it is Monday morning.
This is not a fear I have, and yet, the experience of my colleagues tells me I should. Let me put it this way, Tweets like these should not exist in Christendom.
Please try to refrain from telling pastors what they should or shouldn't say this morning. Pastors of politically mixed congregations face exceedingly difficult decisions. On any given Sunday, half the people are always mad at them. Pray instead for wisdom & courage. But do pray.
— W. David O. Taylor (@wdavidotaylor) January 10, 2021
A young man who I trained, invested in, and was sent out from our church to pastor was run out by some leaders and fired today after 19 months.
He was being a faithful pastor. I am feeling a unique grief with this news.
Pray for him.
— Brian Croft (@PastorCroft) January 11, 2021
Rumors are silly. I have never taken a penny from George Soros or from any of his institutions. Nor has any institution that I have been associated with (as far as I know).
— Timothy Keller (@timkellernyc) January 10, 2021
Here is what needs to happen, there has to be a recovery of Biblical Literacy and a devotion to deep biblical study and a renouncing of idols by our congregations, there also has to be anew renewed understanding of the role of a Pastor in our Churches. We should not be ear ticklers, we should be tellers of biblical truth, fulfilling a call to prophetic ministry through the prophetic scriptures. Pastors are called so that the assembly of believers can have the scriptures opened to them by people who are trained, guided and directed both by the Holy Spirit and by wise people. We are not supposed to cower to the masses and tell them what they want to hear, we are supposed to prove ourselves as workman for Christ who are not ashamed of the Gospel (2 Tim 3:15). Our congregations need to respect that, and pastors need to understand this call. We need more Timothy Keller’s and less Greg Locke’s. It may cost us our job, but when people refuse to hear truth, we should shake the dust off and move on.
Congregations should not censor their pastors, they should listen to them, unless they are violating or adding to Scripture, then you need to address that in the manner prescribed in Matthew 18 and Titus 3. Pastors are not infallible, which is why we need to make sure we ourselves are humbly living the Jesus Life in the Jesus way. We also need to be examples of good and righteous discourse, an example of how to engage with ideas we disagree with in a manner that is reflective of Jesus and His love for the world. This is one way a secular education has benefited me, by learning the ideas that are present in the world I am able to refute them through a biblical lens and in a biblical way. Instead of cowing to our congregations, we should expect that they hold this standard themselves and learn to engage in a secularizing America in a way that is God honoring and which does not further undermine that already eroded public trust in the Church and in pastors.
Let it be known that there are situations where censorship is necessary, when someone is promoting a false gospel that has been debunked by the scriptures and when someone is pushing harmful conspiracy theories or inciting violence. These things go against the teaching of scripture and once evaluated, should be rejected by us because scripture rejects them. But let us not adopt the ways of the world and cancel anyone and everyone that does not agree with us. Let’s make it so that the above tweets are a thing of the past as we conform ourselves, once again, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and let it conform us to the image of the Son. Your zeal should be for Orthodoxy in the worship and service of the Father, but Zeal has to be tempered by Love, love spoken and acted upon because we have received grace from the father. Congregations and Pastors alike, there are consequences for our actions, some are going to play out in this world, but also eternity, we are not living for today, but for eternity. The way you treat your pastor matters and if God chastises those whom he loves, then there will be consequences.
May we repent for our sins against one another, for the sake of the Gospel, turn from our wicked ways and return to Christ.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center