Recently, I was discussing abortion with an acquaintance. While we both agree that abortion needs to be outlawed, there was still plenty of room for disagreement. This is because of a statement that was made:
Woe to you, pastors, seminary professors, hypocrites! For you attend church every Sunday, Bible study twice a week and you teach the weightiest of doctrine, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.
While, on the surface, this might sound like a moral call to righteousness, I just can’t get behind it. I find the statement to be confusing at best and flawed arrogant at worst. I’d like to take a moment to break down why a Christian should steer clear from such a mindset.
To break down the statement, it is a scathing rebuke of pastors and seminary professors being dubbed as hypocrites. While I have no problem calling a hypocrite a hypocrite, if we are going to do so, we better be right. But that’s really only part of the problem. The statement also asserts that said pastors and seminary professors are neglecting God’s justice, mercy, and faithfulness. To accuse pastors and seminary professors of this is no small charge. Again, if they truly are guilty of this, it makes sense to call them out, but what does that look like and is it true?
As a little background, the person I was dialoguing with is a theonomist. If you’ve ready my other articles (HERE and HERE), you’ll know I am no fan of theonomy. Overhauling the political system and conforming governments to the mind of Christ just simply is not a charge of the church as found in Scripture. It’s a worldview that tends to run in tandem with theonomy and postmillennialism, but it certainly isn’t Scriptural. Yes, the church should be speaking against such atrocities, but it’s for the purpose of equipping the saints as they lead them in godliness. If a politician claims to be a Christian but supports pro-choice, I would say he is not a Christian. In these cases, we can disagree with the politician and even call a spade a spade, but I’d hardly fault pastors or seminary professors for that. At that point, it is no longer a matter of personal accountability but becomes a matter of organizational accountability.
But doesn’t it all start with pastors and seminary professors? No! Pastors are not the spiritual leaders of politicians. Sure, a pastor and elders could potentially have spiritual authority over a politician who is a member of a local church but it’s not a default for pastors in general. My pastor has zero spiritual authority over any politicians because none are members of our congregation. Does that make my elders guilty of the aforementioned charge just because they aren’t making it their mission to go after them and hold them accountable? Absolutely not. It’s not a pastor’s job to call out a wicked politician unless that wicked politician is a member of his local church. It’s that simple.
Of course, all of this really ties into the person being an abolitionist. He feels pro-life laws are unjust by showing partiality to the wicked. On that matter, I disagree as well. Feel free to check out THIS ARTICLE I wrote on why I’ve come to that conclusion. I would define partiality as favor for one over another. True pro-lifers (not the shams who use the title for clout) aren’t showing partiality. While it is certainly possible for true justice to be accomplished in the realm of abortion, we rely on a pagan system to pass laws in our society. We recognize our culture and laws aren’t ready to save all of them so we save who we can in the meantime, while openly condemning abortion as a whole. That’s not partiality, that’s called action. We don’t have to be happy with the injustice being perpetuated by the courts, but we can still recognize the current system we live in, all while saving as many as we can. What abolitionists call partiality to the wicked, I call some semblance of hope for real babies who are being slaughtered by the thousands each day. In that vein, failed abolitionist proposals that reject any form of incrementalism are literally just letting them all equally die in the name of justice and righteousness. That is anything but justice and righteousness. You can’t force pagan nations to be Christian and shouldn’t wait to save some just because you can’t save them all in the current moment. If you ask me, I think there are a lot more pastors who need to be rebuking abolitionists in their charge than there are those who should be rebuking politicians.
It was at this point in the discussion that the person began comparing pastors/elders to prophets. He asserted, just as the prophets spoke out against civil magistrates, so too should pastors and elders. But pastors are not prophets. They are two totally separate callings and duties. Nowhere do we see pastors charged with speaking out against magistrates. Nor do we see pastors being called New Testament prophets. It’s just not in Scripture. Apostles and prophets laid the foundation of the Church. They no longer exist. That foundation has been laid. Elders now build upon that foundation as being pillars of truth within the Church but, on a church government level, their authority only extends to the members of their local congregation. The role and responsibility of a pastor and elders is to their local congregation, not to the civil magistrates or pagan nations. This is why I am under no obligation to submit to the elder of a different local body than my own. Similarly, they are under no obligation to shepherd me and have no authority to practice church discipline on me.
To look at the example of prophets speaking out against civil magistrates and then try to conclude that pastors should be doing the same thing is to infer that which cannot reasonably be inferred. Scripture outlines the role and responsibilities of pastors and limits their authority to their local congregation in their charge. You can’t say, “But look at what the apostles/prophets did,” and then say pastors should be doing the same. That’s called eisegesis in order to fit a preconceived notion. It’s a reckless way of interpreting Scripture. We have zero examples of pastors calling out civil magistrates, and we have explicit limitations of their authority and calling to a local congregation. Again, if a politician belongs to a local congregation and is apathetic toward the slaughter of the preborn, there would certainly be room for shepherding. But just because a politician is pro-life and sees value in incrementalism does not automatically qualify said politician for the Mathew 18 treatment. My Christmas wish is for die-hard abolitionists to see that instead of being blinded by self-righteous idealism that only leads to the death of droves of small children.
That brings me back to the point of PLiNO (Pro-Life in Name Only) politicians who claim the title for clout but actually have no desire to eradicate abortion. I already said such a person likely is not a believer in the Lord, regardless what they may claim. If one is not a Christian and is not a member of a local congregation, there is no room for church discipline. We can make general statements of truth to all but that doesn’t mean pastors and seminary professors should be held in judgement for not holding politicians outside their charge accountable. Furthermore, seminary professors have no spiritual authority whatsoever to begin with. To include them in the original statement takes it to a whole other level of irrational thinking.
Again, pastors should absolutely speak out against the evils of our society, but the reason is to equip the saints in their care, not to change a pagan culture. To that end, all Christians should be holding the same truth equally. The role of a pastor is not for the calling out of civil magistrates. The role of a pastor is to feed his sheep. This is why individual Christians can (and should if able) visit abortion mills and preach the gospel, but a local church as an entity isn’t called to have an organized anti-abortion ministry. I know many who disagree with this. They tend to feel a church who doesn’t have an abortion ministry is guilty of apathy at an institutional level. While it may feel nice to say, it’s not in line with the purpose of the church and its leadership. It only confuses things by blending the common kingdom and the redemptive kingdom. Jesus is king over both but elders only lead in one of them. Until my dying breath, I will hold to it that it is not the church’s role to become involved in societal activism. Members are free to do so and to receive the blessing of their elders, but the institution of the Church is not for activism or societal change. We are to be a light unto the world in hope that people will turn to Christ. At that point, any societal change that comes with it can be considered an additional blessing.
To bring things to a close, what exactly does apathy look like? Does it look like one who openly says abortion isn’t an issue? Does it look like one who speaks against it but isn’t sleeping in a tent outside the local abortion mill in order to speak out against anyone who comes near? Maybe it looks like a pastor of a local congregation not going outside his realm of authority by publicly rebuking politicians by name? Or maybe it looks like Christians going to church on Sunday being irritated by AHA members protesting outside instead of joining for worship inside? When you try to transform the church into something it isn’t and try to add roles to elders that aren’t in their wheelhouse, it only opens the door to dangerous eisegesis and reckless charges being projected toward those we should be lifting up as shepherds while we seek their counsel in all things pertaining to godliness. But please stop blaming men of God for the apathy of the ungodly.
~ Travis W. Rogers