This is an often-asked question, “Should a pastor or other Christians address cultural (or social) issues or just keep focused on the gospel?” Sometimes speaking on culturally touchy subjects can cause division, tension or have negative consequences. This is a complex question for some. What is the answer? As a person who has wrestled with this, I found much help from a story about John the Baptist.
John preceded Jesus and became the most influential religious figure throughout Israel in a matter of weeks. His phenomenal ministry rocketed upward quickly and ended about the same way six months later. And it ended due to what we are talking about – a cultural issue. He took on adultery, divorce and remarriage.
Herod Antipas was the political leader over Israel, appointed to that role by the occupying Roman Empire. Herod had taken notice of John’s rising ministry and John had taken notice of Herod’s lifestyle. In particular, John was deeply troubled by something Herod had done. While Herod was married, he went to visit his brother and had an affair with his sister-in-law, who was also his niece. She divorced his brother, Herod divorced his wife, and they married. Herod did not do this in secret. The whole nation, including all the religious leaders, knew what he had done. Yet, because Herod was a ruthless leader — punishing, even killing, anyone who opposed him; no one challenged him – except one man. John.
Herod’s immoral behavior became a cultural issue. As the highest political leader in the land, his actions had influence. He affected culture. Silence among the spineless Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and the entire Sanhedrin was akin to acceptance of Herod’s behavior.
John spoke to Herod about his actions. He pointed out how they were lawless, having violated God’s laws. No doubt John addressed it in his messages to the people of Israel. This angered Herod’s wife, which eventually was the cause of John being arrested and thrown in prison.
What drove John to talk about it? He was driven by the Word of God. He knew the Word was divinely inspired and authoritative. And He knew God and His Word were King over Herod, and Herod would be judged by the Word. He knew Herod must submit to God’s Word and repent or come under eternal judgment. John raised this point out of love for God and love for Herod and his eternal soul. John had no choice because the Word of God burned in his bones with great conviction.
When John addressed the issue, he understood it could cause division among his listeners. Some would want him to keep quiet about it. John knew the brutality of Herod and understood the potential consequences. But John knew he had to do what was right; not what was safe for himself or unifying to the nation. John knew he was ultimately accountable to only One. When he was executed by beheading for boldly addressing a major cultural issue, perhaps his critics said, “See, this is what happens when you step into secondary and divisive issues.” Yet, what people say about us is not as important as what God says. Jesus said about John, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John” (Luke 7:28).
As we move into a new year, desire to seek out what the Word of God has to say on any issue facing you personally, your congregation or our nation. Then speak forth that Word in wisdom, love, humility and courage. No matter if it be truth to power, truth to your neighbor or truth to the church, be courageous and leave the results or consequences in God’s hands.
A prayer for you – “Lord God, I pray you will raise up a man or woman like John the Baptist through this column. Raise up a person that has Your Word burning in their bones. Where they must speak forth Your truth no matter the consequences to their health, career, finances or relationships. Raise them up and send them out. In Jesus name. Amen.”