Part 1 is here.
Are there practical things that contemporary local churches here in the USA can do to maintain the balance of being in the world but not of it? In other words, how do we balance appropriate and necessary involvement in the public square with being about our Father’s business? Should we be involved in the public square beyond pastors applying the truth of the Scriptures to contemporary social and moral issues from the pulpit?
MBY: This is a fantastic question, one that came to mind as we debated a resolution on global warming at the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio recently. The Bible speaks to social and moral issues in the forms of narrative, command, prophecy, etc., and the church must be proclaiming those truths to the world. However, according to the Great Commission, the church’s primary function in the world is to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, and we need to be careful about letting other issues dominate. Every time I step into a public forum and especially into a pulpit, I am convicted that Christ’s commission is not to address secondary issues but the primary issue of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone by the power of the Holy Spirit alone for the glory of God alone. This is a fantastic question and one that should be before every minister of the gospel: the gospel is your primary business!
TW: I believe it is our duty as good citizens to vote. This duty follows to pastors and church members so I believe that every Christian should vote. In addition, Christians are called to defend the helpless or defenseless. I believe that abortion is America’s greatest sin and must be reversed through biblical teaching and political influence. Beyond certain issues like these, however, Christians must recognize that salvation will not come through political or social endeavors absent from the Gospel message. Our first priority must always be the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we should not let anything side track us from that effort.
JGD: I agree entirely with my co-editors and would only add this quote from Russell Moore’s chapter, “Maintaining religious liberty has more to do with Vacation Bible School that with the Supreme Court. If we are to ensure that the next generations of churches have liberty, we must remember why we claim that liberty: for the gospel and for the church. And we must therefore rear a generation of children and grandchildren who so love the gospel, who so love the church, that they are willing, when soldiers with AK-47s line them up against the walls for their faith, to go to their deaths for the Christ who alone is King. . . . They won’t do that for a political party or even a cultural way of life.”
How should pastors of local Baptist churches address the concerns of people affected by the war our nation is fighting?
MBY: We should be ready to bring a word of peace and love, both for our soldiers and for our soldiers’ enemies.
TW: I believe the first freedom is the freedom of religion. As good Christians and good Americans we should always be encouraged when religious freedom enters a historically “closed” country. While personal attachment to a situation always makes rational judgment difficult, if America is able to help create in Iraq a free marketplace of ideas where Christianity can spread, then what value can a person place on the souls which will be in heaven for all eternity? This is why we must be faithful to share the Gospel while the opportunity exists.
JGD: Dr. Patterson’s chapter provides clear and thoughtful answers to these concerns. For example, he says, “Sixth, to become a consistent advocate of freedom for all, the government of the United States must be constantly exhorted to formulate foreign as well as domestic policy with a view toward establishing religious liberty around the globe,” and he continues carefully to explain what he means by this.
Emir Caner’s chapter that addresses how religious liberty might be possible in Islamic countries is alone worth the entire book specifically for those seeking answers to this type of question.
What is the greatest threat to religious liberty Baptists in America face, and what should we do in response? Should the pastor of a small church leave this matter to the ERLC, or are there particular things he should be doing?
MBY: The greatest threat to religious liberty is amnesia, forgetting that religious liberty came after a long, hard battle over centuries. Religious liberty is a relatively recent historical phenomenon and we would not want to lose it. Other great threats would include hypocrisy (demanding religious liberty for ourselves but not for others) and liberalism (granting religious liberty only to those who agree with an egalitarian social agenda but denying it to those who have biblical convictions that demand obedience to God’s Word and work against the egalitarian social agenda).
TW: The ERLC exists to give Southern Baptists a voice in Washington and provide resources. That does not remove the responsibility of all Baptists to support religious liberty and educate various congregations. I believe the greatest threat to religious liberty is ignorance or apathy. We must understand religious liberty and defend it vigorously.
JGD: Barrett Duke of the ERLC provides with careful detail four fronts on which religious liberty is threatened today in our first chapter:
- A new religious fundamentalism has gripped many countries where it is bringing the power of the state to its aid in suppressing those of other faiths or even different sects of the same faith.
- Certain Christ-confessing groups that believe in the superior nature of their sect or who consider other Christ-confessing groups as nuisances or threats to their dominance—in the former Soviet countries, for example.
- The world’s remaining totalitarian states still see religious belief as a threat to the state’s dominance of every aspect of life.
- A fundamentalist secularism has emerged in many countries that considers the church’s denouncement of certain sins to be unacceptable.
And Judge Pressler’s chapter provides great examples of how pastors are working with groups like the ERLC to confront these threats both on a local and national level.