XPastor tries to help churches by providing some of the essentials for running a church—items like job descriptions, employment applications, review forms and policies. Below is a 1997 Social Activism Position Paper by Henderson Hills Baptist Church of Edmond, Oklahoma.
Definition of a “Cause”
The purpose of this paper is to discuss our response to values-related social causes and activism. We will define a “cause” as the moral or social issues faced by our society. How can Henderson Hills Baptist Church most effectively confront the evils of our day? This is our subject.
Causes are a major topic of debate in America. Ethics, morality and “the radical religious right” are often featured in newspaper and television news programming. Some Christians are developing a siege mentality from the landslide of criticism proceeding from the liberal establishment. Other Christians can best be described as “militant” for their special cause. All of this is creating a great deal of tension, both within the boundaries of the church and from our critics on the outside.
Because of America’s rapid march away from biblical standards of morality, many Christians are understandably outraged and frightened by what is happening to our society. Some are becoming activists, developing or joining organizations to denounce social evils. Significant emotional involvement often accompanies our determination to do something to stop the country’s moral decline.
Christians are called to live holy lives and to take a stand for truth and right. The question we face is how to respond to the immorality of a godless social structure. It is popular, in evangelical circles, to see this as a simple black and white situation. The theory is to confront the issue head on, with as much fury and vibrato as possible, and slay the dragon before it can do any more damage! In this document, we will explore some of the deeper issues involved in our responsibility to deal with values-related social causes.
Problems the Church Faces in Relating to Activists
Problems lie as land mines on the field of combat in the war between the church and a godless society. Understanding the nature of these land mines and knowing their location provides protection for us and a swifter overthrow of the enemy.
One of these problems is the tremendous proliferation of cause-centered activists and groups. Please understand—the problem is not with the people or groups, it is the dramatic increase in their numbers and concerns. During a three-month period of time, in 1994, twenty-nine cause-oriented organizations and special interest groups asked Henderson Hills Baptist Church to take an active role in supporting their concerns. In addition to these groups, there are a number of mission organizations, public service organizations and institutions of higher learning that make regular appeals for help and support. The vast majority of these groups offer an important and effective service. However, the escalating number of these organizations is overwhelming.
What do all of these organizations and individuals have in common? Besides seeking endorsement, volunteers, publicity and money, they are committed to their cause. To the “pro-life” advocate, nothing could possibly be as important as stopping the terrible slaughter of American children. To the person involved in the anti-pornography or anti-gambling movements, theirs is of greatest significance.
It’s hard to disagree with them. Abortion, pornography and gambling are cancers growing on the American heart. We must do what we can to stop them. Yet, there is another issue involved here. If a church focuses on all of these issues, when will that church have time to worship, preach and teach the Bible or perform its other God-given tasks? How can a church choose between stopping abortions, pornography or gambling? This is a source of growing concern among well-informed believers.
Another problem the church faces, in dealing with values-related causes, is the lack of accountability and stability in many activist groups. Apparently we are experiencing a proliferation in the number of organizations and businesses dedicated to various causes.
Twenty years ago, a pastor would probably have received only one or two requests per year, asking to involve the church in some special emphasis related to a social ill. Not so today! It is not uncommon for a pastor to receive one or two requests per day. The avalanche of appeals is staggering!
How should church leaders respond to these requests? Many read the literature from these organizations and ask their congregations to become involved. Tragically, this can later become a real embarrassment to both the pastor and the church. It is terribly difficult for a church leader to verify the claims, check the credentials, document the use of financial support and validate the methodology of these cause-oriented groups.
The sad fact is these organizations are not always what they seem to be on the surface. Many cause-oriented groups are not accountable to a licensing board or supervisory agency. Without accountability, excesses and corruption can flourish. How can a church leader determine if a group is what it claims to be? How can they be certain that the organization isn’t led by an unscrupulous businessperson that is trying to line his own pockets? How can they verify where contributions are actually being invested in the stated cause? How can they protect against some future incident, which will embarrass the church because of its affiliation or endorsement of the activist organization? Few churches have the will, time or ability to satisfactorily answer these questions. Church leaders must treat their sacred trust with the utmost care. If they lead the church into embarrassing relationships too often, they will lose the trust of the congregation.
This is not to say that every activist group is bogus or fraudulent. Most of them are led by wonderful men and women who have a real passion for their cause. However, the rapid growth of such organizations, and the lack of solid track record or accountability systems, necessitates careful analysis before support is given.
One of the greater tensions we face exists in differentiating between Biblical truth and personal opinion. The Bible should be our sole authority for determining truth. However, our human tendency is to allow the opinions of people, our traditions and the norms of society to color our understanding of truth. When we view the Bible and formulate our opinions of right and wrong through these filters, we may then arrive at erroneous opinions and convictions. Why do some religious groups live in communes, require women to wear head coverings and drive only a horse and buggy? Why do some require their ministers to refrain from marriage and reject certain foods? The reason is, they have formed their understanding of morality through an inadequate method of understanding the scriptures.
Yet, the Bible doesn’t attempt to provide complete answers to every choice we make. The surprising fact is, it offers us very few lists of dos and don’ts. As every student of scripture knows, God does tell us that some actions will always be wrong. There are definite black and white issues. However, we are also allowed the freedom to use godly wisdom in making many decisions. Some Christians have definite convictions about going to the theater, eating in restaurants that serve alcohol, mowing the lawn on Sundays and using musical instruments in worship services. Other sincere Christians do not hold these same convictions. This can produce some lively discussions.
When the church is faced with the decision of becoming activated to a cause, it can become divisive to that congregation. Where there is not obvious biblical instruction, the members have the freedom to develop their own opinions on the given subject. It is interesting to see one sincere Christian with no conviction on an issue and his fellow church member who wants to make that same issue into the eleventh commandment. A church risks “the unity of the Spirit” when it becomes proactive in every cause that is presented, especially when the cause relates to a matter of choice.
Still another challenge related to the cause-oriented approach involves the purpose of the church. Why does Henderson Hills Baptist Church exist? We must never forget that the Lord Jesus is the One Who established the church. He has His own purposes for this great work. It is our obligation to conform our thinking to His leadership.
What does the Bible tell us about the purpose of the church? We could look at dozens of references and write hundreds of pages on this question. However, Jesus does offer us a great summary of His teaching on this subject. In His final instructions to His disciples, which we call the Great Commission, Jesus gave a comprehensive purpose statement for His church. This is recorded for us in Matthew 18:19-20, and expanded upon in John 20:21; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-47; and Acts 1:8. In these, and many other passages, God makes it clear that the purpose of the church is to spread His Word, do the work of evangelism and discipleship. Our object is for the lost man to accept Christ and to become a fully devoted follower of Christ, capable of the personal involvement in this sacred process of evangelism and discipleship.
There are a hundred, or perhaps a hundred thousand, other good activities in which the church can become involved. That is a major part of our problem. Some churches are without focus today! Every church is under a constant temptation to abandon the essence of our existence to accomplish other activities. We must remember why we are here and concentrate our resources on that responsibility. A cause-oriented church can end up losing their evangelistic zeal and commitment to discipleship. They can become so busy doing good things that they forget the main thing they are designated to do.
A major difficulty we face in dealing with moral and social issues is the use of the flesh to “serve God.” The Bible makes two principles crystal clear when it comes to serving God in this world. We must not try to serve God from the power of the flesh. We must serve God in the power of His Spirit (Zec. 4:6, NASB) “Then he answered and said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts.”
When we resort to our own powers of manipulation, schemes, worldly wisdom, political contacts or ungodly methods as tools to accomplish a good work, we render that work spiritually void. God isn’t glorified in this situation and the accomplishments have no lasting value. James 1:20 gives us this insight, “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” Jesus said it like this in John 18:36 “… My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting …”
Unfortunately, it would seem that many Christians are using the flesh in an attempt to serve God in cause-oriented activities. The bombing of abortion clinics and murder of physicians who perform abortions are examples of this.
Those who use these methods may attempt to justify themselves by referring to Peter and John’s statement concerning civil disobedience. Luke records the event in this way, “But in order that it may not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to any man in this name. And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:17-20, NASB). A careful reading of this reference reveals this was a very specific situation that required an unusual response. If the government requires disobedience to God, we must obey God. Of course, that isn’t the issue Christians normally face today. The government doesn’t require that we have abortions and God doesn’t require that we bomb abortion clinics or kill abortionists. The use of the flesh, in attempting to accomplish a godly act, is a dangerous approach to use.
Many scriptures teach us that a fetus is a human being. As such, the unborn is to be nurtured and protected. These are truths that any informed Christian will recognize. The question is about how we should protect them. The use of ungodly methods never accomplishes a godly end. Spiritual objectives are accomplished by spiritual men and women who utilize spiritual methods. The same rationale can be used with many other causes. You see, this is a subtle problem, but it is also an issue that strikes at the very center of what it means to serve God.
Closely associated with this issue is another dilemma the church must face. We can find ourselves involved in inappropriate alliances, due to our desire to accomplish a good work.
Do the ends justify the means? Most of us would strongly oppose this type of situational ethics. It is a fundamental tenet of scripture that character and motivation are of highest importance. Yet, many evangelicals today are compromising in this area to accomplish their cause-oriented agendas.
On June 17, 1994, The Daily Oklahoman published a front-page story titled, “Southern Baptists Embrace Catholics.” The article describes an increasing desire of the two denominations to dialogue and work together. Two excerpts offer wonderful insight. The paper quotes Timothy George, Dean of Beesom Divinity School in Montgomery, Alabama, as saying, “We live in a land where there is a demonic onslaught against the forces of decency and righteousness, and we need to stand with good people together.” Later in the article, the writer states, “Baptist leaders said Thursday the experience of working with Catholics on abortion, pornography and other issues helped bring the 15.4 million-member denomination to the point of seeking closer relations in other areas.”
A similar concept is promoted in a paper titled, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.”
This is a twenty-five-page document that was made public at a press conference on March 29, 1994 in New York. Such notables as Charles Colson, former Watergate figure and president of Prison Fellowship; Kent Hill, president of Eastern Nazarene College and former director on the Institute on Religion and Democracy; Pat Robertson and Bill Bright, president of Campus Crusade for Christ, were among the evangelical leaders who joined with Roman Catholics to affirm an ecumenical accord. Their statement of purpose reads, “Our present statement attends to the specific problems and opportunities in relationship between Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants.” What are the origins of this accord? The document describes that the impetus for the movement in this way, “The pattern of convergence and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics is, in large part, a result of common effort to protect human life, especially in the lives of the most vulnerable among us.” In other words, this ecumenical movement is rooted in a cause-oriented movement, which desires to establish political change in the United States. It is interesting to note that the accord goes so far as to apologize for our evangelizing Roman Catholics.
The problem this represents is obvious to the informed Christian who understands the vast difference that exists between Catholic and Biblical theology. Baptists, along with the countless number of other Bible-believing Christians throughout the past twenty centuries, believe that it is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, that we are made right with God. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” This is not the belief of Catholic theology. Catholics have added many additional acts, rites, symbols and rituals to “grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.” Thus, they have taken gigantic steps away from the Bible’s simple plan of salvation. An aim of “seeking closer relations” with the Catholic Church is, indeed, a hazardous one. Some may interpret this as an endorsement of their system of religion. For centuries, many have tried this tactic, only to find themselves weakened and damaged in the process. This document is a kind of “reverse Reformation” threatening to destroy the work which the reformers were martyred to offer us. Tragically, it is through our activist cause-oriented interests we are being drawn into this same kind of union. We must learn from history; the ends don’t justify the means.
An extremely serious difficulty we encounter in relating to the cause-oriented philosophy is that of losing focus. Speaking at the Oklahoma Christian University of Science and Arts, in April 1993, George Gallup said, “A lot of churches get so concerned with issues they don’t really strengthen the core faith, which of course is Jesus Christ for a Christian. We’ve lost the center. We don’t have a strong center.”
Gallup offers us a profound truth. Many churches are waging battle on too many fronts. Mainline protestant churches did this earlier this century. Their causes were not the same as ours today, but they do show what happens when a church loses focus. They were concerned with housing, hunger and other examples of social injustice. Could anyone question the fact that it is a tragedy for a person to be homeless, hungry or unjustly treated? No, of course not! Yet, as these denominations were drawn deeper and deeper into these battles, they lost their evangelistic heart. The result of this is tragically obvious. They have strayed from their Bible-centered roots and are experiencing mass defection from their ranks. What was true from them earlier in this century may well be true of evangelicals in the later part of the 20th century (see closing illustration).
Evangelical pastors, as well as their counterparts in the pew, are being inundated by a constant flood of Christian psychologists, cause-related para-church organizations and special interest groups pronouncing doom on our “Christian nation” if we don’t dedicate ourselves to their cause. For the most part, these are well-intentioned people who fervently believe in their cause. However, they do not have a panoramic view of the work of the church. Because of the fervency of their bias and the well-manicured approach, many pastors and laymen have defected from the Great Commission to lay siege against an ever-growing list of social problems. This strategy offers us immediate gratification, but produces little long-term change for the good. That is why there is a continuing downward spiral of moral decadence—even though there is a constantly increasing roll of organizations dedicated to exposing the evil and putting a stop to it.
I recently discussed these matters in a telephone conversation with a leader of a cause-oriented organization. He had called me to solicit my involvement in his organization’s activities. Parenthetically, I might mention that he was the third such solicitor for a cause-related organization that week! The caller accused me of being apathetic, or even condoning the sin his organization was fighting.
The Aim of our Refusal to Become Cause-Oriented
Does a refusal to become cause-oriented infer apathy toward, surrender to or support the social evil? If that were true, it would mean that prior to the past two century, the church ha