Watchman: Speaking the Truth in Love
By Paul R. Gilchrist
[Dr. Gilchrist may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org]
Two articles have been posted on the WRF website which seem at points to contradict each other, one by Sam Logan, “How should Christians talk about others” and a second article by Mike Milton, “Should Ministers speak out on Political topics?” Dr. Logan sums up his thoughts under four points all of which are good. Under “1. Tell the truth,” he speaks approvingly (and rightly so) of Basyle Tchividjian and Diane Landsberg addressing the sexual abuse and child trafficking problem in the world, pointing out the “powerful link between silence and genocide.”
Dr. Milton would seem to agree with this point by asking, “Is it right that pastors should remain silent about important matters in society that are being debated in the public square because … there is no place in politics for religious beliefs or moral convictions…? Because people squirm when sin is exposed in politics or culture, does it mean we should refrain from preaching? No. It may mean just the opposite.”
As a young pastor in Pennsylvania I had a visit from a Deacon from a neighboring Baptist church. He was running for public office in the commonwealth but was very concerned that his pastor and fellow church members urged him not to get involved in the dirty business of politics. That position reflected the old fundamentalist attitude of not getting involved in political activities. Silence may be golden, but sometimes it’s yellow!
Dr. Milton develops his theme that pastors (and Christians for that matter) ought to speak out against and warn of impending disaster from political and cultural policies which may have dangerous consequences not only for the country but also for the church around the world. He appropriately refers to the prophetic call as “watchman” in Ezekiel 33. Verse 6 states: “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.”
Dr. Logan, on the other hand, takes a more cautious approach, quoting portions of the Westminster Larger Catechism Q and A 145 on the ninth commandment. (One would wish that he had quoted some other prohibitions which give a broader understanding, such as: “concealing the truth, undue silence in a just cause, and holding our peace when iniquity calleth for either reproof from ourselves.” And what of Q. 144 which requires the duty of “standing for the truth, … speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice.”) In any case, under “2. Tell nothing but the truth,” Dr. Logan gives two examples of comments by Christians regarding Muslims, one which singles out “the construction of mosques and the purported threats of creeping Sharia law.” It is clear that he feels that one should not raise such questions, because “Muslims are understandably and justifiably upset by such comments.” The rest of his article refers to materials which point out the dangers posed by Islamists. The question that must be asked is: what is untruthful about addressing these issues and pointing out what Muslims themselves say the meaning of a mosque is on the very site of the 9/11 attack and even naming it Cordova? What is not truthful or un-Christian about forwarding articles pointing out the persecution against Christians by Muslims in countries around the world – including destruction of Christian churches and killings of Christians? What is not true about seeking to educate Christians and non-Christians alike about how Muslims understand Sharia laws – not merely as religious (i.e. ecclesiastical) laws but also as civil and political laws? As both religious as well as civil and political laws, they support honor killings which in most countries of the world is subsumed under criminal and civil jurisprudence. Sharia laws seek to supplant the federal Constitution and state laws. If some Christians and Americans (not to speak of many European people) view these inroads as a serious issue, should they be silenced? To some, these are a clear and present danger, while unfortunately for others it is politically incorrect to speak out.
Doesn’t the Watchman text apply to us today? Dr. Logan concludes his article with: “My Lord asks me to act according to His word and to leave the ultimate results to Him.” But it needs to be pointed out that “to act according to His word” is to face up to the call as “Watchman.” Scripture and history are full of excellent examples of this principle:
· The Angel of the Lord himself went down to Sodom and Gomorrah and warned and pulled Lot out of the cities that were going to suffer the judgment of God.
· Should Joshua and Caleb have kept silent since they were in the minority and should have just left the ultimate results up to God?
· How many people in the days of the Judges sighed, “What can we do about these Philistines?” or “We dare not speak out against the Midianites, much less stand up to them.”
· Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos and the other prophets did not keep silent but spoke the word of the Lord and acted accordingly. Their warnings were with tears in their eyes and hearts.
· Should Christ have kept his peace when pronouncing his woes on the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23? Note how he wept over Jerusalem at the end of that chapter. But so did the apostles in the New Testament, “warning night and day with tears.”
· Should Martin Luther have kept quiet at the Diet of Worms?
· Should John Knox have kept silent instead of preaching before young Mary Queen of Scots: “The blind zeal of princes is nothing but a mad frenzy, and therefore to take the sword from them, to bind their hands, and to cast them into prison, till they be brought to a more sober mind … agreeth with the Word of God.”?
· Should Andrew Melville have kept silent before King James when declaring to him: “There are two Kings and two kingdoms in Scotland: There is Christ Jesus the King and His kingdom the Kirk, whose subject King James the Sixth is, and of whose Kingdom he is not a king, nor lord, nor a head, but a member.”?
· Should Jonathan Edwards have not preached his sermon “Sinners in the hands of an angry God”?
· Was William Wilberforce wrong in speaking out against the “suppression of the slave trade and the transformation of culture?”
· Should Dietrick Bonhoffer have kept silent during the rise of Hitler in Germany?
Each of these had different results, but they spoke out according to the word of God and for each there were different results. These all were not silenced, but having spoken out, they then left the results to a gracious and sovereign God.
Maybe we need to apply the principle that there is a “powerful link between silence and genocide” to other serious problems facing the church and nation. Should we not teach Christians what are the fiery darts that Satan is using against His church and His people:
· The Jews were asking during the 1940s about the horrific holocaust against them: “After we Jews are exterminated, who will be next?” And, sure enough, the Gypsies were targeted.
· The tiny nation of Israel is facing increasing threats for their extinction by Iran and fellow-travellers Hesbollah, Hamas, the Muslem Brotherhood, et al.
· Instead of a “Muslim Spring” we now have the growing concerns of “the Muslim Brotherhood” not only in Egypt, but in Lybia, Syria, and elsewhere.
When Muslim born believers (MBBs) remind us what the Quran teaches about how Muslims should deal with non-Muslims, it seems that it would be wise at least to be aware of the issues, the influence and the activities that Islamists are having across the globe. That in no way should diminish the Christian’s mission to pray for and befriend Muslims and to proclaim Christ and his grace. Certainly, watchmen must speak the truth of God’s Word with love and tenderness and certainly with sincere tears in their hearts and lives. The words of J. Gresham Machen, though spoken in a different context, seem apropos: “Learn to face the facts. Should we not expose ourselves to the arguments of the critics?”
One final thought. Whatever one’s deep concerns are for the worldwide Church of Christ and the world, one must exercise wisdom – i.e. when to speak out and when to hold ones peace. This takes wisdom which is from above and calls for fervent prayer and diligent study of His Word. May God grant us his grace and wisdom as we seek to address the big issues of our times.