Published August 2, 2016

Paul's Epistle
"Who's Influencing Whom?"

Does it seem to you that a lot of the sermons heard in today's churches are not nearly as "fiery" as used to be commonplace? Does it seem to you that many preachers today aren't speaking out as strongly as they once did on clear issues of Biblical morality? Does it seem to you that pastors are backing away from hot-button, controversial issues – perhaps cowed by society at large (or the government in particular)?

If you have a sense that this is, indeed, happening in our time, some new research from George Barna's American Culture & Faith Institute shows quite clearly that what you have been sensing is, in fact, absolutely correct. And, in fact, the study found that such Bible-based issue-oriented preaching has taken a nosedive even in just the past two years.

Look at the comparison on these particular surveyed issues between the number of preachers addressing each issue in 2014 and who have addressed it, or plan to address it, this year (2016):
Topic 2014  2016
Abortion 48% 26%
Jobs, taxes, economic growth   18% 7%
Federal government debt 11% 6%
Immigration 17% 8%
Environmental care 17% 3%
Israel-Palestinian conflict 24% 11%
Religious freedom 63% 36%
National defense/security 13% 8%
Wealth/income redistribution 13% 4%
Islam/Muslim faith 38% 13%

In fact, the survey found that no more than 12 percent of pastors this year would even preach on any of those issues! Any of them! And it appears that the survey didn't even include some of the "hottest" of the hot-button issues facing Christians in general and churches in particular.

Now, perhaps you're thinking, well, this study must have focused on a bunch of liberal pastors.  Wrong!  The poll was actually taken among some 600 pastors who were identified as "theologically conservative" based on their responses to ideological questions as well as self-description.

Issues such as these are always significant. But, clearly, in an election year such as this, preaching on these issues (and other similar ones) is even more urgent. "For Christians who want to vote in an intelligent and biblical manner," the report concludes, "there is an additional, troubling concern: the unwillingness of theologically conservative pastors to help congregants understand what the Bible says about the issues relevant to the election."

Barna points out that Christians in general want to find out about the moral and societal issues facing them from a Christian perspective. But "if they do not receive that teaching from their church, they are not likely to receive such insight at all. It certainly won't come from the mainstream media, which is their primary source of news about the elections and the state of America. Conservative churches have a biblical mandate to teach these things but are choosing to ignore the opportunity in favor of remaining ‘safe' in their teaching and practices."

Sadly, Barna notes, it's "no wonder that less than one out of every ten born-again Christians has a biblical worldview — churches won't teach them the underlying principles in a manner that facilitates useful application."

Reacting to the study's findings, American Pastors Network president Sam Rohrer says, "The reasons for not addressing these subjects may vary from pastor to pastor – fear, anxiety, uncertainty or even apathy. But the fact is, pastors are called by God to stand up for biblical truth, especially in an ungodly, secular and immoral world that desperately needs it."

In Acts 20:28, Paul told the elders of the church that "the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood..." Pastors are commanded to instruct their churches in God's ways, especially since the church was bought with such a great price. But those of us who aren't pastors also have a responsibility – to demand such solid teaching from our church leaders.

The Christian church is supposed to have a positive impact, a positive influence on society. But today it's reversed – society is having more apparent influence on the church, and it's not for the better. Is this why Christ said, "when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8b).

If pastors don't stand up for, and speak out about, what's biblically correct – thereby inspiring church members boldly to do likewise – who will?

I like a poster I saw the other day that goes directly to the heart of the matter: "I would rather stand with God and be judged by the world, than stand with the world and be judged by God."

- Paul

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