America needs your leadership now more than ever. But there are a few things you must know and a few more you must expect.
A generation ago, pastor and theologian Francis Schaeffer issued a call-to-arms to the American Church in an explosive little book titled A Christian Manifesto (1981). Alarmed by the slaughter of the unborn in the wake of Roe v. Wade, Schaeffer called for social action in the form of civil disobedience. The problem as he saw it was a passive, inert, and ineffective church. Corpulent and self-satisfied, it had become the proverbial salt that had lost its savor.
According to Schaeffer, this was due to weak pastoral leadership:
As we turn to the evangelical leadership in the last decades, unhappily we must come to the conclusion that often it has not been of much help…. Spirituality to the evangelical leadership has often not included the Lordship of Christ over the whole spectrum of life…. The old revivals are spoken about so warmly by the evangelical leadership. Yet they seem to have forgotten what those revivals were. Yes, the old revivals in Great Britain, Scandinavia, and the old revivals in this country did call, and without any question and with tremendous clarity, for personal salvation. But they also called for a resulting social action. Every single one of them did this …
Schaeffer’s indictment of America’s pastors should not upset too many of you since, as old as it is, there are very few of that generation who remain in our pulpits. But were Schaeffer still alive, I fear the knicker-wearing theologian with the Van Dyke beard would be fiercer than ever in light of our current cultural predicament.
But whatever Schaeffer’s criticisms about the quality of the work being accomplished in the church of his day (or ours), he saw the role of pastor, priest, and minister of paramount importance in the life of this country. I couldn’t agree more. As a nation’s pulpit goes, so goes the soul of that nation.
A Call to “Social Action”
I recognize Schaeffer’s call for “social action” will make some of you nervous. Perhaps you associate it with the modern phrase “social justice.” The term was alien to Schaeffer’s day, but the concept was not. The so-called “social justice warriors” we are seeing in our streets rioting, pillaging, and attacking America’s Judeo-Christian foundations are of the same ideological stripe as those he saw on American college campuses in the 1960s. Regardless, “social justice” as it is commonly understood today is not what Schaeffer had in mind when he spoke of social action. He simply meant that the Christian tree should bear fruit, and that fruit should have a demonstrable societal impact. It is what I have called “The Grace Effect.”
- Schaeffer notes that it was the preaching of John Wesley and George Whitefield that not only gave birth to the Great Awakening and a wave of English reforms but also spared that country from the bloody revolution and Reign of Terror that gripped France for the last quarter of the 18th century.
- It was the constant parliamentary harangues of abolitionists like William Wilberforce (who briefly considered a career as an Anglican priest) and the preaching of men like John Newton, a former slaver and co-author of the hymn Amazing Grace, that conquered the evil of slavery in Britain and throughout its empire.
- It was the preaching of ministers like Jonathan Mayhew, James Caldwell, and John Witherspoon that sparked the American Revolution and gave it ideological teeth. (Not only were they instrumental in the pulpit, but Caldwell served in the Continental Army while Witherspoon served in the Continental Congress and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.)
- It was the preaching of men like Charles Finney that gave rise to the Second Great Awakening and the early anti-slavery movements in America that resulted in the eventual demise of that institution in the United States.
- And it was the preaching of pastors like Martin Luther King, Jr. that would lead the reforms of the civil rights movement, extending equal rights to people of color.
America’s Original “Community Organizers”
In a recent address and subsequent article, I explained how the apparent anarchy we are witnessing in the subversive activities of Black Lives Matter and Antifa are the work of Marxist radical thinker Saul Alinsky who outlined a program for the destabilization and overthrow of existing power structures. To foment social unrest, Alinsky endorsed what he called “community organizers.” This was his grassroots army for social and political agitation.
Consciously or not, Alinsky stole and then perverted a Christian model. As demonstrated above, you, dear pastor, stand in the stream of a great tradition of ministers of the Gospel who transformed souls and, in so doing, transformed society. Just as today’s pastors and priests in many parts of the third world are much more than preachers, so it was for most of American history. You are, in other words, America’s original community organizers and her best hope for national renewal.
But as Schaeffer notes, something, somewhere went wrong in the American Church and with it the American soul. Jesus transformed an empire with twelve. Today we have throughout our country mega-churches with more churches planted every day. Yet their societal impact is negligible. Why? How is it possible?
As the above quotation suggests, Schaeffer attributes it to a poverty of preaching: “Spirituality to the evangelical leadership has often not included the Lordship of Christ over the whole spectrum of life.” Too often a sermon says true things, but not relevant things. There is a subtle but important distinction.
Martin Luther put the problem this way:
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
If we were to represent the totality of human existence with a pie chart, many pastors know very well, just as I know as a writer, which pieces of the pie they may attack “boldly” without really risking anything. He can safely pound the pulpit and call for the feeding of the poor and care for the widowed and orphaned. He can passionately preach a series of sermons on the Exodus, the life of Joseph, and the miracles of Jesus, and say a great many true things and suffer no recrimination whatsoever.
But unless he professes with the loudest voice and clearest exposition that point of the Word of God which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, he is forsaking his calling as a pastor.
Today that means boldly addressing the evils of abortion; the LGBTQI movement; Black Lives Matter; Antifa; the attacks on social, economic, and political order; and the radical Left. If you aren’t addressing these things, you are the salt that has lost its savor. (Matthew 5:13)
Be Prepared: You’ll be Attacked
The above quotation of Martin Luther may be summarized this way: if you stay in the lane the culture has prescribed for you, you’ll be left alone. At least for the time being. But that smacks of cowardice and, well, it means neglecting your calling, doesn’t it?
If you are faithful to your calling you will be attacked. But as someone who has been attacked many times for sins both real and imagined, it is easier if you expect it and lean into it. Prepare your family for it. Prepare your leadership and support network for it. Prepare your congregation for it. Prepare yourself for it. And decide now what you will do when the attacks do come.
Anything, absolutely anything will be used to render you ineffective and irrelevant. The most painful attacks will come within the Christian community, perhaps your own inner circle. If Jesus had a Judas, it would be arrogant to think you can’t have one, too.
You should also know that your shortcomings and sins will be used against you. Think something is safely buried in the past? Think again. Of course, you could just fall off the radar. But as we’ve said, that’s not your calling. Acknowledge your shortcomings and, if you have not already done so, repent of your sin—and move forward confidently. Did David or Peter abandon their missions in the wake of their own failures? No. Their messages of repentance and grace took on new power. Such is God’s amazing grace. And if God is for you, who can be against you?
What it Will Look Like
In her powerfully insightful letter of resignation from The New York Times last week, Bari Weiss, a self-described “centrist,” spoke of the repeated harassment she suffered for her views at the hands of her Times colleagues:
My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m “writing about the Jews again.” Several colleagues perceived to be friendly with me were badgered by coworkers. My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in. There, some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly “inclusive” one, while others post ax emojis next to my name. Still other New York Times employees publicly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that harassing me will be met with appropriate action. They never are. There are terms for all of this: unlawful discrimination, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge. I’m no legal expert. But I know that this is wrong.
As awful as this is, I’m sorry to inform you that it is on the milder end of what you should expect. I have publicly debated radical Muslims in venues ranging from Al Jazeera to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, London, and I have often said half-jokingly that I prefer taking on these people to the radical Left because Muslims of this type simply want to kill you. I find this refreshingly honest. I can deal with that. They are also much more open to discussion and debate.
The radical Left, however, are deeply dishonest. Expect Judge Kavanaugh treatment. They don’t want a free exchange of ideas. On the contrary, they want to shut it down. They will also endeavor to use the courts to bankrupt you, media to smear you, and threats to intimidate you. Every day another person, corporation, or church bends the knee to their godless agenda. If you are doing your job you should expect this sort of abuse. Perhaps the windows of your church or home will be smashed. Maybe you will be called a racist or a preacher of hate on social media. Or you might even be physically assaulted. As I said, expect it, lean into it, and rejoice as the Apostles did in Acts 5:41 when it comes. It means you are doing something right.
Know Thy Enemy
I dare say that many pastors have little idea of what they are facing ideologically speaking. This is not a criticism. It is, rather, an acknowledgement of the fact that it would be a very unusual pastor whose education included thorough examinations of Hegel’s dialectic, Marx’s Das Kapital, Lenin’s Bolshevik seizure of power, or Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals.
You must become acquainted with Marxist ideas and identity politics just as the Apostle John acquired a thoroughgoing knowledge of the Gnosticism of Cerinthus and St. Augustine become an expert in the teachings of the great heretic Pelagius. Marxism is a secular utopian anti-theology that replaces God with man while seeking to create heaven on earth. You must fight it. You must denounce it. You must expose it for the godless worldview that it is.
I have written about socialism extensively in the aforementioned book “The Grace Effect.” I have given a summary of it in this column. I will have a book out this October that also addresses the problem. Dinesh D’Souza has written about it. Eric Metaxas has written about it. So have many others. The point is, there are resources available to you. Get them. Read them. Understand the insidious nature of the evil permeating our culture. Staying “above politics” is simply not a valid option.
“Be Not Afraid.”
Something sat uneasily with me after a recent Q & A on this topic. Later that night as I lay awake in bed these words came like a lightning bolt to me: “Be not afraid.”
In that moment it occurred to me that at the bottom of every question I received that night was fear: fear for their future, their families, their livelihoods, being a target of the “cancel culture”—fear.
I’d like to think this little insight was the workings of the Holy Spirit. You see, the radical Left feeds off of fear the way a fire feeds off of oxygen. Without fear, they have nothing.
Your preaching must simultaneously move your congregations to action, yes, but it must also reassure them with the comforting reminder that they serve a sovereign God. No matter what the temporal outcome, in the end we win. Period. God still sits on his throne.
“Be Strong and Courageous”
“Trump is our only hope.” That refrain has appeared in numerous headlines and articles. Social media is full of it. I do not seek to diminish the importance of the role of the President of the United States when I say that he is not our only hope. Our hope is in the person of Jesus Christ.
And I put a great deal of hope in his use of you, pastors of America. Collectively, your voice is unmatched in its breadth and power. But you must use it. America does not need another capital campaign for yet another church building. In a generation (or less) they will be largely empty, and many will belong to someone else. And it does not need another irrelevant sermon.
America is on the brink of revolution and she is in want of a generation of ministers of the Gospel who are prepared to courageously fulfill their calling come what may. You must preach now with strict adherence to the Word with greater conviction, greater force, and greater urgency than ever before. And you have every reason to be optimistic of the outcome.
In addition to having God Almighty on your side, consider the data. According to Pew Forum, evangelicals alone number a whopping 26 percent of the U.S. population, while those calling themselves “Christian” account for an additional 50 percent of Americans. The American Church is a sleeping giant. However, its members need you to interpret the times, to give them strength and leadership, and to move them to action.
But you must act. In the words of our Lord, “We must work while it is day, for night is coming.”
 Tucker Carlson has asked why America’s pastors aren’t doing more to combat Black Lives Matter’s Marxist agenda. Eric Metaxas asked me the same in a recent interview.
 Luther’s Works. Weimar Edition. Briefwechsel [Correspondence], vol. 3, pp. 81f.
Larry Alex Taunton is the Executive Director of the Fixed Point Foundation and a freelance columnist contributing to USA Today, Fox News, First Things, The Atlantic, CNN, Daily Caller, and The American Spectator. He is also the author of The Grace Effect, The Gospel Coalition Book of the Year The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, and the soon-to-be-released Around the World in (More Than) 80 Days. (Available for pre-order now) You can subscribe to his blog at larryalextaunton.com and find him on Twitter @larrytaunton.
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