14 Pastoral Reminders in Troubling Times
How are you processing all the noise? Does the news disturb you? Is your heart troubled? Are you confused about the controversies around racism and social justice? As an under-shepherd, my heart is heavy and burdened for people and especially Christ’s church that I love.
We find ourselves quite “unsheltered” from the evils of the world as we are kept in place. Social distancing has only brought social disorder closer in view. Many within Christ’s church are troubled and asking questions. It is for this reason that I write. I am not interested in adding to the noise. I am not speaking to the culture—I am writing to the church. I am under conviction that spiritual leaders should speak in times of trauma. I am also under conviction that what they say should point back to Scripture and not society—it should be from a Christ-centered worldview and not the world.
There are many Christian brothers and sisters who devote themselves to cultural apologetics, helping Christ’s church to analyze and discern her surrounding culture biblically. I thank God for those who are faithful in such service, and to some of them I will refer. I am writing, out of love, simply to offer several pastoral reminders of how we might make much of Christ amid some madness.
1. DESPISE ALL RACISM
No matter the movement or “narrative” or use or abuse of the idea, every God-fearing Christian should despise all racism. Racism—indeed race itself—is cultural not biblical. According to Oxford, “racism” or “racialism” is the “belief in the superiority of a particular race leading to prejudice and antagonism towards people of other races.” This assumes the meaning of “race” as denoting “a group of people connected by common descent or origin.” In 1828, Noah Webster defined “race” as, “the lineage of a family, or continued series of descendants from a parent who is called the stock. A race is the series of descendants indefinitely. Thus all mankind are called the race of Adam.”
This reflects the truth of Scripture: God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). We are all people of color. Though we manifest a beautiful spectrum of diversity in appearance, we are all from one stock. Humanity is of one essence in many ethnicities.
But there is an even greater reality to our singular essence. Scripture has one doctrine concerning the inherent distinction and dignity of all human beings: imago Dei—“image of God” (Genesis 1:27). More than being sons of Adam, through him we are all sons of God (Luke 3:38), made in His likeness (Genesis 5:1). Wrongful treatment of any human being—in thought, word, or deed—is an assault on the image of God (James 3:9). People are divine image-bearers with inestimable value, which is the foundational basis for justice against those who perpetrate evil against another (Genesis 9:6). We must despise all man-made racism by affirming the God-made dignity and worth of every human being.
2. DESPISE ALL INJUSTICE
Injustice is a synonym for wickedness in Scripture. It is opposite of righteousness. The one who claims to be counted righteous in Christ—justified by faith—cannot ignore the importance of righteousness—theologically or practically. Justification, sanctification, and glorification are all concerned with righteousness.
The Lord redeems us to become more like Him. The Lord delights in justice and righteousness in the earth, so should we (Jeremiah 9:23–24). “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) The Lord despises and will judge all injustice (Leviticus 19:15; 2 Chronicles 19:7; Psalm 64:6; 94:20; Proverbs 16:8; 22:8; Jeremiah 22:13; Ezekiel 33:13).
3. LOVE GOD AND MAN
Controversies tend to lose sight of love and compassion. We are obligated not to win an argument or advance a cause but to love God and man made in His image. This is our highest responsibility. The first and greatest commandment is plainly stated by Jesus: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). The second is like the first and is directed to those made in His image: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31). Love fulfills the whole law (Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). Love should extend to even our enemies (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:35). Love of God and man is at the heart of the gospel (John 3:16; 1 John 4:8-11, 19-20). Love should be the hallmark of Christ’s church (John 13:34; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 John 4:11).
4. REFUSE TO FIGHT LIKE WITH LIKE
Madness has inflamed our nation. There can be no meaningful justice or love when fighting like with like—fire with fire. Refuse to fight hate with hate. Refuse to fight prejudice with prejudice. Refuse to fight injustice with injustice. Refuse to fight systems with systems. Refuse to fight sin with sin.
Scripture plainly commands: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17). “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:15; see also Leviticus 19:18; Proverbs 24:29; 20:22; 24:17; Matthew 5:39).
5. BE RESPONSIBLE, NOT REACTIONAL
While it is true that in a fallen world “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” it is fundamentally necessary to start by defining what is “good” and “evil” (see Isaiah 5:20). Christians are being guilted into a social media madness wherein good and evil are being redefined. Silence is violence, some say. But when well-intending Christians speak up, they are sometimes shot down because their straightforward use of the English language is somehow ignorant and therefore part of the problem. They must be “educated”—or should we say indoctrinated? Good and evil are being redefined by unbiblical, man-made social doctrines like intersectionality, critical race theory, systemic racism, structural determinism, etc. You must play, but you can only play by their rules.
We are to be responsible to own, practice, and influence our world with the God-given principles listed above. But we are not to be reactional (James 1:19-20). While we should respond, we must be very prayerful, thoughtful, and Christ-centered in our response. We must not react in the spirit and on the terms framed by any man-made agenda. Divine wisdom dictates: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself” (Proverbs 26:4). Worldviews are never neutral. We must not assume the worldview framed by man as we respond. Yet we should respond with an aim to expose the folly of all man-made worldviews: “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (Proverbs 26:5).
The declarative statement, “black lives matter,” is absolutely true and unhesitatingly endorsed. But to understand the meaning of this phrase as it was conceived and propagated in social media is something altogether different. The organization and agenda behind this handle (#BlackLivesMatter) stems from an ideology that is quite contrary to the gospel. It advocates another “gospel.” They explicitly say, “We make space for transgender brothers and sisters to participate and lead. … [We] do the work required to dismantle cisgender privilege … We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement” (see What We Believe). This is a deconstructionist ideology being embraced through the trojan horse of racism. According to the ideology, to say “all lives matter” is racist because it fails to acknowledge the systemic oppression against blacks. Thus, to say “black lives matter” is to say more than the declarative statement, it is to endorse the ideology. These are the rules of the game. For more on this see Albert Mohler’s The Briefing (June 18, 2020).
6. EXPRESS YOURSELF IN PRAYER RATHER THAN IN SOCIAL MEDIA
There is too much posting and not enough praying. The whole of humanity will not and cannot solve racism and injustice. God alone can change hearts. Cry out and express yourself to Him. The tragedy is that people would rather express themselves to other people than to God. When you are more driven to voice yourself to man than God, where does your hope rest?
A new and powerful engine for activism is driving much of the upheaval. Social media is maneuvering social movements with unwieldy power. Be mindful of its grip. Stop. Pray. You are not obligated to this platform. There are too many voices—too many hasty expressions. Yet, “when words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19). Again, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
7. REMEMBER THE BIBLE IS SUFFICIENT
From where do ideological movements come from? From the outright rejection or perceived insufficiency of Scripture. Redefining justice and redefining evil arise only when humans do not see the sufficient light of God’s revelation (Psalm 119:105; 36:9). Scripture is sufficient to equip every Christian for the task of living in this sin-saturated, cursed world (2 Timothy 3:16–4:5; Acts 20:32). It is more sufficient than our experience (2 Peter 1:19-21). It is sufficient to revive the soul and make wise the simple (Psalm 19:7). It is sufficient to equip every Christian to address society and its leaders (Acts 17:22-31; 24:10, 25; 27:31). Scripture alone is sufficient to judge the human heart (Hebrew 4:12).
8. REMEMBER HEARTS CHANGE POLICIES, POLICIES DO NOT CHANGE HEARTS
All injustice, all racism, all abuse, all crime—all evil comes out from the heart (Mark 7:21-22; Matthew 15:18-19; Proverbs 4:23; Romans 1:21-25; 8:5-7; Ephesians 4:17-18; Colossians 1:21). Unless the heart is changed, evil will continue. New laws do not change desires. It is the substance not the structure that is the cause of our problems in society. But sadly, many are fighting the wrong thing.
When Jesus was asked about an episode of injustice in His day, He did not advocate changing the structure. He emphatically pointed directly to the individual heart (Luke 13:1-5). Policies do not change hearts, hearts change policies.
This does not give license to irresponsibility. The church alone has the light of the gospel. The church should influence the world around her, including the governing authorities. Christians who are also citizens of America should steward the gracious providence of a representative government and influence the world for practical, earthly, and common good. This is not to be confused with her mission. Nowhere in the New Testament do you see “make this world a better place” as an instruction to the church. Her mission is to preach repentance and faith in Christ alone, not change culture. Changed people change culture.
9. REMEMBER THIS IS NOT OUR HOME
This world is all that this world has. It is to be expected that those who have no other hope would clamor about this broken world insisting change. Clamoring in this earth for what is only possible in the new earth is existential futility.
People want paradise. We were made for it. But here’s the problem: paradise is not man-made. It never will be. Impose all the laws you want or take them all away—evil remains. Sin will persist and perpetrate evil against others. This world is under a curse because of our rebellion against God. Until humanity learns to grope for God in repentance, we have failed the lesson of this life (Acts 17:26-27).
While we must be good stewards of God’s varied graces in this life, we are finally sojourners and exiles in a foreign land—this is not our home (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13; 13:14; Philippians 3:20). Justice will never be perfect in this place. People will always get away with crimes in this life. Many evils go unpunished. But as Christians we know and trust that there will be a day of justice. God will execute perfect justice in that great and terrible day (Obadiah 1:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). This is not the age of justice. Refuse to allow this world and its needs to eclipse the next. This affords no license to irresponsibility or neglect. Rather it is a call to priorities–radical focus.
10. DO NOT ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE DEFINED BY OTHERS
The stereotyping and reverse-stereotyping is madness and leads to man-made divisions. If you are a Christian, your identity is in Christ. Do not allow yourself to be defined by others. No physical attribute defines you. All people are made in the image of God and the redeemed are defined by Christ—let no one else define you. Scripture says that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Again, in Christ “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Because of the gospel, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him” (Romans 10:12).
11. DO NOT ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FOR EVILS THAT ARE NOT YOURS
When others define you, you may be treated as liable for evils that are not your own. It is a fundamental principle of justice that each person be liable for his own sin (Deuteronomy 24:16; Jeremiah 31:30; Ezekiel 18:20). “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 17:15).
12. DO NOT EXCUSE YOURSELF FOR THE EVILS THAT ARE YOURS
Guilt has a way of excusing itself in the human heart. It has been that way from the inception of sin (Genesis 3:12). Sin sometimes justifies itself as a victim of another greater evil. God calls all people to acknowledge their own guilt and seek His mercy (Hosea 5:15). He calls for everyone to discern their sin as being personally against God (Psalm 51:4).
13. EVERY HUMAN BEING IS GUILTY OF EVIL
It was Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) who popularized the contrary-to-fact notion that man by nature is good. You need not teach a child to disobey. Deconstructionist ideologies always assume that humans are naturally good, that society corrupts people. This assumption leads to thinking that changing policies will solve the world’s problems, that education will produce unity, that revolutions can save the world. If there is one truth that humanity refuses to see in all of this, it is the truth that he is utterly depraved and evil in heart by nature, proud and without hope apart from God (Genesis 6:5–6; 8:21; Psalm 10:4; 14:1-3; 51:5; 58:3; Ecclesiastes 9:3; Isaiah 53:6; 64:6; Jeremiah 9:6; 17:9; Luke 11:13; John 3:19-20; 5:42; Romans 1:29-32; 3:10-12; Ephesians 4:17–19; 1 John 1:8, 10). This means that every human being is in need of salvation.
14. THE ONLY HOPE FOR ANYONE AND ALL IS CHRIST
Refuse to allow anything to distract from Christ and the gospel. In the present madness, do not let anything take your eyes off of the heart of the problem and the only real solution. The heart of the problem is the heart, corrupted and sinful. The only solution is Christ, the Lamb of God who alone can take away the sin of the world through His substitutionary sacrifice on the cross (John 1:29; Isaiah 53:4-6; 1 Peter 2:24; Galatians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Acts 4:12). Christ alone can cleanse us from all injustice because He alone suffered in our place the penalty of justice we deserve (1 John 1:9; 1 Peter 3:18). God alone is just and the justifier of the unjust through Christ crucified (Romans 3:23–25). He is the only way. He alone embodies truth itself. He is eternal life (John 14:6). He alone is our hope (1 Timothy 1:1; Colossians 1:27; Titus 2:13).
Our only hope for true peace is in the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) who declared: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33; see also John 14:27; Ephesians 2:14). While these truths give us comfort, strength, and hope here and now, they will never be fully realized here and now (1 Corinthians 15:19). Above all else, may we know and make known Christ, our only hope in life and death: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
As we remain unsheltered in place, may we discipline our minds on these things to make much of Christ amid troubling times (Philippians 4:8; Colossians 3:1-3).