What I have suspected and stated for some time now has been confirmed in hard numbers by George Barna: pastors know and believe that the Bible speaks to social and political issues, but are afraid to preach about it from the pulpit. In times past, writers like me have been condemned for “attributing motives” on this issue. Well, now we have it from the pastors themselves.
Barna has revealed the heartbreaking facts of a two-year long research project on pastors and social policy. As reported by ChristianNews.net, Barna said,
What we’re finding is that when we ask them about all the key issues of the day, [90 percent of them are] telling us, “Yes, the Bible speaks to every one of these issues.”
So these pastors know the truth. But the problem comes in the preaching of it. According to Barna:
Then we ask them: “Well, are you teaching your people what the Bible says about those issues?” and the numbers drop … to less than 10 percent of pastors who say they will speak to it.
Since we can safely assume that the 10 percent who do preach it are also among those who believe the Bible addresses these issues, this means that a whopping 80 percent of pastors do not preach what they know they should be preaching—what they acknowledge to believe the Bible actually says.
But the poll gets even more revealing. It goes on to discover what these pastors consider “success” in their churches. According to Barna:
There are five factors that the vast majority of pastors turn to: Attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, and square footage.
Success is therefore determined by how much money comes in, how many people come in, and how big the building is. Clear enough.
Standards for success are clear indicators of motivation. Barna connects the dots:
What I’m suggesting is [those pastors] won’t probably get involved in politics because it’s very controversial. Controversy keeps people from being in the seats, controversy keeps people from giving money, from attending programs.
Thus, the motivations for self-censorship are more money, more people, and bigger buildings. Don’t shoot me for saying it. I am now just the messenger.
As Chuck Baldwin mused the other day, the surprising part in all of this is not that pastors don’t preach on social or political issues, or that they are motivated by money and attendance, but rather that they say they know better, and still refuse to preach the truth anyway. They are actively refusing to preach what they believe and what they know they ought to preach.
Honestly, I am not as surprised as Baldwin is. Not only have we—as Baldwin notes—been criticizing the neutered pulpit for years, but people within the Christian Reconstruction movement have been informing Christians, including preachers and scholars, of the biblical basis for civil and social issues since at least 1973 (Rushdoony’s Institutes), or even 1958 (Rushdoony’s By What Standard?). This information has been widely disseminated and discussed. The pastors have known all along. The problem has not been in the education department; the problem has been in the departments of guts and money.
Now this issue has more facets than we’ll take time for today, I admit. It goes deeper than just the pastors themselves: the people (the “demand” side, if you will) are just as much a problem. Baldwin is correct to note both sides of this:
“It is time for Christians to acknowledge that these ministers are not pastors; they are CEOs. They are not Bible teachers; they are performers. They are not shepherds; they are hirelings,” he said. “It is also time for Christians to be honest with themselves: do they want a pastor who desires to be faithful to the Scriptures, or do they want a pastor who is simply trying to be ‘successful?’”
I think they heretofore have been honest, and the proof of that is in their pulpits. The time for honesty has become the time for mass repentance.
And I’ll tell you where the deepest part of the problem really lies: it lies in the abdication by Christians and pulpits alike of Christian children to the government school system. This single factor has contributed more to the decline of our culture than just about any other.
But it is not enough merely to complain about this problem, or even spread awareness, though that is a necessary step. We need a plan and a body of leaders willing to stand and even to sacrifice in acting upon that plan. This is why I made the educational plank the very first step in Restoring America One County at a Time.
A silver lining in this is that we now have hard evidence that the vast majority of pastors know what they are doing is wrong. As easy as it is to condemn them, this is a starting point for repentance and a small window of hope that it can come to pass. Knowing the truth means these men are not deluded (like the two-kingdoms theologians seem to be), but are rather self-censored by cowardice and the love of mammon. Well, I don’t know about you, but I have a savior who specializes in changing cowards and moneygrubbers into sacrificial leaders. He started a ministry with a small group of men that included cowards (Peter) and moneygrubbers (Matthew). Post-Pentecost, these flawed individuals braved all social convention, dungeon and sword, and then turned the world upside down.
So, there is a remedy for the cowardice and moneygrubbing of Christian leaders. This is not to say that they will now necessarily seek it or find that remedy, but they can. It will be sacrificial and hard. But there is hope for anyone willing to pluck out the eye or cut off the hand where necessary. It’s time to ask the Holy Spirit for the knife.
Thank you to George Barna for making it not just clear, but undeniable, what the problem is. Only when we get the problem right can we properly diagnose and cure it. Now, let’s see who’s willing to reach for the medicine—condemning their own sins first.