First posted 8/6/14
Pastor Tullian Tchividjian (pronounced chuh-vi-jin), the grandson of famed evangelist Billy Graham and senior pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, “believes that evangelical Christianity has been tarnished by its association with the religious right.” Tarnished by whom? Who is making this claim and where are they getting their information to formulate an opinion?
The following is the essence of Tchividjian’s critique of the “religious right.”
“I think the impression that most non-evangelicals have is that [evangelicalism is] a political movement—it’s a culturally warring movement,” he said. “Closely associating the core message of the Christian faith with a political ideology has always been a huge mistake.”
Is anybody surprised that evangelicals who believe they should get involved socially and politically (non-evangelicals have been doing it for decades) would be misidentified as a “political movement” considering that the mainstream liberal media, special interest groups, apostate religious organizations and denominations, secularists, liberal colleges and universities (are there any other kind?), and evangelical pietists are doing most of the defining?
After the 1973 pro-abortion decision, should Christians have stood by as more than a million unborn babies were killed each year? Was it wrong for William Wilberforce and his fellow Christians to bring Christian moral principles to bear to stop the kidnapping and enslavement of human beings?
Weren’t these efforts “good news” (evangelically) centered? Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit (Matt. 7:15-23). Speaking out against injustice is the heart and soul of the gospel. Jesus said, quoting the Old Testament (Psalm 6:8), “DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS” (Matt. 7:23; 25:41; Luke 13:27). Who defines lawlessness? Is the civil magistrate exempt? Not according to Romans 13:3-4.
James writes that faith without works is dead (James 2:14-18). Do good works stop at the church door?
Good works are both positive and negative. Helping the poor through volunteerism (Luke 10:25-37; Acts 2:44-45; Rom. 15:25-28) and opposing legislation that hurts the poor and disenfranchised (Isa. 1:21-23) are two sides of the same coin. There are a significant number of special interest groups that do not want pressure put on the government to lessen its role in the life of every American. Money and power are at stake.
Pastor Tchividjian makes the mistake of assuming that the opinions of non-evangelicals are based on accurate information. Where do non-Christians generally get their news? Mostly from woefully misinformed and prejudiced secular sources. I’ve done interviews with liberal journalists, and I can tell you that most of them are neither honest nor knowledgeable when it comes to the topic of religion—when moral absolutes are on the table. (The same can be said of a lot of Christians.) See my article “My Experience with Red-Meat Journalism” for several examples.
How did the enemies of Jesus represent Him before Pontius Pilate? They lied:
“Then the whole body of them got up and brought Him before Pilate. And they began to accuse Him, saying, ‘We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.’ So Pilate asked Him, saying, ‘Are You the King of the Jews?’ And He answered him and said, ‘It is as you say.’ Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no guilt in this man.’ But they kept on insisting, saying, ‘He stirs up the people, teaching all over Judea, starting from Galilee even as far as this place’ (Luke 23:1-5).
It was propaganda, misinterpretation, and character assassination. And even still, those same false witnesses often shape the opinions of non-Christians concerning evangelicals and their political concerns—which are minimal.
Pilate asked Jesus about the charge that He was a king and a possible political usurper: “Are you asking this on your own, or have others told you about Me?” (John 18:34). Once Pilate heard directly from Jesus about these accusations, he declared, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4). Pilate understood something about “objective” news reporting: There is no such thing.
Christians who are involved politically don’t want to “take over the government.” The vast majority of people who have gotten involved politically over the years want to shrink the size of the State. That’s a huge threat to the establishment of both political parties.
The determination made by Pilate didn’t stop Jesus’ enemies from continuing to make false charges.
And so it is with those who oppose evangelicals and their limited attempts to be engaged politically. The enemies of the gospel and promoters of lawlessness will push their agenda until the threat to their domain is removed. In the case of Jesus, they went so far as to have Him crucified. What did He do to anger the opposition? He healed sick people, raised the dead, forgave sinners, and fed thousands. You can’t get any more evangelical than that, and yet they wanted Him dead (John 8:59; 10:33; Matt. 26:62-66; John 5:18).
Pastor Tchividjian is doing little more than rehearsing the history of the New Testament era of people who did not like Jesus’ message because they understood the long-term consequences of it. It can be said that no matter what Christians do there always will be people who will oppose them if that message includes a change in a person’s moral worldview in any “extra-religious” arena—including business, education, and politics, to name just three areas.
Christianity is opposed because it teaches a comprehensive moral worldview. If the gospel is nothing more than “believe in Jesus” with no change in lifestyle and you’ll go to heaven, there wouldn’t be much if any opposition. But that’s not the gospel. Jesus saves us from our sins, and that includes a change in lifestyle. Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, “from now on sin no more” (John 8:11; also see 4:7-39). There are a good number of people who don’t want to hear this message.
Jesus did not shy away from discussing moral issues. Jesus often offended His audience: “Then the disciples came and said to Him, ‘Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?’” (15:12). This question from Jesus’ disciples shows that there’s nothing new under the sun. How many times have we heard from critics of the Christian moral worldview that they are “offended” when they are told they are sinners?
Jesus does not hold back so as not to be “offensive”:
“‘Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Explain the parable to us.’ Jesus said, ‘Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man’” (15:13-20).
These aren’t just personal sins. There is a civil aspect to them as we see with abortion and the redefinition of marriage. If the State can redefine marriage, it can redefine anything, including religion. Should Christians remain silent about these issues so as not to offend some people? Should Christians who opposed Adolf Hitler have remained silent so as not to offend?
Without the knowledge of sin there is no need for grace and forgiveness.
Evangelical Christians have gotten involved politically because, for example, the courts have become a law unto themselves by legalizing abortion and same-sex marriage. As Jesus said, “murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts.” If these “defile the man,” then they need to be pointed out or there is no need for a gospel. Furthermore, if the courts get away with redefining some things, the day may come when they redefine everything.
Does the gospel offend? You bet it does (1 Cor. 1:18-25; Gal. 5:11; Rom. 9:33), but not if it doesn’t mention sin. Remember, “everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), whether it’s practiced by your neighbor or a civil official (Mark 6:14-29; 2 Sam. 12).
Because the gospel is offensive to many does not mean that heralds of the gospel should be offensive. There are jerks and cranks in every movement. Maybe that’s what Pastor Tchividjian is really addressing. If so, I concur. But pointing out personal and national sins does not obscure the gospel, “for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20).
People will find any excuse not to believe and attack the message and the messengers (Acts 5:17-32; 7:54-60; 12:1-4; 17:1-3, 16-34). Why are Christians in Muslim nations being told to convert or die? Is it because they are politically active? Not at all. The basic tenets of the Christian faith are despised. Anything else is a propagandist’s smoke screen.