MUZZLED BY FEAR
In a society which is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity, preachers and believers in general are discovering that it can be costly to speak out; and accordingly safer to remain silent.
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation". (Mark 16:15)
Some time ago a church member reported that his church had removed some sermons from the church’s website. The reason being that the church did not want to attract unwanted attention from the authorities regarding what the Bible preacher had said about unbiblical sexual activity.
Such action is in effect gagging oneself, and amounts to a failure to preach the Truth and the whole Truth into all the world as Christ called all disciples to do.
Another form of self-censorship occurs when preachers remain in a denomination which has overtly and explicitly departed from the Word of God. How can such a person preach against the apostasy of those who pay their wages and sit as an authority over them?
A financial bind
We are now living in an age whereby governments are implementing regulations and laws which run completely contrary to what the Bible teaches. However though these things should be proclaimed from the pulpits and into the public square, there is a deafening silence. Why? Partly because most churches and Christian organisations are registered charities and the regulations forbid pronounicing on anything deemed as being 'political'.
So why might churches and Christian organisations not wish give up their charitable status? Because that would deprive them of the income from the reclaimed tax under the gift aid scheme. Additionally charities can and do apply for financial assistance from public funds and grant-making bodies. Imagine if some of these funds are required to finance a new building or other significant investment. Or if the pastor's salary depends on it.
A lawyer's web site gives the following advice to those considering setting up a charity:
It is however, important to bear in mind if you are wishing to set up a charity that the benefits of charitable status are only available in exchange for the not inconsiderable restrictions imposed on how a charity may operate.
Added to the above are the following which could silence a preacher/church.
church premises suffering damage or buildings being defaced by graffiti
being accused of being ‘fundamentalist/bigoted/unloving
attacks on church individuals and or family/home/private property
adverse reaction from 'politically-correct' church authorities who have adopted the world's standards
It is not always obvious when the above dynamics effectively silence the voice of the believing church. However last May (2015) the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly set its mind on accepting same-sex marriage within the ranks of its clergy.
At least one presbytery has, retrospectively, dissented from this ‘trajectory’ but following the Assembly not a single local church or preacher in a that presbytery gave public voice to their view.
Additionally when that presbytery – following an internal vote to do so - attempted to distance itself from the denominations decision, the former was held to be in contempt of the Church’s General Assembly and ordered to rescind the notice of dissent and strike the record from the Presbytery minutes. The Presbytery obediently complied.
Street preacher arrested
Elsewhere, some years ago an American street evangelist was preaching the Gospel in Glasgow with grace and sensitivity when he was approached by two people and asked what he thought about homosexuality. The preacher replied that he loved all people, but he also said that all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage was wrong. He was then reported to the police, apprehended, locked up in a dirty police cell and charged with Breach of the Peace, Sectarianism and Homophobia. The team's video recording of the event was taken from the preacher and never returned. (Article on Shawn Holes can be found here. The recorded interviews with the evangelist and his team are very revealing.)
The three charges levelled against Holes were
1. Breach of the Peace
In effect merely reading out three verses from the Bible could render any believer vulnerable to the above charges. Respectively:
For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:31)
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men. (1 Cor. 6.9).
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me". (John 14:6)
Fear is the enemy's device
Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified
Fear is a powerful device in Satan's toolkit, and the enemy of God is using it to silence the voice of the church.
In King Saul's day a Philistine giant threatened the nation of Israel:
"This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other." (1 Sam. 17:10) And the response of the King and his subjects?
"On hearing the Philistine's words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified" (1 Sam. 17:11).
Later, after the split between the northern and southern tribes, King Ahab's evil wife Jezebel who had killed the other prophets threatened Elijah with the same fate. We read:
"Elijah was afraid and ran for his life" (1 Kings. 19:3).
In New Testament times the fear of men was similarly evident (Matt 21:26) but the apostle Paul wrote to the young Timothy:
Paul "moved freely in Jerusaelm, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord"
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (2 Tim 1:7).
A godly fear
Following his Damascus Road conversion Paul "moved freely in Jerusaelm, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord". His preaching produced a church in the region of which we read: "was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord." This was a godly fear and is the only legimated fear allowed to Christians and commended to the unbelieving world.
"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."
(2 Tim 4:1-4)
Ed footnote: Following a short speaking tour in Scotland this is the first of a series of articles (d.v.) on the major issues facing the Christian church and nation in the country in the present day.