In a famed passage of Scripture, the author of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is “a time to keep silence” (Ecc. 3:7). As our nation reels from the effects of the pandemic, protests, riots, and unjust killings, many Christian leaders have recognized the importance of listening compassionately. We are to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). When Job’s friends visited him in his grief, they sat silent for a full week.
But in the same breath, Solomon also reminds us that there is a time to speak (v. 7, again). What of the present time in which we live? Should the church stay silent or speak? And what should we say?
Consider the example of our Lord. The same Jesus, who by his Spirit inspired the instruction in Romans 12 to weep with fellow believers who weep, also evoked such public ire from the elite of his day that he lamented: “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn’” (Matt. 11:16-17, ESV).
If we imitate Christ’s example, neither will we always be able to march with the world’s tune. When we fast, they’ll say we have a demon like John the Baptist; when we feast, they’ll call us gluttons (vv. 18-19). Rather than matching the culture’s dirges in timbre and pitch, we are instead to tune our instruments to our Lord’s will. The result will be that we, like wisdom, will be justified by our fruits (v. 20).
In the present hour, sympathy is not enough. We cannot wait for permission to preach the gospel. We must exercise our Lord’s principled contrarianism. In the present hour, sympathy is not enough, because our nation needs a full dose of Jesus, pronto.
These deep, tectonic society rumblings have formed a tsunami of moral capital in favor of godless ideologies, movements, and cultural forces suddenly now emboldened in their crusade against the church of Jesus Christ, their scapegoat for society’s sins. So, we find ourselves in an era in which it is expedient to condemn racial inequality, police brutality, and so forth—vitally important issues—while the high places of anarchic organizing, critical theory, and identity politics remain standing.
Because there is both a time to be silent and a time to speak, for the Christian, there is no tension between showing compassion and condemning sin in all its hideous manifestations.
The gospel solves the problems of guilt and shame that keep society splintered.
Believers have the privilege of being painfully honest about our own warts. Our position as justified sinners before God allows us to be radically candid about tour failures on issues of ethnicity, economics, government, partiality, and justice. Christians are free to admit that we really are far worse than the pundits say. We are the ones, after all, with the doctrine of total depravity.
Yet we are embraced by a powerful Savior, and to him alone we bow. There is no condemnation in Christ (Rom. 8:1). “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (vv. 33-34). The gospel solves the problems of guilt and shame that keep society splintered. Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, viruses, racism, riots, autonomous zones—none of these can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (vv. 35-39).
In light of this, to selectively address certain societal concerns with biblical law while refusing to discuss other equally weighty matters of the law is to use unequal scales, which displeases the Lord (Prov. 20:23). We are not permitted to relax any piece of the moral law (Matt. 5:19). Hate is as the sin of murder (1 John 3:15), legal biases towards the upper class or lower class are equally unjust (Lev. 19:15), and those who live in lawlessness disinherit themselves from the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:19-20). What to do?
If all we can offer to a hurting world is solemnity and sympathy, we are stopping short of our mission. As the effects of the culture’s sins come violently back down upon it, we act as though we have been commissioned to go and preach the silent gospel of the stiff upper lip. And if this is the sort of so-called compassion we show, and nothing else, we will be duped.
The time to go introspective and navel-gaze about our lack of evangelistic compassion for the men of Sodom is not when they’re beating down the door looking for men to “know” (cf. Gen. 19:5). The time to shut our windows and pray privately is not when Darius has banned prayer (cf. Dan. 6:10).
Principled, Christian contrarianism is dangerous to the principalities and powers. To be free from condemnation produces a band of merry warriors feasting when the world is self-flagellating, fasting when the world is gorging itself, singing psalms when the world is silent, and gathering when the world is scattered. It is this kind of church that swallowed the Roman religion three centuries after Christ, ministered at great cost amid the Black Death, and accomplished the end of the global slave trade. These victories were not achieved through a wordless gospel of empathy but through proclaiming the lordship of the crucified and risen Christ. That is how yeast leavens the lump.
Plunging the Needle
It has never been a more opportune time to preach Christ as the solution to the effects sin now pervading society. We have a golden opportunity to cut through the violent extremes and condemn racism and lawlessness simultaneously with biblical clarity.
But we will forfeit this opportunity if, in our necessary effort to be “kind to everyone” (2 Tim. 2:24), we allow ourselves to be played. “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out.” (Luke 14:34-35a, NKJV).
We have a golden opportunity to cut through the violent extremes and condemn racism and lawlessness simultaneously with biblical clarity.
Up until now, we have not been wielding the two-edged sword of the Spirit, law and gospel, to contend against the powers facing us. Our action has looked the same as the secular activism around us as we seek conversations with dialogue partners rather than proclaiming the word of life. We are peddling all the same grievances as the pagans, baptizing their hashtags as our own, wooing them with our cloying sweetness of tongue.
About a month ago, Democrat legal expert Alan Dershowitz argued that if someone refused to receive a COVID vaccine, “the state has the power to literally take you to a doctor’s office and plunge a needle into your arm.” Now, a new crisis is facing us. We cannot bury the “no condemnation” lead. But we must grab the nation kicking and screaming, strap it down, and sink a syringe teeming with live and active gospel cultures into its bulging veins. There is no other way.