Should pastors inform their congregation during corporate worship about how to fill out petitions or how to vote in an election? Or should pastors avoid speaking to any biblical issues related to aspects of public life lest congregants hear them as endorsing particular policies or candidates? This quote by R.B. Kuiper struck me as being not only measured and nuanced, but timely as well:
[T]he principle that the Christian minister is to preach only the Word of God most certainly does not forbid him to apply the teaching of Holy Writ to the specific needs of his hearers and the peculiar conditions of his day. Application, as well as explanation, is of the essence of preaching. It may even be said that, in preaching, the exegesis of Scripture must itself be applicatory. P. Biesterveld has said of Calvin’s preaching: “The exegesis in his sermons is always genuinely homiletic exegesis. He explains in the pulpit not in order to explain. It is ministry of the Word: explanation and application together …. No exegesis scholastica, which belongs in academic circles, but genuine exegesis popularis ….”
May it be said, for example, that the minister who militates from the pulpit against the rampant state totalitarianism of this second quarter of the twentieth century is preaching the Word of God? To answer that question is not difficult. If he is conscious of being Verbi Divini Minister, he will not deal with this phenomenon from the viewpoint of political science, but he will be content to view it in the light of Holy Scripture. But if he does that, he is certainly preaching the Word. Nor may it be thought that the Scriptures shed no light on such a matter. From the Scriptural teaching that the individual, the family, the church and the state are all of them divine creations it follows by good and necessary inference that they are severally sovereign in their own spheres and that not one of them may impinge upon the rightful authority of another. And in the Scriptural avowal that Christ is “head over all things” it is unmistakably implicit that the state is not head over all things. When God inspired holy men of old to write his Word, he had in mind, and made provision for, all the moral and religious exigencies that would arise in future centuries to the end of time. The Bible is the Word of God for all ages. As such it is ageless. A lecturer of high repute once advised a gathering of ministers to turn from the preaching of the Word to the preaching of the world. That was wretched advice. The minister should preach the Word, and only the Word. But this does not at all mean that he must ignore the world. It is his business to declare what the Word has to say about the world. To do that is, beyond cavil, to preach the Word.
R.B. Kuiper, “Scriptural Preaching,” in The Infallible Word: A Symposium by the Members of the Faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, pgs. 220-222.
Such application can no doubt go awry. Ministers who are Democrats might be tempted to identify God’s word with democratic policies, and ministers who are Republicans might be tempted to identify God’s word with republican policies. Whether Independents, Libertarians, Green Party members, Constitution party members, Reform Party members, and any other party that Wikipedia lists – the same holds true. Brothers, be careful!
And yet should Scripture speak clearly to the issues that lie behind particular policies, let us indeed allow it to speak clearly and directly should the text we are preaching occasion itself to such an application.
R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)