On Monday, September 29th, 2014, Canon Andrew White, known as the Vicar of Baghdad, wrote on his Facebook page that ISIS was just 5 miles from his present location and that the city of Baghdad was filled with foreboding. The Vicar of Baghdad sent an SOS from the besieged Iraqi capital Monday and warned that the murderous Islamic State militants were breathing down their necks. Writing on his Facebook page he says, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. We need you.” Pastor Andrew White is the pastor of the last Anglican church in Iraq and also heads the British-based charity Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. Pastor Andrew asked his body guard and the soldiers who were serving as his protective detail if they would stay and fight if the ISIS soldiers got too close. Their response was that they would take off their uniforms and run. You can read the full report here.
I greatly admire Brother Andrew for his courage and faith and hope to meet him in heaven someday, but if my gut instincts are right, I may have to look him up in that special section of heaven where the martyrs get to live, since it appears that unless he bugs out now, he may be another beheaded martyr for Christ that was sent to glory by these demonically controlled minions. My guess is that Vicar White is single and therefore his ability to offer his life as a sacrifice for the Savior is a little less complicated by the weight of family responsibilities (1 Corinthians 7:32-34), but obviously, this doesn’t lessen the courage and faith needed to remain steadfast and faithful at his divinely assigned post. Brother Andrew, my prayers are with you. May the ranks of Christian pastors swell with the likes of you!
Unfortunately, the ranks of Christian pastors is swelled with a different kind of leader according to George Barna. In a recent radio interview on American Family Radio he spoke candidly, saying, “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. 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.” For the record, these are not mainline pastors who have already sold their souls to keep their jobs in denominations which have agreed to blaspheme God by proclaiming sin is holy and wrong is right. Those pastors have already lost their way and the Kingdom of God would be better off without them promoting unbiblical heresy. No, these are theologically conservative pastors who do believe the Bible speaks against same-sex marriage, against abortion, against infidelity, against euthanasia, against the slaughter of innocent women and children and men by Muslims. Yet, despite that belief, are unwilling to address these issues from the pulpit for fear of losing members. And why are they scared to speak the truth about these issues? George Barna thinks he knows why.
According to Barna: “There are five factors that the vast majority of pastors turn to [when asked the question, how do you know when your church is successful?”] he explained. “Attendance, giving, number of programs, number of staff, and square footage. Now all of those things are good measures, except for one tiny fact: Jesus didn’t die for any of them,” Barna continued. “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.”
I couldn’t agree more with George on this. I know their fears because they are real. People do not want to hear preaching against abortion because they have told their daughters to get one. They don’t want to hear what the Bible has to say about adultery because of their past affairs and now don’t want to be reminded of them. They don’t want to hear about faithfulness in marriage because they are considering getting a divorce now that they have found a new “chickie” at work that thinks they are the best specimen of manliness since Tom Cruise (eeeeuuuu, did I just say that?). They certainly do not want to hear anything about the sin of homosexual behavior because their son has homosexual leanings and children always trump Scripture, no matter what. And horror of all horrors they do not want to hear of the idolatry of sports because their children are hockey lemmings (or whatever other sport their children are worshipping). No pastor, thou shalt not go near the third rail of those topics, especially the third rail of sports, it is sacred in our culture today. If you do, you will suffer the consequences. I know, I’ve stared at a few partial paychecks already and will likely stare at a few more in the days to come.
I want to go one more step beyond George. I want to call these men cowards. Yes, I said it, cowards. You know who you are. You’ve gotten the emails on Monday morning scolding you for hinting in your sermon that you just shouldn’t go there pastor. Or, you saw their heads drop during the sermon when you got too close to one of the third rails mentioned above, and then they didn’t return the following week or any week after that. I have felt cowardly myself and wondered if I had the fortitude to say what needed to be said no matter what. Like the time I was told not to preach that Jesus turned the water into wine in John 2 because that would offend the teetotalers in the pew. I preached it, they didn’t like it and left to find a pastor who would obey them more than I would.
There is a cost to being faithful to the word. But the cost is greater, pastor, if you fail to tell it like it is. You are depriving your hearers from hearing critical life-transforming truth that will bless them in this life for their obedience and in the next life with the smile of our Lord for doing what he told us to do.
My wife Pati, has a new favorite saying. When people start whining, she says to them, “That’s a first-world problem.” Admit it, doing our jobs as pastors and facing the consequences, as small as they are, here in America is a first-world problem isn’t it? I pray we all, as pastors, apply the benefit of a hormone produced by a certain male body part to our future sermons and stick-to-itiveness for the glory of the Lord and the welfare of our people he has assigned to us. Who knows, we may find the courage Vicar White is drawing upon this very moment!