John MacArthur – earlier in December – called for all ‘faithful pastors’ to dedicate this upcoming Sunday’s sermon to biblical sexual morality. You can read his tweet here:
For all the reasons I have an issue with this – rather than re-invent the wheel – let me point you to Andrew Roycroft’s excellent twitter thread on this here. Andrew gives 7 reasons he thinks this is not a good idea and I share every concern he outlines.
But there is another reason why, if I were a pastor in America, I still wouldn’t do it. It is exactly the same reason why I don’t dedicate my sermon, almost ever, to some cultural going on or other. As I wrote here, I am committed to systematic, expository teaching and I believe the Lord should set the agenda for us in our preaching, not the culture or socio-political matters. If I happened to be preaching a sermon on a relevant passage this Sunday, I would gladly speak about biblical sexual ethics. But given I am not, I don’t believe it is right to shoe-horn these things in. I believe the Lord, who sovereignly orders these things, must have some other more pressing things to say to us on Sunday given that we haven’t got a passage of scripture concerned with biblical sexual ethics.
I suspect there is another issue here too. The concerns about biblical sexual ethics – which I am not suggesting don’t matter – are concern within the wider culture. I find it odd that we would dedicate a sermon to biblical sexual ethics in a room full of people who, almost to a person sat there, will affirm biblical sexual ethics. To preach to the (literally) converted on a matter with which they all essentially agree – and to dedicate a sermon to the moral and political problems associated with a civil law that almost everybody in the room is likely to disagree with anyway – seems to be addressing the wrong people in any case. Surely your concerns with a law ought to be directed to the law-makers and elected officials who are pushing it through? The chances of any of them listening to any of our sermons seems slim. Affirming views that all our people already hold for the sake of objecting to a law they almost certainly object to already seems somewhat pointless. Wouldn’t it be better to stick with what the Lord wants to say to your church specifically through whichever part of the Bible you were due to look at next?
Even more bizarrely than all that, MacArthur’s call to do this is in response to a Canadian law. That is, he is asking American pastors (perhaps others too, it is unclear) to dedicate their sermon this Sunday – which will be delivered in their churches, to their people and will not be heard by the law-makers and politicians who support it – to an issue of law in a foreign country. I cannot fathom how or why that is a good use of a pulpit. Even if we think it a good idea to speak into such cultural and political moments that affect our own people and country by dedicating our sermons to them – and, as I’ve said, I’m not convinced that is helpful – I can’t see how it is helpful to be dedicating our sermons to issues that do not affect our country, but are at issue for another people in a different land. At best, it is for them to address this issue in their own churches (should anybody be convinced it is something to be done at all).
I wonder, for instance, whether MacArthur has ever suggested a dedicated sermon for the issues affecting Syria, Iran, Lebanon and other such places in the Middle East? If not serious legal issues – even ones affecting believers – in those countries, why single out Canada particularly? If the argument comes back that they are a near neighbour, what about those issues affecting Mexico, Haiti, Cuba? They’re near neighbours too. In fact, unlike the specific issue in Canada – that has no real effect on America at all – some of the issues in these other countries do have a serious impact on the USA. But it seems oddly selective to land on this sin, in this foreign country whilst ignoring other sin and other foreign countries. It is hard not to view it as the unhealthy obsession that many of the world consider the church to have towards this issue, especially when we are responding to things that have little to no impact on our people in particular.
The whole point of preaching is to look at what God’s Word has to say for us. Preaching isn’t merely teaching what the Bible says. We can get that from any old lecture or commentary. Preaching insists God actually speaks today and we come to church to hear what God would say to us in particular through his word. We are speaking to specific people and showing what the whole counsel of God – the Bible in its entirety – has to say to them in particular. And so, it strikes me a failure of preaching to go out of our way to address topics that are not immediately relevant to our people.
Like MacArthur, I am committed to systematic, expository preaching. As such, I teach on biblical sexual ethics when we reach a point in scripture that speaks about them. Unsurprisingly, because it isn’t the predominant theme of scripture, we don’t actually address that question with great regularity unless the text or a relevant application demands it. Which is what makes this so very odd because MacArthur is moving away from his own principle of preaching to address a topic that really bears no relevance or significance to the lives of most the people in his congregation. Most will know what the Bible says on this already, agree with MacArthur’s view on it and live in a place where the specific law that caused him to want to address the issue is neither in force nor being mooted.