Woe to the Silent Churches

7 April 2022

6.1 MINS

The silence of the lambs is a disgrace. To remain silent in the face of sin and destruction is folly and goes against our Christian mission. We must speak out against evil and lies.

I recently saw someone’s post on social media lamenting the silence of the churches in dealing with all the encroaching evil in our culture, including the direct assault on our children by sexual militants. The recent Disney attack on our kids was also mentioned. I have written about this diabolical matter of the ‘Magic Kingdom’.

One fellow commented that he was not aware of any churches in his area speaking out about these issues. Yes, I have been saying much the same thing for a very long time now. We have a massive problem with the silence of the lambs. The pulpits are silent on the things that matter, and most Christians are too afraid to speak out.

The main reason why I discuss all this again now is because, just hours ago, I was reading a book that was saying the very same thing. But the book was penned 75 years ago! In other words, nothing much has changed in the past three-quarters of a century — churches are still deathly silent when they should be speaking truth to a dying culture.

Sin of Omission

The book I was reading was the important 1947 volume, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism by Carl F. H. Henry. You can learn more about this very significant theologian and churchman here.

As I explained in that article, Henry was concerned that the fundamentalists of his day, while strongly standing up for biblical and theological orthodoxy, were far too silent on addressing the key issues of the wider culture. In fact, many of them back then wanted to withdraw from culture altogether and have nothing to do with it.

As such, there was little evangelical engagement with social ethics, and mostly there was a preoccupation with personal ethics, and condemnation of various personal sins. It seemed for many church leaders at the time that the worst sins around had to do with being involved in dancing or smoking or going to the movies.

Thus evangelicals back then were seen as having little of value to say about the wider social and cultural problems of the day. Instead, all you had was what was encapsulated in this old ditty: “Don’t smoke, drink or chew, or run with girls who do.”

Dereliction of Duty

Henry was not opposed to personal holiness and righteousness of course, but he was opposed to how most churches back then had nothing to say about the bigger social sins and evils. So his slim 1947 volume in part was seeking to correct this way of thinking and acting by American Christians of his day. His first chapter is titled “The Evaporation of Fundamentalist Humanitarianism.” Here is part of it:silence

The predicament of contemporary evangelicalism can be set forth from two vantage points, that of the non-evangelicals and that of the evangelicals themselves. From whichever direction the problem is approached, it is serious enough.

Against Protestant Fundamentalism the non-evangelicals level the charge that it has no social program calling for a practical attack on acknowledged world evils. True, other complaints are made against Christian supernaturalism. Representative spokesmen for religious liberalism, for ethical idealism, for religious humanism, and for pessimism, are linked by a common network of assumptions which clearly differentiates their philosophic premises from the orthodox Hebrew-Christian view.

Non-Christian groups have no dealings with a supernaturalistic metaphysics. But nonetheless — though they regard contemporary orthodoxy as a vestigial remnant of traditional obscurantism — they theoretically recognize the philosophic right of the evangelicals to hold any doctrinal framework they may desire.

But what is almost wholly unintelligible to the naturalistic and idealistic groups, burdened as they are for a new world order, is the apparent lack of any social passion in Protestant Fundamentalism. On this evaluation, Fundamentalism is the modern priest and Levite, by-passing suffering humanity.

The picture is clear when one brings into focus such admitted social evils as aggressive warfare, racial hatred and intolerance, the liquor traffic, and exploitation of labor or management, whichever it may be.

The social reform movements dedicated to the elimination of such evils do not have the active, let alone vigorous, cooperation of large segments of evangelical Christianity. In fact, Fundamentalist churches increasingly have repudiated the very movements whose most energetic efforts have gone into an attack on such social ills. The studied Fundamentalist avoidance of, and bitter criticism of, the World Council of Churches and the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America is a pertinent example.

Now, such resistance would be far more intelligible to non-evangelicals were it accompanied by an equally forceful assault on social evils in a distinctly supernaturalistic framework. But, by and large, the Fundamentalist opposition to societal ills has been more vocal than actual.

Some concerted effort has been attempted through organizations like the National Association of Evangelicals or the American Council of Churches. Southern Baptists have a somewhat better record, coupled with rejection of the Federal Council. But evangelical social action has been spotty and usually of the emergency type.

The situation has even a darker side. The great majority of Fundamentalist clergymen, during the past generation of world disintegration, became increasingly less vocal about social evils. It was unusual to find a conservative preacher occupied at length with world ills.

In a company of more than one hundred representative evangelical pastors, the writer proposed the following question: “How many of you, during the past six months, have preached a sermon devoted in large part to a condemnation of such social evils as aggressive warfare, racial hatred and intolerance, the liquor traffic, exploitation of labor or management, or the like — a sermon containing not merely an incidental or illustrative reference, but directed mainly against such evils and proposing the framework in which you think solution is possible?”

Not a single hand was raised in response. Now this situation is not characteristic only of one particular denominational group of Fundamentalists; rather, a predominant trait, in most Fundamentalist preaching, is this reluctance to come to grips with social evils.

He continues:

Fundamentalism was a Bible-believing Christianity which regarded the supernatural as a part of the essence of the Biblical view; the miraculous was not to be viewed, as in liberalism, as an incidental and superfluous accretion. It was from its affirmation of the historic evangelical doctrinal fundamentals that modern orthodoxy received its name, and not from its growing silence on pressing global problems. This was clearly seen by spokesmen for contemporary Fundamentalism like the late J. Gresham Machen, who vigorously insisted that Christianity has a message relevant to the world crisis, however staggering the issues.

The average Fundamentalist’s indifference to social implications of his religious message has been so marked, however, that the non-evangelicals have sometimes classified him with the pessimist in his attitude toward world conditions.

Of all the seemingly incongruous weddings in philosophy, this is the most striking. That Christian supernaturalism, which as a matter of historical record furnished the background and in some sense the support for the modern humanisms and idealisms, should be accused of having lost its own devotion to human well-being, is indeed a startling accusation.

Corporate Sin

Then he says this:

This is not to suggest that Fundamentalism had no militant opposition to sin. Of all modern viewpoints, when measured against the black background of human nature disclosed by the generation of two world wars, Fundamentalism provided the most realistic appraisal of the condition of man.

The sinfulness of man, and the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and that God alone can save man from his disaster, are insistences that were heard with commonplace frequency only within the evangelical churches. But the sin against which Fundamentalism has inveighed, almost exclusively, was individual sin rather than social evil.

It is not fair to say that the ethical platform of all conservative churches has clustered about such platitudes as “abstain from intoxicating beverages, movies, dancing, card-playing, and smoking,” but there are multitudes of Fundamentalist congregations in which these are the main points of reference for ethical speculation.

In one of the large Christian colleges, a chapel speaker recently expressed amazement that the campus newspaper could devote so much space to the all important problem of whether it is right to play “rook,” while the nations of the world are playing with fire.

Henry was urging churches and church leaders to be at the vanguard of speaking out against various social ills. Just as Christians like Wilberforce in the past led the charge against the slave trade, if Henry were alive today, he would want to see them speaking out on things like abortion and the homosexual and trans assaults on marriage and family.

Some are, thankfully, But most still are remaining silent. So Henry would be only somewhat slightly pleased with the slow progress made in this regard over the past century. He would have plenty of scriptural support to back him up in this. Just two verses immediately come to mind:

Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge;
they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark;
they lie around and dream, they love to sleep.”
~ Isaiah 56:10

Again, if the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?”
~ 1 Corinthians 14:8

The silence of God’s people, and especially of God’s leaders, is a disgrace and a scandal. Carl Henry was greatly grieved by this so long ago. But alas today, things are not all that much better.


Originally published at CultureWatch. Photo by Alan Cabello.

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