Originally Published November 14, 2014

There’s been a lot of discussion about Hillsong and its pastor Brian Houston’s comments about gay marriage. I’ve written about the subject here and here at First Things.

I’d like to very briefly spell out my thoughts on why I believe pastors are obligated—in all settings and contexts—to speak unequivocally when asked about biblical issues—even ones that have the potential to spark controversy.

It’s quite true that the church does not have a binding authority over non-Christians. The church cannot bind the consciences of those it does not claim as its own or those who do not claim it for themselves. Judgment begins within the household of God, according to Peter (1 Pet. 4:17); and Paul is insistent that his rebukes of the Corinthian church’s sexual practices are intended for those inside the church, not those outside (1 Cor. 5).


If Christian morality is universally true, then all persons are accountable to it. This is ethics 101. Biblical morality is human morality. God encoded the universe with moral order and moral obligation. Notice I didn’t say that persons are accountable to the church or the church’s morality. Everyone is accountable to God’s moral law. That law isn’t vague or just “natural,” it is ultimately Christic (Rom. 10:4; Col. 1:15-17).


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Situations where we’re often hesitant to speak are often conditioned by the cultural moment. When culture chastises such things as sex trafficking, which it is right to do so, it isn’t controversial for Christians to join in also condemning such atrocities.

The nature of morality and the prophetic witness of the church, though, doesn’t allow for culture to determine what is or isn’t off-limits as far as what’s morally wrong or where the church is called to speak. Sometimes the church finds itself with a view that is both biblical and unpopular. What do we do? Do we refrain from answering what the Christian view is on a given issue when asked by others? No.

Let’s imagine you’re an influential pastor in the deep South in the 1950s. Racism is institutionalized. Segregation is systemically practiced. Now imagine that a pastor — whether in his office or before an editorial board — is questioned about his views on racism. At that moment, a biblical view of racial reconciliation is in the minority. Societal confusion seeks to implement laws that degrade fellow image bearers. In opposing the “racist agenda,” this pastor is putting himself at odds with the influential sectors of culture. Does he say that racism is an abominable moral evil, or does he bow down before the altar of obfuscation, insisting that an answer of such complexity can’t be reduced to a simple yes or no? What he should do, is speak, and he should speak a word of clarity with biblical conviction that racism thwarts God’s purposes for humanity. The pastor here doesn’t have to give a long-winded answer. But he does need to give an answer. He needs to be kind, but he also needs to be convictional. Were he to chafe at the question and triangulate about the intricacies of culture’s view on racism, he is, I believe, engaging in pastoral malpractice (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 4:1–2; Titus 2:15; Acts 20:27). At a moment where a pastor can provide honest biblical reflection — whether publicly or pastorally — he’s obligated to do so.

My biggest concern for the argument that justifies evasiveness is that it quarantines prophetic witness and blunts moral reasoning within the public square. It, in short, denies what Abraham Kuyper held to be true; “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

So, when should pastors speak? Always — with prudence, winsomeness, and clarity.