Pastors aren’t supposed to be fighters, as if they were engaged in some holy form of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The Bible gives pastors this command: “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone” (2 Tim 2:24). Even so, aren’t there some things that the pastor should be willing to fight for? Ephesians 6:10-20 explains that Christians are engaged in a cosmic battle of epic proportions. Don’t we need to don our armor and grip our swords?
A Note About Mean, Pugnacious, or Otherwise Odious Preachers
The Bible makes no allowance for a pugnacious, feisty, and odious kind of pastor. There are preachers who rant, haranguing on issues of strong personal, emotional, or subcultural interest. (Occasionally, such rants produce damage to the preacher’s vocal chords.) In biblical contrast, pastors are urged to be gentle and kind (2 Timothy 2:14; 2 Timothy 2:24, Titus 3:2, etc). Christians are forbidden from fighting over their opinions (Romans 14:1). Nonetheless, in keeping with God’s commands to be soldiers, and in keeping with the biblical paradigm of warfare, there are some things that are worth fighting for.
What’s Worth Fighting for?
As mentioned above, you may have heard some preachers who pick battles that aren’t worth fighting for. Personal issues. Emotional issues. It seems that Devil delights in getting Christians embroiled in fierce combat over some of the most trivial issues. Sometimes, Christians even spend a lot of time fighting each other. How tragic. To war over trifling issues is to not war against the big issues. Thankfully, there are exceptions. Many pastors choose to do battle on topics that are incredibly important. What are some common fight themes that we see today—either essential or inessential?
- Clothes. Some pulpits thunder with teachings on dress standards. Among some churches, the issue of attire is of such perceived importance that it has actually led to churches splitting.
- Translations. Others choose to fight about which Bible translation to use.
- Politics. Many pastors choose to use their pulpits as a political lectern. Polarizing political topics, usually those of conservative Republicanism, somehow creep into nearly every sermon.
- Prophetic details. Other preachers choose an eschatological hill to die on. The Bible is not absolutely or unequivocally plain on Christians’ involvement in the timing of certain end-time events (most notably, the rapture). Thus, some pastors choose a particular eschatological stance and militantly defend it. Emphasis on militantly.
- Doctrine. Doctrinal issues are the battleground of choice for some. Whether blogging against Love Wins, or teaching through a historical doctrinal confession, these pastors are quick to defend against any doctrinal compromise.
- The Bible. The Bible’s truth and accuracy (i.e., inerrancy) has been under attack for centuries. It is still a fiercely-fought-over issue.
One thing is clear: combat is necessary. This the Bible makes clear. Furthermore, a pastor cannot and should not fight over everything. Thus, the question to ask is “What’s worth fighting for?” What issues in the above list are battle-worthy?
How to Pick Your Battle
Our goal in ‘picking battles’ is to choose the issues, which, according to the Bible, have the most significance. Here are four questions to ask yourself when choosing your battles.
- What issues seriously undermine the faith? The only right place to start this discussion is with the Bible. God’s Word is the source of our faith. It provides us with specific revelation on God’s character. The Bible reveals Jesus Christ. Issues that undermine the faith can be considered under two main divisions. First, there are attacks on the Bible. These are issues that call into question the Bible’s accuracy or its current relevancy/application. Second, there are attacks on doctrine. Both can be subtle, but both are worth fighting for. When considering the issue of “attacks on doctrine,” we must bear in mind which points of doctrine are central to the faith. The Gospel is important. Christians defend the Gospel.
- What issues most malign God’s character? As Christians, we are called upon to represent Christ. It is vitally important that Christians defend God’s character. Of course, it’s not as if God needs our help in keeping His reputation clean. Rather, it is that Christians are to represent Him accurately and faithfully (e.g. Ephesians 6:20). Christians who don’t follow the Bible’s teaching on lifestyle choices and behavior are, in essence, degrading the world’s opinion of God. This happens when so-called Christians are pugnacious, stingy, sectarian, rude, materialistic, or arrogant.
- What issues have the most harmful affect upon people? The issues worth fighting about are the issues which have to do with the lives—both present and eternal—of people. In keeping with this point, consider those issues which affect the largest number of people. Some issues profoundly affect the lives of millions of people, even if those people are unborn (e.g., abortion). Other issues have to do with whether or not thousands of children will die of malnutrition or be enslaved today (e.g. social justice). Other issues have to do with the proclamation of the Gospel to people who have never heard (mission).
- What issues have eternal consequences? This present life is not all that there is. The Bible tells us that there is an eternal destiny for every individual. Choose to fight over the issues that have an impact upon eternity.
Them Thar’s Fightin’ Words!
So, how should you fight? We’ve been throwing around terms like “fight,” “war,” and “combat.” Usually, those words make people think of tanks, jets, and blowing things up. That’s not what we’re talking about. Unfortunately, the church has abused the call to combat, resulting in atrocities like the crusades (in the past), blowing up buildings and murdering people (the present). Ephesians 6:10 makes it pretty clear: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
So, back to our question: how should we fight? There are three main ways:
- Pray. In the context of Ephesians 6—the classic text on spiritual warfare—prayer is upheld as the central feature of a Christians weaponry (Ephesians 6:18-19). When we think of warfare in terms of prayer, Ephesians 6:10 makes complete sense. Prayer also takes a lot of pressure off you. It’s not about how much you picket, how many anti-whatever parades you march in, or how red-in-the-face you become. We must stay alert and persevere, but ultimately it’s about what God does, not what you do.
- Teach. 2 Timothy 2: 24 teaches that “[the pastor] must not be quarrelsome,” but instead should be “able to teach.” This is an important contrast. It suggests that the way to be combative is not in a quarrelsome manner, but with “sound words” (2 Tim 1:13). In this passage, 2 Timothy 2, we read that such teaching will lead to “correcting his opponents,” God’s “leading to a knowledge of the truth,” and “that they may come to their senses (2:24-26) The ‘teaching,’ ‘correcting,’ ‘knowledge,’ ‘truth,’ and ‘come to their senses’ verbiage are a pretty clear indication that teaching takes a central role in the defense of the truth. Such teaching is not the red-in-the-face kind of rant that we discussed above (note: “kind to everyone…with gentleness,” 2 Tim 2:24-25), but a patient explanation of the truth as revealed in God’s Word. Verbal declaration of the Bible is of paramount importance.
- Live. Finally, a Christian “fights” by living. Don’t underestimate the power of a biblical lifestyle. The way that Christians defend truth and combat error is by living out their Spirit-empowered, grace-filled, gospel-changed lives.