Selection from Matthew 14:1-4
“At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the news about Jesus, and said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.” For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”
The Christian in society must not conform to society but must seek to speak biblical truth in the cultural conversation. As far too many Christians did in the twentieth century, he cannot withdraw from society. He must speak the gospel to it. But he must also speak the truth of the Bible to it. He must engage the world by a simple process:
1) Know biblical teaching.
2) Know secular thinking.
3) Speak against secular thinking through biblical witness.
If such activity seems rather modern to you, it’s not at all. This is exactly what John the Baptist did in the selected passage above. He knew biblical teaching (that adultery was wrong); he observed secular behavior (Herod was committing adultery with Herodias); and he spoke against it. For this courageous, commendable action, John was imprisoned. His head was then cut off and brought as a party favor to Herodias. The Christian who speaks prophetically thus places himself in a place to be quite literally cut out of society.
Christians like Francis Schaeffer, Chuck Colson, James Dobson, and Albert Mohler, men who speak prophetically to the culture, too often speak alone. Christians are not to allow social concerns to overwhelm gospel concerns. But neither are they to neglect social concerns. John the Baptist had a very important and significant ministry as the forerunner to Christ, but this did not stop him from speaking out against sin. But we should back up a bit here. Let’s think about this. Speaking out against social sins or particular sins of a prominent individual is itself a form of gospel witness. One is identifying sin, calling it what it is, directing public attention to it. This paves the way for a gospel witness. The gospel is two-sided, after all. We speak negatively first, showing men their sin and future damnation. We speak positively second, telling men of the great hope that is found in Christ. This is how the Old Testament prophets spoke, this is how John the Baptist spoke, this is how Christ spoke, this is how Paul spoke. This is how we should speak, and we should do so without fear for our lives or reputations. Only concern for God’s glory and the advancement of His Kingdom should fill our minds. Death and hatred will come–but so too will heaven, and a heavenly reward for faithfulness.
The Christian in society cannot conflate the gospel with political and social concerns. But neither can he neglect his role as a God-appointed prophet to the culture. He must speak the truth on matters just as John the Baptist did, identifying right and wrong and offering the gospel as the world’s only hope of salvation from its sin. He is not to speak only the gospel; he is not to lie low until it may be spoken; and he is not to speak to the world only through social ministries. He is to be John the Baptist to his office, to his child’s playgroup (speaking of mothers), to his bank teller, to his rec league friends, to his parents, to his children. When wrong is uttered, and foul ideas propagated, the Christian is to speak. Though believers do not wear the garb of John the Baptist, though they shave slightly more often, still the Christian is a prophet, albeit a prophet in khakis or a skirt.