“Once [we] admit the right to kill unproductive persons… then none of us can be sure of his life.”
So spoke Cardinal Clemens von Galen, of Munster, Germany, in 1941. This Cardinal was called the “Lion of Munster,” because he roared with the voice of the Gospel against the atrocities of the Nazi regime.
Two decades later, in the United States, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would say to preachers, on the night before he was assassinated, that while it’s fine to preach about the “New Jerusalem,” the preacher must also preach about ‘the new New York… and the new Memphis, Tennessee.”
Cardinal von Galen knew about what Dr. King would call “a relevant ministry,” one that does not hesitate to name the enemy, talk about the issues of the day, and apply the eternal teachings of Christ to the concrete and changing circumstances of human history.
The duty of preaching the Gospel involves not only the urgent exhortation to personal holiness and salvation, but the equally urgent exhortation of individuals and governments to govern justly.
Anyone who has been paying attention over the last six decades has seen an organized and persistent effort to limit the Gospel to the private arena of our hearts and within the four walls of our churches.
Prayer and Bible reading have long been banished from our schools. People of faith have had to fight, sometimes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, to display religious symbols in public and to conduct their businesses and ministries in accordance with their moral convictions. The right to even talk about our faith is under increasing attack on campuses and in the media.
Moreover, the legal protection afforded to our most fundamental good, life itself, has been obliterated by amoral legislators and activist judges. Some 62 million children have been killed in the name of “freedom.”
Yet our Founding Fathers, anticipating the extent to which human nature can fall into error and sin, provided for us a system of self-governance that can overcome and correct even these drastic departures from the laws of nature and of nature’s God.
Preachers of the Word of God have a duty and a moral obligation to apply to Gospel to our lives as citizens in this temporal world. We have to be leaders of relevant ministries.
On the night before he was assassinated, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached these words:
“I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry. It’s all right to talk about ‘long white robes over yonder,’ in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s alright to talk about ‘streets flowing with milk and honey,’ but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s alright to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.”
At the founding of our nation, Pastor John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg declared in his sermon on January 21, 1776, “In the language of the Holy Writ, there is a time for all things. There is a time to preach and a time to fight. And now is the time to fight.” He then threw off his clerical robes to reveal the uniform of an officer in the Continental Army. The next day, Pastor Muhlenberg led 300 men of his church and surrounding churches to join General Washington’s Continental Army.”
Two centuries later, Bishop von Galen and Dr. King preached fearlessly against the oppression of human life and religious freedom in their day. They were not afraid to name and fight the concrete threat that was right before their eyes.
“Men will recognize that out of one blood, God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters], or perish together as fools.”~Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is not that these men abandoned their pastoral missions in order to become political. It is, rather, that they responded to the demands that their pastoral missions placed on them in the circumstances of their times, and courageously rose to the occasion.
This is the choice, and the opportunity every preacher faces right now, whether or not to help determine the kind of America we will be—one marked by moral chaos, the Culture of Death, socialism and religious oppression, or one based on the freedom and principles our Founders made clear; one that welcomes and recognizes the dignity of “unproductive persons,” including our brothers and sisters in the womb.
Pastors who lead relevant ministries will respond clearly and courageously and lead their congregations to protect their rights, their freedom, their Church and their beloved country.