The “pick off” is one of the most exciting plays in baseball. But it is humiliating for the player who is victim either of the pitcher’s expert timing or of his own carelessness in straying too far from base.
The Church is in danger of finding herself the victim of a “pick-off” play, that is, of becoming so wrapped up in secondary or extraneous affairs that she is “out,” no longer a part of the game to which her Lord called her.
No one questions the duly of the Church to become “involved”; but she should be very sure of what it is that God has called her to be involved in. Just as a surgeon would prove useless to an ill patient if he spent his time clerking in a haberdashery store, so the Church fails in her primary mission when she becomes involved, as a corporate institution, in social, economic, and political matters, which are outside her jurisdiction and competence.
Recently the pastor of one of America’s great churches preached a sermon from which, with his permission, we quote extensively, because of its clarity and vital importance. He said:
“What is the primary responsibility of the Church? To preach the Gospel of God’s redemption and the renewal of the individual through Jesus Christ, or to reform society? According to the Bible, the Church is basically and inescapably committed to the proclamation of the Gospel. Along with its proclamation of the Gospel message, the Church is, through its redeemed members, obligated to be the salt of the earth.
“For Christians and the Church, the recognition of spiritual and moral sickness is only the beginning and not the end. To be sure, the national and international situation is alarming; but it is not beyond the reach of the Lord of men and nations. It is the glory of the Gospel that Christ came precisely to minister to man’s needs. He didn’t come to save the righteous but sinners. Flagrant sin, social upheavals, political uncertainties, international tensions abound, but these are only symptoms of the disease Christ came to cure.
“And this message is committed to his Church. Today, many leaders in the Church choose to emphasize ‘social engineering,’ but it remains the imperative duty of the Church to preach redemption through Christ, and reconciliation to God. For too long some loud ecclesiastical voices have stressed ‘social problems’ and minimized sin in the human heart. Until this process is reversed, the Church will continue to fail in her primary task.
“Out of this shift in emphasis some strange attitudes to law have emerged. Law, the very basis of an orderly and just society of free men, is openly flouted in the name of ‘social justice.’
“There has been altogether too much disrespect for the laws of the land, both in social protest and in the administration of justice. Lawlessness is no answer to injustice. When citizens tolerate, condone, and foster breaking the laws openly, or by non-violent disobedience, they are only undermining the one social structure that can best serve their own causes. The trouble is that non-violence often leads to violence.
“Personally I deplore the participation of some of my fellow ministers who feel it necessary to break just laws or take to the streets in order to register their social convictions in a democratic society. Christian leaders are ill advised when they take the law into their own hands, for whatever reason, or encourage and support others who do so.
“Today, the American people are inviting a flood of riots and rebellion by the cracks they themselves are putting in the dam of their own laws and constitution, by the disrespect for law and order and for the police which many Americans, including preachers, arc encouraging.
“Then, too, in the administration of justice, we have become altogether too lenient with law-breakers at all levels. All too often the sympathy of the courts and the religious community seems to be on the side of the criminal.… We blame society for creating the criminal—it’s never his fault—and we use all manner of excuses and legal loopholes to keep the wrongdoer from being punished.
“Believe you me, as long as this soft policy towards criminals is maintained, there is little hope of conquering the crime wave. History records that many civilizations have been destroyed from within. Let us heed that warning lest we succumb to the tyranny of criminal anarchy.
“Again, we Christians ought to have the common sense to realize that, with all our respect for minorities and provision for minority opinion, our democratic culture is based on the rule of the majority. We seem to have forgotten that majorities have civil rights as well as minorities.… The rights of minorities must be respected, of course, except where the exercise of those rights infringes upon the rights of others.
“This applies to many areas other than the race issue. We see it on university campuses … in groups of vocal faculty members … in the work of a tiny minority of atheists.… Our common sense should tell us that the techniques of agitation and protest by clamorous minorities need to be heavily discounted.… Protest has its place in a free country, but it can be carried to extremes.…
“Once more, we Christians need the common sense to know that there is nothing wrong with love of country, and that our nation deserves our devotion and support, and that freedom is worth defending against all enemies within and without.
“I am thoroughly convinced that the Christian Church should exert its peculiar power in society as an instrument of God to change the hearts and attitudes of men, and not as a social or economic pressure group or as a legislative body.… The Kingdom of God simply can’t be equated with the welfare state or the civil rights movement.… Just now the Church is in grave peril of an increasing deviation from its divinely assigned task. It is in danger of fanning the flames of futility when it should be earnestly striving to bring individuals to a reconciliation with God, and a saving knowledge of his Son Jesus Christ.
“Let the Church be what God has called it to be—a worshiping community of believers, proclaiming the Gospel of redemption and reconciliation with God, seeking to observe all things its Lord has commanded it. This, and nothing less than this, is what the Church of Jesus Christ is for.”
When we consider these clear statements about the mission and the message of the Church, we can see her danger: caught off base because of her preoccupation with secondary matters, because of her shift from her God-ordained responsibility in the things of the Spirit to a primary concern for social matters. Should her proposed social changes and adjustments be made, men outside of Christ would still be lost—without God and without hope.
The Church must not become the victim of the Devil’s “pick-off” play.
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