WASHINGTON (BP) — Conservative Christians must be both faithfully distinctive and boldly persuasive in a future America, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore told an audience in the nation’s capital.
To fulfill that responsibility, he stated that the church must rebuke prosperity gospel teachers.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, made the comments during an Oct. 14 lecture sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy. IRD is a Christian alliance that seeks to reform the church’s role in the public square and has been especially involved in promoting renewal in mainline Protestant denominations.
The church must flee the temptation many churches in mainline denominations succumbed to when they began discarding the miracles essential to Christianity and died as a result, Moore told the audience.
“Christianity always thrives the best when we have a distinctive word and a distinctive word that is rooted in a specific view of authority,” he said, citing the church’s witness as “one that brings respect simply because it is willing to bear witness to the truth.”
Religious conservatism should “be shaped by the Gospel” and “not attempt to hide the strangeness or distinctiveness of the Gospel,” Moore said. “We should lean into that and be strange but not crazy.”
There exists a “temptation and pull to assume evangelical witness will be better equipped to reach 21st-century people if we do not have a distinctive message on sexuality or sexual ethics,” he explained. “Nothing could be further from the truth.
“We must have a distinctive word in terms of a claim to authority, and we must be willing to bear witness,” Moore said. We must not only be a confessional people; “we must be a conversionist people, which means that if we truly believe that the Spirit of God is able to transform someone from sinner to saint, we will be the people who will not hesitate to speak the truth and to speak what often will be unpopular truths.”
To collaborate with others while remaining distinctive as the people of God requires the church to follow the New Testament model of addressing the world gently while speaking firmly to those destroying the church from within, he said.
“[H]eretics and lunatics who are speaking for the church of Jesus Christ must be rebuked by those who are orthodox Christians and not claimed as though they were part of the people of God,” Moore said during the question-and-answer session that followed his 32-minute lecture. “We have eternal matters that are resting on this.”
Followers of Christ should see Christianity not as primarily a political coalition but as “a redemptive mission with political implications,” he said.
“[T]hat means there are going to be those who agree with us on social and political issues who are nonetheless distorting the Gospel, and they need to be spoken to harshly to protect the flock,” Moore told listeners.
Currently, that is most often true with prosperity gospel teachers, he said.
“The prosperity gospel is not just another form of Christianity,” Moore said. “The prosperity gospel is the ancient Canaanite fertility cult that is being brought forward in religious guise.”
Sizable donations by some prosperity gospel teachers to Christian ministries and causes “often leads Christian ministers to forget our responsibilities to our flock and to the witness of the outside world,” he said. “[W]e have exported this sort of heretical prosperity gospel all around the world and compromised our own witness as we have done so.”
Basing his remarks on the encounter between Jesus and Pilate in John 18, Moore said every generation of Christians should realize “our first allegiance is to the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, and this Kingdom is being seen right now in the little communities of churches where the Kingdom is showcased.”
Conservative Christians — especially younger ones — must beware of the temptation to withdraw from the public square, he said.
“We can assume that somehow we can retreat back into our institutions, not be engaged in the public arena and avoid then a kind of hyper politicization that we have often seen and thereby become even more politicized than generations before,” Moore said.
“We do not have the luxury of withdrawal. And it is easy to spiritualize such withdrawal.”
Moore’s address was the fifth annual Diane Knippers Lecture, which seeks to provide a model for Christian social witness. The late president of IRD, Knippers passed away 10 years ago.