Last Sunday, I listened intently as my Sunday School teacher taught from St. John chapter 18 about Peter's denial of our Lord. Peter never meant to do it. He was just swept up in a moment of weakness.
It is St. Luke, however, who tells us of that moment of reckoning when Christ looked directly at Peter in grave disappointment after his third denial. Suddenly, as our Lord had predicted, the cock crowed. Consequently, Peter wept bitterly in remorse for his cowardice.
Abraham Lincoln once said, "To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards out of men."
Indeed it does, and no one appreciates a coward.
The late Rev. W.H. Clough of yesteryear admonished, "The man I honor is the man who can rise in a company of men and women disloyal to all that Christ has taught, and make his protest for his Master. In that great day, when Christ comes again, of such deeds and such men he shall speak in praise. 'Whosoever confesseth me before men, him will I also confess before my father which is in heaven.' Can we follow these confessors of the Lord? Do we always acknowledge our allegiance to Christ? Do not some of us stand in workshops where jests are passed and allusions are made which dishonor Christ, and we make no protest? Do not some of us sit at men's tables and hear talk which is not only scornful to Christian verities but corrupting to Christian purity, and we make no sign. You say that you have felt the hot blush when all that Christ lived for and died for was slighted and mocked at. My brother, Christ's asks more than a blush. There is a time when it is shameful not to speak. However difficult it may be to know when and how to make our confession, and what to say and to do, and however unwilling you are to appear ostentatious or pharisaic, there are occasions in life when we must confess our allegiance, or stand under the condemnation of having been ashamed of Christ."
Thoughts like these ran through my mind as I considered Peter's denial. How many times during my early ministry was I silent when I should have spoken out? How often did I fear men more than God, and refused to speak to the great social issues of our time? How often was I content to play it safe and not risk jeopardizing my comfort, security, or reputation? I must have denied Christ not three times, but dozens.
Martin Luther, that spiritual titan of Reformation days is reputed to have said, "Though we be active in the battle, if we are not fighting where the battle is the hottest, we are traitors to the cause of Christ."
I think preachers are some of the greatest traitors to the cause of Christ. Like Peter, I don't think they mean to deny their Lord, but they do it all the time. They just don't realize how badly they're caught up in their own weakness.
Several years ago, founder and chairman emeritus of the American Family Association, Don Wildmon, wrote something incredible that every pastor should read. I'm paraphrasing what he wrote to make it a bit more relevant:
"Today more than 4,000 innocent unborn lives were snuffed out. And hundreds of thousands of pulpits are silent.
"The media makes a mockery of Christians and Christian values with nearly every broadcast they air. Greed, materialism, violence, rank profanity and sexual immorality are standard fare. And hundreds of thousands of pulpits are silent.
"News articles condescendingly refer to Christians who speak out for the sacredness of life, sexual purity, or traditional values in general, as extremists. And hundreds of thousands of pulpits are silent.
"Teenage suicide, rape, murder, gambling, alcohol and drug abuse, are through the roof. And hundreds of thousands of pulpits remain silent.
"And what important matters are being dealt with in our churches? The church bulletin says there will be a meeting to plan the church-wide supper. We are raising money to put a new floor cover in the kitchen. (The old one doesn't match the new stove and refrigerator, and we must certainly deal with important matters first.) The sermon subject last Sunday was 'How to Have a Positive Attitude'. And best of all, we are organizing a softball team."
For what do my preacher brethren wait before speaking up? Do we halt between two masters, only to really despise the one and love the other? Do we wait for some supernatural experience that will agitate, stimulate or master us, when the appeal of Scripture and conscience are no less the voice of God than what Paul knew on the Damascus Road? Do we wait for some convenient season, when the need so desperate presents reason enough to act promptly?
There comes a time when silence is not golden, but just plain yellow. This is the most pressing issue.
Pastors and other church leaders who remain mum in these times of moral crisis are denying their Lord. We should feel the Lord's disappointment as he looks on us. We should hear the cock crowing in the distance. We should weep bitterly.