|The ways of the watchman by Andrew Lansdown|
The ways of the watchman
by Andrew Lansdown
Christians are society’s sentries. God has appointed us as watchmen and watchwomen to warn our neighbours concerning encroaching sin and imminent judgment. He commands us to be alert and to raise the alarm at approaching moral danger (see my pamphlet, The High King’s Watchmen).
But how are we to discharge this responsibility? I want to suggest several ways.
Develop a biblical understanding
To be the watchmen of God in the world, we must begin with the word of God. The Bible is the handbook for Christian ethics. Directly or indirectly, it speaks on all moral issues; and when it speaks God speaks; and when God speaks he speaks truthfully and with authority. Therefore, to determine right from wrong on any issue, we must first examine the Bible.
It is the Bible that teaches us how to obey the command, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). It is the Bible that, as we practise reading it, trains our faculties “to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). And it is the Bible that contains the words of warning the Lord would have us bring to our generation.
Where scripture does not give specific instruction, it will offer general principles, an understanding of which will help us to adopt a right approach in given circumstances and on given issues.
Our first step, then, is to develop a biblical point-of-view so that we understand matters from God’s point-of-view.
Develop extra-biblical arguments
Having discovered what the Bible says and would have us say, we need to develop ways to convey its message to the world. One effective way to do this is to develop arguments that accord with biblical teaching but are expressed in ways that do not rely on biblical tenets and terminology.
Christians must learn to uphold biblical positions with arguments and in language that non-Christians can appreciate. This is not as hard as it seems, for the Christian faith is a reasonable faith: one can be led to it by reason and one can defend it by reason. Hence, the moral teaching of Christianity is both reasonable and intellectually defensible.
If this is true, then it is possible to develop rational arguments to defend the biblical position on any moral issue.
When developing extra-biblical arguments, I often work from the premise that sin always involves suffering. It always produces victims. Hence, personal sin is always a social justice issue.
If we can show how a given, Bible-identified sin (eg, abortion, prostitution, homosexuality) harms individuals and communities, we can alert people to approaching danger in terms that they can understand and accept.
For example, simply to tell a non-Christian friend that God condemns prostitution may not help him or her to see that prostitution is evil. But the friend might be quite challenged by a comment like this: “I’m opposed to prostitution because of the way it degrades women. Imagine how humiliated a wife would feel if she discovered that her husband had been using prostitutes. And think of the danger to her from the diseases and habits he might pick up!”
When we argue like this we help non-Christians to see reason, and we do so in two ways. Firstly, we help them to see by not obstructing their view with overtly “Christian” claims: we do not require them to accept premises (eg, the existence of God, the truth of the Bible) that they may doubt, disbelieve, or outright deny. Secondly, we help them to see because we meet them on common ground—and that common ground is the common agreement that it is wrong to harm others and therefore things that cause harm should not be allowed.
(Of course, if non-Christians come to accept the reasonableness of our arguments and conclusions, they may become predisposed to accept the God-and-Bible premises upon which they are ultimately based. After meeting someone on common ground we may sometimes be able to lead them to sacred ground where Christ is to be found and eternal life is to be had. Thus the warnings of the watchman can serve the wooings of the High King!)
Use existing extra-biblical arguments
Generally speaking, when presenting our case to unbelievers, we should strive to communicate biblical truths in secular terms.
Of course, we do not have to develop every argument personally from scratch. We can take advantage of the work of sound Christian apologists and writers who have contemplated and researched the very issues that concern us.
Australian Christian organisations like Life Ministries, Salt Shakers, Family Voice, Culture Watch, Australian Family Association and the Fatherhood Foundation offer a wide range of well-researched and well-argued material to help Christians understand current issues from a Christian perspective.
We can make use of this written material to educate ourselves, learning facts, analogies and lines of logic that might otherwise have escaped us. Educating ourselves in this way both strengthens our own confidence in the Christian position on given issues and increases our ability to explain that position to others.
Pass on what you read
Just as developing extra-biblical arguments need not always involve our own original thoughts, so explaining an argument to others need not always involve our own words. Sometimes we can pass on (in person or by post or by email) articles and pamphlets that we have found useful.
Life Ministries, in addition to publishing articles in its bi-monthly magazine Life News, has published close to fifty pamphlets on various social, moral, devotional, gospel and theological issues. (Declaration of interest: yes, I am the author of these.) These long essays printed as individual, self-contained pieces are ideal for passing on to others.
Some of these pamphlets have been written for a Christian readership and they can be passed on to fellow-Christians to help them understand an issue from a biblical perspective. These pamphlets aim both to strengthen Christians with truth and to safeguard them from error so that they can feel confident in the biblical position and on the basis of that confidence present the biblical position to others. (Pamphlets in this category include: God Sets the Lonely in Families; Abortion: A Biblical Perspective; Pacifism: A Biblical Perspective; and A Biblical Perspective on Prostitution.)
Other pamphlets have been written specifically for a non-Christian readership. Some of these focus on the gospel, which is the greatest word of warning that the watchman is commissioned to give. By various analogies and from various starting points, these pamphlets advance the case for Jesus as Saviour and Lord, and challenge people to repent, believe in him and be saved. (Pamphlets in this category include: Sons Laid Down Their Lives; An Accurate Diagnosis; and Becoming a Christian.)
Other pamphlets written primarily for non-Christian readers deal with moral and social issues from a biblical perspective but do not rely upon biblical pronouncements to argue the point. They use extra-biblical arguments along the lines already mentioned above. (Pamphlets in this category include: In Defence of the Unborn; Prostitution and Social Justice; Evolution?; and How Pornography Harms Us.)
Some pamphlets have been written with both Christian and non-Christian readers in mind. These use a combination of biblical and extra-biblical arguments. (Pamphlets in this category include: If People were Dogs and Other False Arguments for Euthanasia; How Green is God?; and Being Gay is a Choice.)
Even pamphlets that are written specifically for Christian readers can sometimes benefit non-Christians. Some unbelievers are interested to know why we Christians believe what we believe, so they may be quite interested to read a pamphlet that explains the biblical teaching on a given issue. And (such is the power of God’s word) they just might find the teaching convincing! However, even if they are not swayed by the biblical arguments, they may be swayed in their overall attitude to Christian people and Christian beliefs: they may come to realise and respect the fact that our stance on a given issue is based on the Bible, not bigotry, and our defence of our stance is based on logical argument (by extension from objective authority), not ignorant assertion.
Christians have used Life Ministries’ pamphlets in various ways. With gospel pamphlets, some people have handed them out personally, while others have placed them in neighbourhood letterboxes. As for gospel pamphlets with a Christmas emphasis, some people have posted them out with their Christmas cards, while other have given them to visitors at Christmas services.
Sharing our feelings and findings from time to time with the people we know is probably the most important and effective way to discharge our duties as watchmen. Family members, neighbours, workmates and friends: these are people to whom we have access and with whom we have influence. We should use that access to exert that influence.
In the 1970s and 1980s the radical homosexuals set themselves the seemingly impossible task of gaining full social acceptance for their perverted sexual acts and lifestyle. A principal way they set about this task was simply to talk with the people they regularly associated with. Deliberately but casually, they set about changing the awareness and perspective of the people they knew. The term they used to describe this process was “consciousness raising”. They kept on raising the issue so that others became conscious of it—and conscious of it from their perspective.
With grandma at home, Bill at work, Jeff at the pub, Janet at the library, homosexual activists shared anecdotes, offered insights, posed questions and provided explanations—all with the intention of raising and changing their consciousness of homosexual issues. After a year or three of exposure to this sort of influence, grandma, Bill, Jeff and Janet were not only won over to the homosexual cause, but also unwittingly wedded to it. They began to share their new convictions with the people near and dear to them. They themselves, often without being conscious of it, began consciousness raising on the homosexuals’ behalf.
Consciousness raising—sharing your thoughts and feelings with your everyday companions in order to influence their way of thinking so that it falls in line with your way of thinking—is the most effective way to influence the views and values of individuals, and ultimately of society. While homosexuals used this process for an evil end, the process itself is not evil. It is morally neutral. There is no reason why Christians should not use it for a good purpose.
We can and should discharge our duty as watchmen by consciousness raising on moral issues from a Christian perspective. Changing people’s minds by chatting with them is something every Christian can do. The people within our reach are the first people we should try to teach.
Another method homosexuals (to name just one group) used and continue to use to bring about change in their favour is called lobbying. Lobbying involves appealing to and persuading law-makers and opinion-makers. Whereas consciousness raising seeks to influence “ordinary” people, lobbying seeks to influence “important” people.
Leaders of community organisations; members of local councils; television, radio and newspaper commentators and journalists; film stars, rock stars and other celebrities: these are important people to lobby because they influence the views of significant numbers of people.
But the most important people to lobby, and the people most prone to be influenced by lobbying, are members of federal and state parliaments, the legislators of the land.
One way to lobby parliamentarians, not to mention other influential people, is through letter writing.
Letters to parliamentarians can be posted or emailed, although posted letters, especially if they are handwritten, carry more weight. Such letters should be relatively short, express plainly your particular concern, perhaps include a brief argument or illustration to lend weight to your point-of-view, and conclude with a suggestion or a request.
But we should not confine our letter-writing to people of influence. We can in a sense become people of influence ourselves by having our letters published in the letters columns of daily and community newspapers.
Letters to newspapers (usually sent by email nowadays) should relate to issues that the newspaper has covered and/or is covering. They may be couched in terms of a response to some “fact” or argument reported by the newspaper or stated in its letters column. They should generally be short and focus on one specific aspect of an issue. Although it may sometimes be useful to alert the newspaper’s secular readership to what the Bible teaches on a given issue, it is generally best to use extra-biblical arguments, arguments that non-Christians can see the sense of.
While writing letters to parliamentarians is a form of lobbying, writing letters to newspapers is a form of consciousness raising. It is a means of persuading people in the community, people whom we might otherwise never reach. It is also a means of firming up people who (although personally unknown to us) stand with us on the issue: they will be encouraged to see a right position publicly defended in the newspaper, and may even be strengthened by a fact they didn’t know or an argument they hadn’t thought of.
Another way to lobby parliamentarians is to present them with petitions.
Interestingly, it is possible to use a letter as a mini petition. Instead of writing only on your own behalf, you can write on behalf of several friends and/or family members, too. Instead of beginning, “Dear Prime Minister, I am writing ...”, the same letter could begin, “Dear Prime Minister, We are writing ...” Then, instead of ending with your signature only, the letter will conclude with the signatures of your family and friends, too. In this way, the Prime Minister hears from three or four (or even eight or nine!) people at once. Also, he hears in a personal letter from some people who probably would not have gotten around to writing to him personally.
As for conventional petitions, we might lack the expertise and contacts to draft them personally and to circulate them widely. This again is where Christian organisations like Life Ministries, Salt Shakers and Family Voice can help us discharge our duties as watchmen. They have the knowledge and expertise to draft petitions and the means to supply copies far and wide. But other tasks necessary for the success of a petition are well within our capabilities. We can sign a supplied petition ourselves; we can take it with a clipboard and pen to church to solicit signatures from others; we can photocopy it and pass a copy on to a sympathetic friend for him or her to fill up with signatures; and we can take on the responsibility of returning the signed copies to the organisation that fielded the petition.
Unfortunately, there seems to be some resistance among Christians to signing petitions. Of course, some may refuse to sign because they disagree with the stance of the petition. In that case, we can use the petition itself as a means of consciousness raising: we may not get a signature, but we may be able to offer some thoughts and insights that challenge the person to rethink his or her views. Certainly, approaching someone with a petition can be a good way to begin a conversation about an issue.
Some try to justify their refusal to sign with the claim that petitions are not effective: “I won’t sign because it won’t do any good.” One response to this is to ask, “What are you doing that is more effective?” For the sad truth is that those who won’t put their name and signature on a piece of paper generally won’t do anything else to help, either.
Even if it were true that petitions have little effect, surely little effect is better than no effect! Surely a signature on a petition is better than nothing at all!
However, it is not true that petitions are useless. On the contrary, they are an effective way to alert parliamentarians to community concern, and can even help them to gauge the extent of that concern. Furthermore, the wording on the petition itself can help to educate parliamentarians, bringing to their attention facts and arguments that they might not otherwise have known.
While the petition with its signatures is a form of lobbying, the petition with its wording is a form of consciousness raising. However you look at them, petitions are worthwhile tools for the watchman to use.
Rallies are another way watchmen can lobby governments and politicians generally. At a rally people meet (and sometimes march) together publicly in a show of unity over a particular matter in order to sway public opinion and exert pressure on politicians.
The organisation of a rally (arranging permissions, permits, speakers and publicity) is beyond the capabilities of many individuals, and is probably best left with (or planned in conjunction with) organisations like Life Ministries. However, any and every Christian can be involved simply by attending (and, beforehand, by encouraging others to attend).
Organisation may be difficult, but participation is easy. And participation is crucial. For the success of a rally is gauged partly by the size of the gathering, which is determined wholly by the number of individuals who turn up. So then, simply by attending a person is helping.
One ongoing rally in Western Australia highlights the importance of holding rallies generally. The Coalition for the Defence of Human Life, of which Life Ministries is a founding member, runs an annual Rally for Life at Parliament House to lament the legalisation of abortion in Western Australia in 1998. Nearly 900 people attended the Coalition’s seventeenth annual rally in May this year.
(Of course, there should be 90,000 Christians at this pro-life rally, but 900 is an excellent start. After all, God gave Gideon a mere third of that number to fight—and win!—the battle.)
Every year the rally participants remind the state parliament of the evil thing it did in 1998. Every year they bear witness to the nameless victims of abortion, whose state tally increases annually by 8,000. Every year they issue—by their mere presence, let alone by the mouths of their invited speakers—a word of warning to the wicked. Every year the four official placards they wave expose abortion for what it is and make the case for life: ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN; JESUS HEALS AND FORGIVES; ABORTION STOPS A BEATING HEART; and (printed alongside a picture of a pregnant woman) LOVE THEM BOTH. And every year more pro-life parliamentarians attend; and in their brief speeches they stress how much the rally means to them, how it encourages and empowers them in their lonely task of trying to defend the unborn in the largely hostile chambers of parliament.
Unfortunately, rallies attempting to uphold Christian positions, such as rallies in defence of the unborn, are generally ignored by the mainstream media. So, because the media effectively censors them from the public, they have little direct impact on public opinion. However, the indirect effects of rallies on public opinion should not be underestimated, for they reinvigorate those who attend and motivate them to share their thoughts and concern with others. Indeed, the rally itself often becomes a talking point, a starting point, for consciousness raising: “Do you know what I did last night ...”
Participate in protests
Closely related to the rally is the protest. A handful of people can stage an effective protest. Indeed, it takes only one person to raise a placard and picket an organisation or institution.
For several decades now there have been ongoing peaceful protests at abortion “clinics” around Australia. Typically, a protest of this sort might involve a small number of committed people who assemble once or twice a week outside a clinic to display placards and pray.
As with holding rallies and fielding petitions, protesting is frowned upon by some people. They claim that it is an “unspiritual” and “negative” activity. But they are wrong.
A peaceful protest at (for example) an abortion clinic is watchmen’s work. It involves social justice, Christian compassion and gospel witness. Abortion is nothing if not the oppression of the weak and unwanted. Protestors stand in their defence. The presence of the protestors issues a warning to the women entering the clinic. And from time to time women have taken heed and turned back. They are saved by the protestors from murder, guilt and judgment. Sometimes a woman might speak to the protestors, who can refer her to a pro-life organisation like Pregnancy Problem House, where she can experience Christian compassion and encounter Christian beliefs. In this circumstance, she might come to trust in Christ, thereby saving not only her baby but also her soul. When it results in the birth of babies and the new birth of mothers who were otherwise destined for destruction, nothing is more positive than protest.
In all of our arguments and activities we must, of course, behave courteously. We want to obey both parts of the Apostle Peter’s command, “Always be prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15).
Finally, before and during and after everything we do as watchmen, we should pray. We should approach the Father in the name of Jesus and by the power of the Spirit to ask for guidance and help.
We should pray for our nation and our governments. We should pray for the success of our letters and petitions and protests. We should pray for the equipping of the Church. We should pray for the protection and strengthening of those in the front lines of battle. We should pray for wisdom and courage for ourselves.
When the enemies of Israel threatened to stop the re-building of the walls of Jerusalem, what did the Jews do? Nehemiah says (4:9), “we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.” So often we do one or the other: we pray or we act. But as the High King’s watchmen, we must do both.