Are you willing to die on that hill? This is a question that often gets asked when pastors face bad doctrine and practice in the congregations they serve, especially when they first arrive.
This question is well-intentioned. It normally indicates concern for the welfare of the pastor if he teaches something contrary to the public opinion and past practice of the congregation. It really asks, “Are you willing to risk your family’s livelihood on this one point of doctrine or this one practice? Is this one practice so important that you are willing to risk confrontation over it?”
When this question is asked concerning indifferent things (adiaphora), it is one matter. There is no reason for confrontation when it comes to such matters.
When this question is asked concerning sentimental customs that serve only to tug at heart strings and create emotional responses, it is another matter. Concerning such things, the congregation needs to be taught. As the congregation learns, over time such customs can be replaced with ones that are theologically sound and have theological purpose.
Finally, when a pastor is asked if he is willing to die on the hill of a doctrine or practice that is clearly addressed in Scripture, there is no room for toleration. Doctrines and practices that are forbidden by Scripture cannot be tolerated even if they have become standard practice in many of our congregations – practices such as open communion, women lectors, grape juice for communion, and unionism/syncretism.
See, pastors are not the ones who decide the hill on which they die. Pastors are front line soldiers. We have our marching orders. We are sent into battle to fight, not to question orders. The military court martials insubordinate soldiers who don’t follow orders. Soldiers don’t decide which orders they will follow. Neither do pastors decide what parts of God’s Word they will choose to ignore, even if only for one Sunday a year (LWML Sunday).
Thus, the question could also truly be rephrased, “Are you not willing to be unfaithful on this one matter?” No pastor striving to be faithful to God and to his ordination vows will turn a blind eye to sin. No pastor who loves those he is called to serve will ignore things that are harmful to them.
And really, who’s dying on any hill? Who’s killing anyone? Yes, pastors can and do lose their livelihood and their families suffer because of unscriptural removal from office, and this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. However, persecution is not quite yet at the point in North America that pastors need to fear for their lives (it looks like it’ll be a couple more years). Pastors are called to speak God’s truth and call sinners to repentance, even if they suffer for the sake of the Gospel. We are not to fear even those who can and do kill the body but rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10: 28). If a pastor will not stand up for the truth of God’s Word when his dear congregation members desire something sinful, how will he ever stand up in the face of persecution?
A pastor who tolerates sinful practices that he then later tries to correct, not only hardens people in their sins, but also loses all credibility. How can anyone trust him that a practice is actually sinful since he allowed it to continue for so long? If it really was such a big deal to him, surely he would have raised concern right away and ended the sinful practice.
Pastors just need to follow Scripture when it comes to doctrine and practice. Yes, we may face opposition and hardship, but we can rejoice insofar as we share Christ’s sufferings, that we may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed (I Peter 4:13).