Before I begin let me say that enough ire has been exchanged and if possible I want to avoid that and be as cordial as possible. But some things need to be said when others have been already. This conversation has been clouded for so long that nothing of substance gets through our passions much anymore. But in an effort to bring something new to the table I will say that I harbor no resentment for the opposition. But a Christian must take a stand because we will all give account.
Now having said that I don’t usually like to comment on trends and politics specifically, but this one is so inherently Christian that I knew eventually I would write about it at some point and that time is now. I am not trying to be melodramatic but once again Rob Bell has stepped into the light and shared what he knows will be popular with society and rub the Christian community the wrong way. Thankfully I wasn’t blogging back when Love Wins came out so I was then spared a comment, but that and this share a common theme. Now I don’t want to judge the guy’s heart because I do not know him, but his technique seems to consistently be based around gathering a following rather than presenting the true Christian way of thinking.
And that is the problem for me anyway, not him, but the way that Christianity is affected. The Gospel’s primary message is that because of Adam’s sin mankind is infected and needs a redeemer. Part of the way that God draws people to repentance is his goodness to us in the offering of his Son. This was for the payment of our sins if we will only turn to him. Christianity, you know John 3:16?
So Rob Bell says “We’re moments away, [from accepting gay marriage]” “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense…”
Hmm…If the church’s primary concern was cultural relevance than he is right. If the church’s primary goal was mass appeal then he is right. If the church’s primary goal is making friends and networking then he is right. But if the church’s primary concern is the promulgation of the Gospel then he is wrong. And while we are at it, the Gospel’s best defense is also from letters 2000 year ago, should we abandon this cultural irrelevance as well?
See part of the problem is that this should be an in-house discussion. Sin in the world is always going to be there, it is not the church’s job to run around cleaning everyone’s nose. And if we are prepared to alter the Bible based on what an on-looking and free-commenting world says then our Bible will end up being much smaller. Thomas Jefferson already did this with the miraculous, the Jesus seminar did this with beads, now do we really want to do this with social justice issues? So because this is an in-house discussion it shouldn’t matter what the world, or society, or fallen man thinks about it. But the church needs to understand its own doctrine. When God is clear on something then his people need to fall in line. That is if they want to be a part of the kingdom. If not then that is your choice, but stop standing up under the banner of Christendom and muddying the waters.
I know that this discussion, if I can call it that, is so polarizing that it hurts and distances people. I know that the church has had a big part in that. We have taken the healing balm of the Gospel and sometimes fashioned it into a hammer. We have failed to allow the Holy Spirit to do his job and convict the world of sin. Instead we have sometimes taken up the banner of the sin police and tried to force our worldview onto people who were not asking. Hearing that your sin distances you from God when you are not looking for God is angering to say the least. The problem is now that the discussion is so out in the open that we cannot communicate it in such a way that it doesn’t sound like an imposition or an attack.
I know that this is will not be popular for me to say. My intention is not to harm but I have a responsibility to clarify when the Bible is misrepresented on issues the world would rather not be said. But this is especially true when the problem is so linked to what distances people from God. Paul speaks in Romans of homosexuality as the capstone of fallen man in his journey away from God. This is not to say that homosexuality is the worst possible sin and there is no hope. That is not the message! But the sin of homosexuality is a hallmark of a society that has turned its back on God. Our society is in trouble and that is why the Gospel is so important.
The church’s current problem in America is that the country is responding to the Gospel as it was always going to, as Jesus promised the world would, with hate. Now unfortunately though, there is a bigger problem, it has been unmasked and revealed in our hearts. It is that we as Christians do not like that fact that Christianity is now historically on the unpopular side of culture. That’s it. We loved being Christians when it was cool and popular and our politics felt so God honoring and uplifting and our wars felt like God’s hand was behind them all. But what has happened is we are no longer honored in the public eye. We are pariah. We do not like it. But then we are in danger of Galatians 1:10
For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Rather than recognize the inevitability that the Gospel was always going to be at odds with the world, we have instead decided we have a PR problem. Why? because we want mass appeal again. But the Gospel is only going to reach those who the Spirit draws. In doing so it may just leave many of us without friends as Jesus has already said to his followers. Mathew 10:16-25
Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death,and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
The solution is not to soften the Gospel and hire a PR agent, but to realize the stakes of what we signed up for. The answer is not to capitulate like Rob Bell is predicting the church will do. Unfortunately though he is right in that some have already and some will continue to do so. But that is not the Biblical response. Paul does not pull punches when he presents the condition of the world and its need for Christ. This is the problem, Rob Bell isn’t telling the world what the Bible says, he is telling people what they want to hear. He is trying to be a church PR representative and he is succeeding, at least for his own cause. But it is not a Christian position to ignore sin. Sin is what points people to God’s goodness which leads them to repentance and them being born again. God’s goodness is in his receiving sinners.
This is the point. I wish we could all be honest and say “This is Christian truth and you don’t have to believe it”. Instead we want to have our Christian cake and eat it too. We somehow think that disciples are supposed to be liked by the world, but Christ himself told us that we would not. We make the false dichotomy that because Jesus was liked by his followers that therefore everyone should like us. But the truth of the matter is that those who were following Jesus liked him, and those who were not following him did not. He was put to death remember? In the end more hated him than followed him. We should not be overly concerned with being liked, because Jesus wasn’t liked.
But, when we are it should be for the right reasons. Because people are hearing the same message, the one that they didn’t agree with when Jesus spoke it. Part of being a Christian is being at odds with the world, because we are jerks? No. But because our testimony is as Jesus’ was; that all people need a savior from their futures apart from Christ. Jesus calls us to take up a cross remember?
In the same vein I wish homosexuals would be honest and say “This is the life we want to live and it doesn’t matter what you believe.” But instead they also want to be accepted and, rightfully so, doesn’t everybody? But they shouldn’t expect us to fault on our Biblical truth any more than we should expect them to want to fault on their lifestyle. We should not expect non-Christians to live as Christians. Nor should they expect Christians to agree with non-Christians especially about sin.
Where we are in society is where the church was inevitably going to be in relationship with the culture, on opposing sides.
Might we actually achieve a more peaceful tolerance if we were more honest with our positions? But the demand that the other side agree or accept the other side will only continue the fighting, or worse as Rob Bell predicted make hypocrites of those who capitulate to societal whims. When does the church ever give into societal pressure on issues of sin? I know the common argument is what about slavery? Well the obvious answers is those using the Bible to defend slavery were wrong. The Biblical system of slavery was to handle debt and included a time of jubilee (freedom) It was different. It included rules for treating the slaves (humanely). It was different. Paul encourages Philemon to grant freedom to Onesimus. It was different. Owner’s were encouraged to treat slaves well and slaves were encouraged to get their freedom if legally possible. The New Testament furthers these treatments. Slavery was a reality in the world but the Biblical way to handle slaves was very different. Remember, those wanting to end slavery were using the Bible as well, just better.
We have been fighting a cultural war and loosing, as we were always going to. The battlefront for the Christian is not in public relations but in presentation of the gospel. All we can do is hold to it whether society likes it or not.
Now this is turning out to be longer than I had hoped but let me take a moment to talk about rightfully placed ire in regards to Christians. This is not an excuse for what has also happened; where Christians forget that their truth is supposed to be seasoned with salt. That is love. Christians do not get a free ticket to bulldoze those who don’t agree. If we cannot communicate in Christian love than we deserve all the ire we get. If we treat people poorly then expect opposition. Also if we desire to be loved and accepted when we bring a message that Jesus tells us is offensive, we will be frustrated. But, if we get anger as the result of an honest and humble presentation of the Gospel, all we can do is thank God for the opportunity to share.
Thank God for the opportunity to share