This morning we answered several controversial questions that have a potential to divide Christians (e.g. baptism, Sabbath issues, the rapture, etc.). The problem is that Key Life is a fairly ecumenical program. All sorts of Christians listen to our different broadcasts and almost all of them (you should see the letters and emails) have strong views. And frankly, Pete and I do too.
In the recording I surprised myself by saying, “You know, Pete, pagans hate us. They really do. We can’t afford to be a divided family in this hostile culture about any issues that aren’t the key issues of our faith. We’ll get killed.” If I had thought about it (but didn’t), I would have added that if we don’t hang together, we’ll hang separately.
My statement was uncommonly wise. And what I said was said brilliantly. Okay, maybe not that. It has been said by others and far better. But what I said is true and it needs to be said often.
Yesterday I got an email asking me about a certain, fairly well-known Christian leader. I knew about him but not much, so I googled his name and found a detailed, condemning, hostile and mean-spirited article attacking him. The author of that article is…well, uh…not one of my favorite people. So I wrote the person back with, “People are known by their friends, but they are also known by their enemies. I checked his enemies and they are arrogant twits so, in my book, he is okay.”
That’s when it hit me what I was doing. I was judging another Christian on the basis of who didn’t like him. The right (i.e. “wrong”) people didn’t like him, so I decided he was acceptable. If those people had affirmed him, I would have told my questioner he should be very careful.
What’s with that?
In Luke 9, the disciples encountered a man casting out demons in the name of Christ and they stopped him because he wasn’t “with us.” Then they went to Jesus for his approval and a pat on the back. They got just the opposite. “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for the one who is not against you is for you.”
That’s a pretty low bar, isn’t it? If that’s all Jesus said, I would find a way around it. But Jesus doesn’t give us “wiggle room.” Jesus said that the world would know we were his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35). Jesus prayed in John 17 that we would be one and, as a result, the world would believe.
I’m writing a new book. (Another one??? Yeah, I’ll keep doing it until I get it right.)
The working title is Speaking Truth When Nobody Wants to Hear It (or How to be Right Without Being Insufferable). I started thinking about the new book as I noticed the radical cultural shift that has taken place in America. Frankly, they’ve given a microphone (a platform) to idiots. Well, that’s rather unchristian and a bit harsh. But still, I have never seen so much anger, litigation and outright hatred directed at religion in general and Christianity in particular.
(Even if I were an atheist I don’t think I would be hostile to Christianity or any religion that taught it was wrong to steal my car, my identity or my wife…and it was a no-no to assault or kill me. In fact, I would be a cheerleader for religion even if I didn’t believe it.)
The book will deal with the fact that we’re right. The truth doesn’t change no matter what anybody thinks about that truth. Among other things, I’ll address the issue of how irritating someone who is right can be, with some biblical advice on how to deal with arrogance, self-righteousness, elitism and such.
But the problem of anger directed at Christians (even if we’re responsible for a lot of it) is real. I suppose that’s to be expected. Jesus did say, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18). Nevertheless we desperately need one another and can’t afford to quibble over anything less than the central truths of the Christian faith (and there are far fewer of those than most of us suppose, demonstrated by C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity).
Do you know why?
First, we’re lonely and the more we fight over secondary matters, the more we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, and the lonelier we get. In an old episode of Star Trek, Spock willingly allows his body to be inhabited by a non-corporeal alien (so the alien can communicate to people on the Enterprise). While the alien race doesn’t have bodies, they are intimately connected to one another. The alien says, “This body is amazing…but I feel so lonely.”
We’re lonely and the more we fight over secondary matters, the more we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, and the lonelier we get.
Second, we need one another because all of us are apt to be wrong and have to be around others who love us enough to tell us when we are. I remember the late Jim Kennedy (a Calvinist) laughing about seeing a man he thought was hopeless being led to Christ. He said, “You have no idea what seeing a member of the non-elect coming to Christ does in the mind of a Calvinist.” I’m passionately Reformed in my theology and a radically conservative in my politics, but if I keep thinking that I’m willing to fight and die on that hill, pretty soon nobody will be around to tell me when my Reformed convictions have slipped over into heresy and my conservative politics have become fanaticism.
Then there is sin. I’ll never understand (given the clarity of Scripture) where in the world Christians get the idea that the church is a club for people who have earned the right to join it. Just the opposite. The church should be a family that nobody in their right mind would want to join because the people in it are so screwed-up. The church is a family so sinful that it is a surprise God has anything to do with it. But he does. Not only that, God touches the world with people like us who desperately need people like us.
I don’t know about you, but I grow tired of those who incessantly call us to make an “impact on the world,” to make our lives “count” or to “leave a legacy of faithfulness.” I like Tennyson and Idylls of the King. I’ve even been inspired by King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but can we talk? We’re not “Knights of the Round Table.” We’re “Ragamuffins at the Communion Table.”
And I realize that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Almost all the people he deems to use to change the world are ragamuffins who are often lonely, sometimes confused, and most of the time quite sinful. That way God gets the credit…as long as we’re together.
So as someone pointed out, let’s be unified in the essentials, give one another freedom in the non-essentials, and in both, love one another.
Bottom line, you’re stuck with me and you should make the best of it.
And I’m stuck with you and I need to make the best of that too.
We’re all we’ve got!
And Jesus, of course. He hangs out with people like us.
He told me to remind you.