When the bonds of love are breaking,
hands that linked withdraw and hide,
eyes that once had met in candor
now, distrustful, turn aside,
God of healing, reconcile!
When our tongues are silent, sullen,
closing doors through which love came,
or, when words are fiery arrows
wounding others with their flame,
God of healing, reconcile!
When the bridges that we travelled
have collapsed and left a void,
when the chasm seems to widen,
separating souls once joined,
God of healing, reconcile!
God, in Christ you crossed the chasm
when our hearts were far from you!
Grant us grace to reach to others,
broken bonds repair, renew!
God of healing, reconcile!
(Hermann G. Stuempfle Jr., 1923-2007)
As I work on upcoming blog posts, I thought I would post this article written by my former dean Dr. Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School. He, along with the voices of others, continues to remind us of the plight of people in Iraq and Syria.
He writes, “And yet—and yet—there are times in human history when persons of faith cannot play neutral or simply stand by on the sidelines. There are times when they are compelled by conscience to call evil by name and speak out against it with conviction. And they must do this not merely out of a concern for their own personal or national self-protection but precisely as persons of faith—in the name of decency and love and of all that is human and humane. Today is such a time. … Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
May it not be said of Western Christians that we didn’t speak or that we didn’t act.
You can read the post on First Things here.
As always, let me know what you think.
He opened his arms of love upon the cross
And made for all the perfect sacrifice of sin.
It was my first brush with real hatred.
We had stopped at an international supermarket to pick up some plantains on the other side of Cambridge. Osvaldo had gone into the store to pay while I stood outside with Philip and our bikes.
“Who built the two towers?” an older gent asked me. He had darker skin tone, and a scarf decorated as his country’s flag hung about his shoulders. I knew he wasn’t English, and, given some peculiar behavior he had already been exhibiting, I assumed he was probably not all there in the mind.
“I don’t know,” was my reply. “Who built the two towers?” he pressed again. “I don’t know who built them, sir.” “Your government, that’s who! The same government that has invaded and destroyed my country.” “What country is that?” “Pakistan. You know, us Muslims.” He walked away just as Osvaldo was coming out of the store. I guess by the look of my face Osvaldo could tell something was wrong.
It wasn’t just the mere words that shook me up; it was more than that. It was his expression that wore anger and the way he directed his hate for the States at me. He didn’t care who I voted for President of the United States. He didn’t care to know that I couldn’t control the decisions being made by the heads of state. In fact he didn’t care about his hypocrisy as the all-American brand, Apple, was displayed on his body with earphones hanging around his neck, which connected to a device buried in his pocket. He hated America and Americans. He hated me in that moment simply because of my nationality, a factor out of my control. I saw firsthand for the first time the same kind of hate that has wreaked havoc on so many people, and which has caused the death of many.
The world needs love.
I have been watching, along with many other Americans, what has been going on in Ferguson, Missouri. While some facts are still unclear, it is obvious that there is a hate problem disguised as racism in that city. A white policeman kills an unarmed black teenager shooting him six times from a distance. A police force, which is 97 percent white in a majority black town, uses rubber bullets, tear gas and militarized weapons against its people, who again are mostly black, protesting. The rhetoric used by Ferguson’s police chief is reminiscent of rhetoric used in the 60s by racist Alabama leaders (read here).
Just like this Pakistani hated me simply because I am American, so too many people in the States hate people simply because of their race. Some whites hate those who are black, and there are blacks who hate those who are white. Being married to a Hispanic, I know there are many who hate Hispanics.
Those who hate are nonsensical; they don’t listen to reason. Those who hate do not care whether or not a person could control their circumstances, because really it isn’t about them anyways. The problem is with the person who engages in hatred. It’s a massive heart problem, a cancer really, that eats away at and eventually kills the person who has it, and unfortunately, can kill those at whom it is directed.
The world needs love, but not just any kind of love – the love of Jesus Christ.
I wrote last week about the persecution in Iraq, how ISIS members are killing Christians. Even though I didn’t mention them, there are others, most especially Yazidis, who also are facing death and persecution by ISIS members. Again, there is so much hate.
Hate. It was there in the beginning when Cain killed Abel. Hate. It knows no cultural, race, language, sex, or age bounds. We live in a world drowning in hate.
Love seems almost too obvious an answer to the problem of hate, but it is an answer held by both Christians and non-Christians alike. We sing the catchy lyrics, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of,” but is the love that the world speaks of the same as what Christians have to offer? In fact, what is love?
In 1993, an artist by the name of Haddaway asked the same question in his song, “What is love?” Made popular by Saturday Night Live, the song went like this: “What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt me no more.” (Thanks to me, the song is now stuck in your head, isn’t it?!) What is love? Love is how you treat someone. It’s the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do onto you. It is, “Baby, don’t hurt me.”
These examples (and there are many more!) assume the answer lies in man, that somewhere deep inside is enough goodness and strength to overcome hate and produce love (Oprah, Dr. Phil, Ellen). Yet, the world cannot answer for us what compels someone to love unconditionally. The love the world speaks of is easy enough for their friends but is it powerful enough to love his/her enemies? From where does the power come to turn hate into love?
For the Christians, the traditional love answer has been 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Equally as important to the Christian are the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all of you and love your neighbor as yourself.
The problem when these Scriptures are our starting point for defining love or when we isolate them from the rest of the canon is that we might begin to think that love is determinant on the actions of humans alone. Taken alone, the emphasis on love focuses on our response and behaviors we are to exhibit. And in isolation, this definition of love is not all that different than the world’s. Our definition and their definition collide making it difficult to tell which is which.
This is why, then, we must start our definition of love with this: “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn. 4:19).
We can love God and others because He showed us what love is first. He teaches us what love is, and He enables us to love. When we read Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees about the greatest commandment, we must go back to Deuteronomy where the commandment was originally given. What we find there is, “Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. … You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge …” (Deut. 10:15, 11:1). (See also Deut. 7:7-11.)
We love because he first loved us.
And how did God first love us? “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). It’s the most quoted verse in Scripture for good reason. God’s love for us was not just a lofty idea or principle. It took on flesh. It became concrete. It was active and not passive. It was sacrificial.
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us …” (1 Jn. 3:16).
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).
What is the love we preach and give to the world? It is that while we were God’s enemies fully deserving of death Christ died for us so that in Him we might be reconciled to God and be forgiven. This is love! How can we love God with all we got and love our neighbor as our self? Because we have been transformed by His love. His love compels us to love. His love is at work in our lives giving us the power to love, to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love those who hate us. And once clothed with Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us transforming our inability to love to an ability to love — the love that we see in 1 Corinthians 13.
The world knows hate. That’s why they must be given and see love as it is defined and personified in the person of Jesus Christ from Scripture: We deserved to be hated by God; we choose to sin and to be His enemies. Yet when we least deserved it, Christ died for us. A love that the world gives will only go so far because we humans cannot find the power to overcome hate and sin within ourselves. We humans can love the lovable on our own – our friends and family – but we do not hold the power to love the unlovable, those who hate us.
No amount of good deeds, social justice, and United Nation meetings will solve hate. People need to hear the love of Jesus.
This is why, Christians, we are commissioned to preach the cross and are bequeathed a ministry of reconciliation:
“For the love of Christ controls or compels us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
… Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15, 17-21)
Let’s preach this love to the world. Let’s show this love to the world. Let’s practice this love with one another, knowing that the ability to love doesn’t reside in ourselves but in the power of God who has shown us what love is all about. A love that is preached or demonstrated devoid of the cross is only a poor attempt at and a poor representation of love.
I want to conclude with the words of this beautiful Christian hymn:
The world’s only loving to its friends,
But you have brought us love that never ends;
Loving enemies too,
And this loving with you
Is what’s turning the world upside down.
My goal in blogging since 2009 has been two-fold: to bring glory to God and to minister to my readers. For the most part, my posts have been driven by things close to my heart or issues that matter to me and which I think will matter to others. Even though at different times I have asked for feedback and input into the blog, I have not made a concerted effort to hear from you. That is until today.
Please check out my new page called, Ask me, found at the top right of the page. On this page you will be able to comment or reply with a question or issue you want me to address in my blog, and I hope you will. Or, if you want it to remain more private, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, Ask me.
Thank you for reading along, and I hope to hear from you soon!
“Save Christians in Iraq! Save Christians in Iraq!”
The crowd that had gathered in London across the street from Parliament was small but energizing. As we walked past the demonstrators with our friends and three kids in tow, I couldn’t help but be pulled into the rhythmic chant — “Save Christians in Iraq! Save Christians in Iraq!” Had the circumstances been different, I am inclined to think I would have left my role as tourist and traded it in as that of demonstrator.
“Save Christians in Iraq!” “Save Christians in Iraq!”
More than 30,000 miles away, though, the voices of Christians and those who would support them has been quieted. There is no demonstration in the streets of Baghdad today, no energizing chant that would seek to draw passerbyers in. Instead there is silence.
But maybe not. When a family of eight Iraqi Christians were given a choice to recant their Christian faith or be killed, they spoke. Whether by confessing out loud with their mouths that Jesus Christ is the only true God or by refusing to recant the faith in their silence, they spoke. The picture given to an Iraqi Anglican vicar showed their murdered bodies lying stilled next to their open Bible. The vicar wrote, “They would not convert (even if) it cost them their life.” Their martyrdom and confession spoke through a photograph and continues speaking to all of us who hear their story — that even in death nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)
As we speak Iraq’s Islamic State militants (ISIS) continues its persecution of Christians and of other faiths in Iraq and Syria. Right now it’s easy to find these stories on news outlets such as CNN or BBC, but you can always read more about the persecution of Christians around the world at www.persecution.org.
How do we make sense of it all? Leaving the demonstration last weekend, I was left feeling helpless and needing to wrestle with the current issue of persecution.
Suffering and persecution of Christians is nothing new. In fact our faith hinges on Someone who was killed — crucified even. We proclaim His death, and not only do we proclaim it but as His followers we take seriously the mantra, “Take up your cross and follow me.” We follow behind our Lord, who was rejected, persecuted and killed, knowing that we might face the same fate as He. This was very real for early Christians in Antiquity when they knew that being baptized would mean immediate and sure death. Almost all of Jesus’ apostles were either killed or exiled. According to tradition, Peter was crucified upside down because he didn’t think he was worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord. Paul was beheaded for his devotion to Christ. These are just a few examples.
But when a mantra suddenly turns into a real piece of wood and nails or a noose or a sword or a gun, what keeps that believer from recanting? What brings a persecuted believer comfort in the midst of persecution?
And what should those of us on the sidelines do? Should we turn a blind eye because there’s nothing we can do? Or, should we chant, demonstrate and raise our voices to help? Should we become radicals seeking out persecution and idealizing the life of a martyr because we have bought into an idea that only those who are killed for their faith have a genuine faith?
It’s hard to feel helpless. It’s even more difficult to face death for what you believe.
But here’s what I see when I read Scripture. Scripture interprets life for me; it gives me the framework from which to work through things outside my realm of understanding. First of all, there’s no teaching in Scripture that says we should cultivate a desire to suffer or die, that we should actively seek it out, or that it is a prerequisite into heaven. (Maybe you don’t think there are people who believe this, but just look a little harder and you will find them.) I would wager that any Christian suffering in these ways would gladly change places with one of us who can worship freely and openly and who can proclaim Christ with no bonds of law or of fear.
Secondly, for those facing death, exile and other unimaginable sufferings I humbly say that I have no clue what you are going through. I cannot understand the depths of loss or of fear. However, I imagine that in the moments leading up to your death that what comforts you and keeps you strong is the belief that as Jesus Christ died and then came back from the dead alive so too those in Christ after they die will live. Knowing that persecution is nothing new helps us to learn to not be surprised if it happens to us too. It also brings comfort knowing that other believers have walked this path. But in the end it is believing in the resurrected Christ which helps fasten our feet to the ground unmovable and unshakeable when it does happen.
For we confess it is the grace of God “which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Tim. 1:10) And also, “If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” (2 Tim. 2) God will not abandon His people; death does not have the final say.
But there’s one more thing that brings us Christians comfort that I imagine would bring current persecuted Christians comfort. It’s knowing that though our voices might be silenced the gospel will continue speaking loudly for all who hear. The gospel cannot be silenced. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:8-9) The Word of God is not bound. Say that again, “The Word of God is not bound!” It has to be beautiful irony that the family of eight believers were killed next to an open Bible. Though their voices had been silenced, God continues to speak. His Word will still go forth because it belongs to God. He has already conquered death and His Word will continue testifying to it until He returns.
Where does this leave those of us living freely, watching helplessly from the sidelines? As our hearts break, we can be comforted in the same way those persecuted Christians are comforted. (See above quoted Scripture passages.) We also can learn from their examples so that if the wind changes direction and we find ourselves on the end of persecution, we, too, will be strong in the love and knowledge of Christ.
Let’s not idealize what they are suffering nor pray for the same. Let’s learn from the past and not forget the persecuted Christians in the past while at the same time not become calloused to the persecution or the persecuted of the present. Let’s continue to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters that God would rescue them, end their persecutions, comfort them in their affliction and help them to remain strong even if it means death. Let’s speak up for them, cry for them, thank God for them and love them. And if nothing else, let’s not lose heart because we know and believe that Jesus has gone before us, He is with us, and His Word cannot be restrained.
In the meantime the chant has become my prayer, “Save Christians in Iraq!”
And at times when it’s just too much, when chanting just doesn’t seem to do much good, I pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”
(For the story about the family of eight Iraqi Christians, read more here.)
(For the Introduction, read it here.)
Does what you say matter? Are your words of value or importance?
I’d like you to think about this. Can we ascribe any weight to words or the people behind the words?
I would like to think so! Otherwise I have no reason to talk or to expect anyone to listen to me. When I look at history, I find that this is most certainly the case that words do matter. When we elect a president of the United States, we do so mostly based on words (promises) spoken. We follow authors, speakers and preachers because we like what they say or how they say it (style). Whether for good or evil, nations and thousands of people are led one way or another by words, just look at Hitler for example. And it is their words that tell us something about who they are. Words, among other things, are someone’s ideas verbalized; the origin of words spoken is with the person who speaks them. What someone says is a window into his or her beliefs, heart and personality. Agree?
So why is this important? And, how is this relevant to me (our favorite post-modern question!)?
A few weeks ago a young evangelical tweeted, “Rarely critique people, even if you think their ideas are heretical. People are eternally more valuable & treasured by God than their ideas.”
This tweet is not just a random, thoughtless belief. Rather, I have been reading this kind of rhetoric and sensing this attitude for quite sometime among many in the young so-called evangelical camp. This tweet is a great, concise example of the idea looming that there is a dichotomy between people and their words. I remember reading a blog once where the author wrote a response to all the criticism she had been receiving about something she said. She was complaining that in their critiques people were missing that she was a good person. She was in fact a different person than what her ideas portrayed her as. What she said was thus different from the person she was.
This is an Enlightenment idea, and it is a dangerous idea to hold as it relates to truth.
Let’s look at this tweet closer, not to pick on the person who tweeted it, but because, again, it serves as a great and concise example of what is being said and taught by many others. So here it is again:
“Rarely critique people, even if you think their ideas are heretical. People are eternally more valuable & treasured by God than their ideas.”
1. Are our personhood/identity and our words/ideas two complete and different entities? According to her, they are. She makes a dichotomy between someone’s ideas and his or her personhood. It does not matter what someone says, even if it is heresy, because of their value to God. What someone says and thinks can stand apart and alone from who the person is, and who we are trumps what we say and think. How can she make this case?
First we must ask, What is heresy? Heresy, in church history, was a word used to describe those who subscribed to beliefs contrary to orthodox Christian beliefs. I mentioned two examples in a previous post, but will mention them again. There was Arius, who argued that Jesus was not fully God or divine, and then there was Marcion who argued that the God of the Old Testament was not the same God of the New Testament. Marcion wanted to cut out half of the New Testament. These men were called heretics. Modern examples of heretical beliefs are those held by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, which would include beliefs that contradict the deity and humanity of Jesus and the gospel of salvation that says salvation alone is in Jesus Christ and in his death and resurrection. Heresy thus speaks to ideas that debunk the identity and personhood and work of God as found in Scripture. Heresy is anti-triune God beliefs.
Second, What does it mean to be “eternally valued and treasured by God”? Since this language isn’t used in Scripture, I am unsure as to what she means by this phrase. But if I were to take a guess, it would speak of someone who is a child of God through faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ. The word eternal means forever, so if God holds someone as his eternal treasure then this is someone who will spend eternity with Him. So how can someone who speaks and holds to ideas that are heretical be someone that God eternally treasures? Wouldn’t this mean then that God is comprising or contradicting Himself?
One way this is possible is by believing that what you say and think stands apart from what you believe or who you are in God. Thus your words and ideas do not change the relationship you have with God through Jesus because your words and ideas take a life of their own. The other way this would be possible is if you accept a universal doctrine that says everyone, no matter what they say, believe or do on this earth, will ultimately be restored to God, i.e. obtain salvation. Therefore it doesn’t matter if someone speaks heresy or if someone preaches a different gospel; what matters most to God is that these are people “eternally valued and treasured” by Him.
The problem with this view is that this is not the view of the Bible (not to mention it is self-contradicting). The Bible describes people as complete beings whose words are a mirror of what is in the heart and therefore what one believes. And what one believes affects the way one lives, and the way one lives gives proof whether he or she is a child of God. In Psalms and Proverbs the one who speaks lies and deceit is a fool. The Bible doesn’t say that the person is “eternally valued and treasured by God” even though what they say is destructive to truth. Rather, what they say is an indictment on who they are — fools!
“The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.” Prov. 10:14
“The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.” Prov. 10:18
“The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.” Prov. 10:21
“The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.” Prov. 10:32
“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” Prov. 12:22
“A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly.” Prov. 12:23
“A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” Prov. 13:1
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.” Psalm 14:1 and 53:1
Clearly words matter in the Scriptural witness. Does calling someone who speaks lies, deceit, and slander a fool, fit within this belief that we shouldn’t critique someone because they are valued by God? Does calling someone who is wicked and a scoffer fit within this belief? No! I bet if we called someone today a fool or a scoffer because of what they were saying, we would receive public shaming. Scripture’s directness does not fit well in our “politcally-correct” world.
The view of Scripture is that we are complete human beings, whose words reflect what is in the heart and what kind of relationship we have to God. If we speak lies and deceit, if we do not listen to rebuke, if we preach something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are fools and fools do not know God (Ps. 14:1, 53:1).
2. Should Christians critique each other’s words and ideas? According to this tweeter, the answer is no. She commands to “rarely critique” because by doing so we are hurting or contradicting the value and relationship he or she has with God. (Actually by tweeting what she did makes it difficult for anyone to critique her or what she said because then we would be opposing God who values and treasures her above what she says or tweets. And I wonder what situation would allow for a critique since she doesn’t say never but “rarely”?) But what does Scripture say?
Scripture makes clear that it does matter what you say, that it is not OK to speak heresy and that we are to constantly rebuke, critique and reprimand in love when what someone is teaching is not in line with the truth and is leading others astray. Let’s look at a few examples.
- Matthew 16:21-23. After Jesus told his disciples that he would be killed but on the third day raised, Peter rebuked Jesus. But Jesus turned the rebuke around to Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
- Acts 13:4-12. While Barnabas and Saul were out preaching the gospel they encountered a false prophet, Bar-Jesus, who “opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” But Saul “filled with the Holy Spirit” rebuked him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”
- In 2 Timothy Paul mentions two men by name and references others who are preaching different gospels and trying to deceive others. “Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some” (2:17-18). And later in 3:8, “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” In the middle of these two references, Paul tells Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2:24-26). Although Timothy is to correct in love and kindness, he is still to correct. And these men who are leading others astray, preaching something contrary to the gospel, are captured and enslaved by the devil, doing his will. Just like the two above examples, anytime someone is opposing the work or Word of God by what they say that person is associated with Satan and his work.
There are many other examples in Scripture of correcting, rebuking and “criticizing” the ideas, words and teachings of others that are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ (see the book of Jude and 2 Peter). What this young tweeter says is actually contrary to the teaching of Scripture. So either you can rarely criticize because you believe that everyone no matter what they say is “eternally valued and treasured by God,” or you can offer critiques when necessary because you know that those who claim there is no God (i.e., Jesus isn’t fully God, there is salvation outside of Jesus) are fools and need to be rebuked.
2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” And, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:2-4).
3. Does it matter if someone teaches or speaks something contrary to the Word of God, especially when he or she claims to speak as a Christian with biblical authority?
As you read about how Christianity spread after the resurrection of Christ in the New Testament, you will soon notice that it spread as the Word of God went out. Prayers were not necessarily being offered for people to come to know Christ. Rather the prayers in the New Testament centered around the Word of God, that the Word of God might find open doors and go forth (e.g., Col. 4:3-4, 2 Thes. 3:1). For the early church understood that as the Word, which is “the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18) and “breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16), went forth people would be saved.
So to teach something other than this Word or to contradict His Word is to oppose the One who breathed out the Word and who is the Word.
(For other references about the Word of God going forth or the warnings against false teaching, see Acts 4:3, 29, 31; 6:2, 4; 8:4; 12:24; 13:44, 48-49; Col. 2:8; 1 Thes. 1:5-6, 8; 2:2, 8-9, 13; 2 Thes. 1:7-9; 2:1ff; 1 Tim. 1:3-7, 10-11, 18-20; 6:3-5. This is not a comprehensive list, but rather a sampling.)
Near the beginning of this post I said that the ideas in this tweet are dangerous to hold as it relates to truth. I hope you see now that this tweet, the ideas implied in it and what it represents is a post-modern belief of relative truth. Truth is relative; in fact it is so relative we shouldn’t critique what anyone says or thinks. Truth is not what matters most to God; we matter most to God. There is no place for judgment, exclusion or harshness in God’s love for us.
This definition of love, although not new, is spreading like gangrene among many younger so-called evangelicals. I’ve seen it heavily in Rachel Held Evans, for example. (By the way, my husband comments to me that the sermon preached at that liberal church that I mentioned in the Intro., sounded an awful lot like Rachel Evans. She acts as if her ideas are something new, but they are just really old liberalism.) This definition assumes we are lovable and deserved to be loved and nothing can change our standing with God. It is pleasing to the ears and fits well in our post-modern understanding of truth, but it is not the truth. I don’t know if the person behind our tweet knew what she was saying or if she holds to relativism or universalism. But when we accept pithy sayings without thinking through them carefully or when we put together pithy sayings without thinking through them carefully, we can put forth ideas that are contrary to Scripture and that are life-endangering. Relativism and universalism are gospel killers, and we must expose and oppose them when we see them creeping into our churches and greater Christian community.
As Christians, we need the greater Christian community to challenge, correct, critique and sometimes rebuke us in order to keep us — all of us (our ideas, words, beliefs, and actions) — in the center of truth. We need to be sharpened, iron to iron, so that the Word of God might go forth unhindered to those in desperate need of the gospel of grace. We need to be wise sons and daughters who submit to correction and rebuke. Let’s not be fools who refuse to listen or to be reprimanded.
We also need to resist the urge to say whatever it is we want to say through social media without carefully thinking through it and examining it according to Scripture. We must be aware that social media is a breeding ground for thoughtless, off-the-cuff soundbites that can spread to thousands within seconds with Retweets (RTs) and Modified Tweets (MTs) here and there. Last time I checked, this tweet had many RTs within minutes by people who, without thinking, thought it sounded good.
If what we say matters and if we truly believe that our words carry importance, then we must submit to correction when what we say is not founded in truth. We must resist this desire to be able to say whatever we want to say without ramifications or consequences.
Rather, critiques, if given and received well, have the potential to protect us from spreading false teaching, from becoming puffed up or conceited, and from error. Positively speaking, critiques help sharpen us, make us better communicators, and protect us from leading others astray.
For in the end, y’all, it’s not about us. It. Is. Not. About. Us! It is about Him and His gospel of forgiveness of sins, and if we are misrepresenting either of these two then let’s stand corrected. Instead of worrying about being valued and treasured, let’s be called the fools we are when we say foolish things so that we might become wise sons and daughters.
The morning started out hopeful. It was our 2nd Sunday to be in Cambridge, England and we could hear the bells of a nearby church ringing from our 3rd floor bedroom alerting us that the worship service was about to begin. We left our home to walk two blocks over to the parish church. Once at the church, we filed singly behind each other on a little stone path that took us to the church door through its small church graveyard. We were hopeful that this parish church so close to our new home would turn out to be a gospel-centered Anglican church.
The service was pleasant as we read liturgy, sung songs from the hymnal, confessed our sins and listened to an Old Testament reading, a reading from the Psalms, and a New Testament reading. All was well until the preacher stood up to give a homily on the Gospel reading — Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, also known as the parable of the weeds. As is well-known, this parable speaks about the eternal destiny of human beings. Those who accept the kingdom of God through Christ go to eternal rest; those who reject, go to eternal torment.
She began with an apologetic attitude, that is apologizing for the seemingly harshness of the text. She then gave two possible readings or interpretations of the passage. We could either take an “individualistic” reading and take the text to mean that some are saved and others are not and destined for hell, which she called an “elitist approach,” or we could understand it symbolically that weeds and wheat exist in every person. She took this second reading and said we are to accept the weeds in our life and know that when the Lord comes he will get rid of these weeds. It doesn’t matter then how we are to live but rather we are to live in the knowledge that He loves, forgives and one day will redeem us. In the end, she said we will all be OK, regardless of our beliefs or actions in this life.
There we sat witnessing for ourselves what we have read so much about — a truly liberal, universalist church teaching experience. So people like Hitler are saved no matter that he lived like the devil and died unrepentant?, we wanted to ask. So what’s the purpose of church or of Christianity if everyone is saved and if it doesn’t really matter how we are to live? What is the motivation of being a minister? It took everything within me not to storm out or to speak up. After all, according to her label I am an “elitist” because I take Jesus at his word. She can incorrectly label me all she wants, but what burned me up the most was the way she treated God’s Word and twisted it to make it say what she wanted to say. She destroyed the gospel, and she was leading people to hell right along with her. And you know what? That church is dying, because liberal theology destroys the life-giving gospel and takes a road away from God to hell.
I just finished writing a blog post that I intended to post today. In God’s perfect timing I would experience for myself the very thing I address in this post! Now more than ever I am determined with fire flowing through my veins to call out liberalism when I see or even sense the beginnings of it. My heart is burdened for the Church that false teaching and doctrine will be brought to light. Brothers and sisters, join with me in praying that we would be protected from this doctrine that teaches that YOU are the gospel, that you are not in sin, that it doesn’t matter what you say or do, that there is no truth but the truth of love that saves you in the end no matter what you believe.
The post to follow is long, but it speaks to an issue that God has burdened my heart with greatly and, as I experienced today, is indeed relevant.