So it became quite apparent to me after I saw the analytics and responses both at this site and over at Bread for Beggars, that I probably needed to write a follow-up to THE GOSPEL and Tone – the post where I said that Christians are not merely to promote the morality of Christ, but also to do so with the gentleness and humility of Christ. I argued that if you promote traditional family values, but do so with condescension and malice, you’ve stepped over into promoting conservative politics, not Christianity.
Some Christians aren’t going to like this statement. That’s fine. I’m less concerned with whether or not someone likes it and more concerned with whether or not it’s true: Presentation is not everything, but it’s definitely something. Consequently, if you proclaim truth, but do so with a transparently loveless heart, you are going to repel people in a way counterintuitive to the attractiveness of the gospel. Put differently, you think you’re making a mark for the truth when, in reality, you’re driving many further from the truth.
This all leads into the topic of the day, a topic that many reading my previous post on tone, seem to be struggling with a bit. Namely, how do we reconcile Jesus’ demonstrations of righteous indignation with a gentle and loving tone? Invariably, people want to say, “But Jesus showed anger over sin when he tossed over the tables at the Temple!” (Matt. 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-18; John 2:13-17). These individuals conclude, “Jesus got angry about sin. He openly expressed his anger. I’m also justifiably angry about sin, therefore I too should openly express anger to the world.” What are they missing? Answer: CONTEXT.
Let me run a couple of passages by you, passages where Jesus is getting angry, name-calling, and showing zero tolerance for sin. Tell me what they have in common….
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” (Matt. 23:17)
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” (Matt. 3:7)
So, the common denominator? Who’s he speaking with? The RELIGIOUS people. The church people. Now, let me flip back to my post from a couple of weeks ago. Is this the same group of people who Matt Walsh is calling out? No, he’s lambasting the secular media, gay rights activists, and most things liberal. Now, we need to ask the question, what, if any, guidance does the Bible give to us on judgment regarding those who are clearly outside the Church? Well, let’s take the Apostle Paul for instance…
“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Cor. 5:12-13)
In the exact same section that the Apostle Paul is talking about intolerance for the unrepentant sins of a brother within the Church, he comments on how correcting the behavior of those outside of the Church is really not the main business of Christians. Now, the New Testament certainly makes general statements about not conforming to the wickedness of the world – (2 Cor. 4:4; 1 John 2:15-16; Col. 2:8; Rom. 12:2). But even there, the warning is being given to believers. The point is this: we have a right and responsibility to hold accountable those within the Christian Church. On the other hand, we cannot anticipate godly decision-making from those who clearly, by their own admission, do not have the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). That would be a naïve underestimation of the necessity of the Spirit for producing any true godliness.
Is God concerned about the wickedness of the world? Of course. Can you legislate, bully, or rationalize Christ into the heart of an unbeliever? No. So you have to recognize that God is not merely seeking obedience, he’s seeking a certain type of obedience (the secret to the Cain/Able distinction in Gen. 4). He’s seeking gospel-driven obedience. He’s seeking a faith-based response to the gift of salvation. He’s seeking hearts enamored with the One they were created for and redeemed by.
So what are Christians who believe in biblical values, who want the world to see the “rightness” of those values, to do? Jesus addresses this quite clearly in the Sermon on the Mount – we (i.e. The Church) are supposed to function as an alternate reality to the world, a reality characterized by grace, a more beautiful reality than what the world typically sees. Jesus refers to this as “salt of the earth” and “light to the world” and “city on a hill” (Matt. 5:13-16). In other words, let God’s directive unfold in your life and then speak for itself.
Here’s a quick illustration: If Christians demonstrate marriages that reflect the Ephesians 5 template, where husband/wife possess a relationship that mirrors the beauty of the relationship between Christ/Church, don’t you trust that such a demonstration will make a more powerful testimony to the world about biblical values than holding a sign at town hall meeting, a 25 cent bumper sticker, or a self-righteous online rant about the plight of American morality? The problem, however, is that 1) actually mirroring the Eph. 5 marriage design is much harder than the other options, and 2) we, by nature, don’t really trust that Jesus is right – that a simple gospel light will be more beneficial and impactful to the world than a snarky, condescending diatribe.
I’m curious what Christianity, and the world, might look like if we Christians worked harder at holding Christians (esp. ourselves) accountable, and worried less about holding a Spirit-less world accountable.