February 23, 2020

Enough Courage to Go Around

UPDATE: Here’s a suggestion by Ray Ortland that fits with this post.

If the truth about Christianity turned out to be very different from what we’d been taught as young Christians by people we look up to as mentors and authorities, would we stand up and tell the truth? Would we make the turn and go the other way?

Every so often, this situation occurs. Take, for example, the infamous inter-racial dating rule at Bob Jones University. Through whatever process- enlightenment, epiphany, embarrassment- it became obvious that the school’s prohibition on interracial dating was wrong, even though it had been taught as part of a “godly Christian witness” for decades.

On the day that became clear, someone had to come to this conclusion:

-Jesus never endorsed this prohibition.
-It’s counter to the Gospel to have this rule.
-But our pastors, teachers, mentors, parents, grandparents, ancestors and culture have taught us that this kind of segregation is right.
-They used the Bible to prove their point, but they used it wrongly.
-If we are going to do what is right, we have to say that those who came before us were wrong.
-It will be embarrassing, and some people will get angry.

Get that next to last sentence: If we are going to do what is right, then those who came before us are wrong and we must, in one form or another, say so.

Christians struggle with this because their concept of truth makes them largely slow to comprehend the human, historical and cultural element in their perception of truth.

They are slow to see that their version of Christianity is very white, upper middle class and American.

They are slow to see applications of the gospel that require them to repent of the way they’ve treated people with whom they have some issue.

They are slow admit that what was preached and taught was wrong because the use of scripture (or lack of scripture) was wrong.

Many conservative evangelicals have a “thing” about the past. Maybe it’s the reformers. Or the confederacy. Or the last pastor. Or Puritans. Or some preacher of the last century. Or Christians who were right about many things but wrong about some things.

It takes courage to stand up and tell the world that Christians are wrong. It take even more courage to tell Christians that they are wrong. But if we are going to follow Jesus, we have do it and keep on doing it.

And we have to give our children permission to stand up and say we were wrong.

We were wrong, and Jesus is right. It’s an ongoing process of discovery, repentance and ownership.

It’s taken us through slavery and civil rights. Now it’s time to have the courage to say that we as evangelicals and establishment Christians have been wrong about many things.

Not wrong about the essentials of the Gospel, though we have a lot of problems related to the Gospel that we need to confess. And not wrong about the Bible or the Cross.

But we need to say we’ve been wrong about all kinds of things related to institutional and establishment, status quo Christianity. Those who came before us saw things in the Bible that weren’t there and used the Bible to prove things that were far from the ecclesia vision of Jesus.

It’s going to take courage. I hope we have plenty to go around.

Comments

  1. It’s always about culture.
    Wrong.
    If we have died to self and Christ is our life then culture will change.
    Truth does not change.
    We do not fully know the Truth outside of Christ.
    We only know Christ to the degree that we are surrendered to Him.
    This is intellectually impossible.
    Only the Spirit within us cries out,”Abba.”
    should we stand for what we believe is true.
    Absolutely.
    We should also always be aware that we don’t know the truth in full. We only see darkly.
    Always living with love and forgiveness is hard.

  2. Sometimes it takes courage; sometimes not. It all depends on whether you respect the current leaders of the status quo, or care whether or not they endorse your iconoclasm.

    If you don’t give a rip, or you think they’re a bunch of fuddy-duddies whose lack of cultural knowledge automatically renders them irrelevant, it’s not only easy to get up and denounce them as wrong; it’s fun. Your average postmodern youth pastor gleefully makes a point of sporting his tattoos, spiking his blue-tinged hair, and dropping the occasional F-bomb in his sermons. Sticking it to the Man rocks!

    Except love has nothing to do with it, and won’t be the fruit of it. Which automatically renders it anti-Christian.

  3. Michael:

    It’s tough to move on, I know. It’s always easier to press on with the critique, especially when we’ve done it for so long. But God has called you to move forward, my friend. And I have a lot of people praying for you. Keep your eye on the ball, brother. Keep your eye on the ball. The answer is on the other side. Don’t get stuck in the muck. We love you, man. Get to work!!!!!

    Grace and Peace and Courage and Vision,
    Raffi
    Parables of a Prodigal World

  4. You have addressed a topic that is has been one of my pet peeves for a long time. I have always found it interesting that Christians always find their views so infallible. Those that have admitted their need to have Christ in their lives have already admitted their imperfection. Yet somehow they believe that becoming a Christian magically makes their set of beliefs perfect.

  5. There is no truth outside of Christ.

    We know all we need to know.

    Some things will remain a mystery for that is how God inteneded them.

    That doesn’t sell a lot of books, though.

    As sinners, we will figure out a way to muddy the waters.

    Baptism. Holy Communion. Objective truth from outside ourselves. This is why He gives them.

    A no hitter tonight!

    What does that have to do with the price of eggs in Alaska, Mrs Calabash?

    Also one of God’s gifts…to baseball lovers.

  6. Yes, it’s so very hard. You’re right. It’s very humbling though, and I think that’s a good thing. I’ve had a lot of those realizations lately — personally and then corporately. And I do believe that God’s behind them.

    Thanks for the encouragement. It’s good for me to read this this morning.

  7. Is there a danger of creating a “culturally correct Christianity”? One that is shaped by a culture rather than a Christianity that shapes a culture. Or is that what we are denouncing?

  8. This really resonates with me–some of us are appealing to BJU to do this very thing–apologize for the racist policies of the past. The chances of our succeeding (humanly speaking) are small, but we believe it’s the right thing to do. It would actually be easier to walk away…

    http://www.please-reconcile.org

  9. There is but one color in the Kingdom of God. Blood red.
    And only one culture. Love.

    Who cares what color someones skin is?

  10. Bror Erickson says

    Michael,
    You did a good job of proving your own point here, intentionally or unintentionally I don’t know. But you write:
    “Christians struggle with this because their concept of truth makes them largely slow to comprehend the human, historical and cultural element in their perception of truth.

    They are slow to see that their version of Christianity is very white, upper middle class and American.”

    Thing is, I know many Christians who are not white, many more who hardly classify as upper middle class, if even middle class, and, actually, quite a few who are in no way American.

  11. rootsman says

    “Would we make the turn and go the other way?”

    Yes, we should.
    If you admit me to be a bit personal, I will confess that I have been on a journey the last years that seems to end up with exactly the situation you are describing here.

    I was “saved” and raised up in a very narrow part of the charismatic movement twenty years ago. Then I lost most of my friends, but it was worth it because I learned to know Jesus. I have been involved in ministry of the word (teaching both truth and error) most of this time.

    In this period I have been struggling with doctrinal and moral issues, and ecpecially the question about “where is the visible body of Christ”.

    After some years of intense study of Bible, church fathers, church history and finally dogmatic history, I am now convinced that I can simply not continue to be protestant, but I need to convert and be Catholic.

    This was definitely not what I wanted, nor expected, but I really feel blessed by the desicion. I may again loose most friends, but I really believe that we individually are responsible for what we know and understand. So, yes – we should turn from error and dont be ashamed of it – but do it in love.

    Be blessed, Michael…

  12. rootsman:

    I am glad for your journey, but I want to say very clearly that it’s going to take a lot more than an assertion of infallibility- even if its tied to antiquity, etc- to get me to sign on to the infallibility of a church.

    There are two great truths for me: Christ is infallible and the church, along with the rest of human history- is fallible. I see no halfway house other than “Over here seems less fallible to me than over there.”

    Of course, I- unlike many who have written me- have absolutely no anxieties about belonging to the “true” or “infallibly right” church. The quest seems like a non sequitor to me, whether one settles it with inerrancy, landmarkism, Calvinism or the Pope. But that’s me.

    Peace

    MS

  13. Michael,
    What you said, “They are slow to see that their version of Christianity is very white, upper middle class and American.” rang very clearly to me. I have heard for years when ministering around Native Americans about how Christianity is a white man’s religion, and the truth is the American churches in particular have made this so. Over the centuries the church has been actively disconnecting Christianity from its roots in Judaism(just look at what we have done to God’s calendar). I have been doing a lot of study the last few weeks and felt the light bulbs popping in my head as I see the need to reconnect to God’s entire sweep of history. Our roots as believers in Christ go a lot deeper than any denominational church. According to Romans 4 we have Abraham as our father in faith. I am starting to feel that the church has spent far too much time obscuring the view of God and what it means to be pleasing to Him that we need to have. Kind of like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, we are far more comfortable making lists of rules to follow than we are trying to follow God’s actual commands. I pray that I can find the courage to follow Him wherever He leads me and whatever He leads me through. Even if it means admitting that I have been wrong(and I am sure that it will).
    Jeff M

  14. rootsman says

    “…but I want to say very clearly that it’s going to take a lot more than an assertion of infallibility…”

    But if this assertion is correct – fine. If it is incorrect – still ok, as far as I have confirmed that the major, important doctrines are, and has always been stable and correct (however at times dull) according to the Bible and the fathers understanding of the Bible.

    Personally I dont have a hangup on the term “infallibility” (by the way, a term which is begging to be misunderstood). So infallible or not – the point is that I have no problems to align with the teaching of the church on what I percive as important issues.

    After all, I really dont believe you or me or anyone else have the ability to “prove” or “disprove” questions like infallibility in order to sign or not sign. Christianity was never ment to be individual journeys of lonely cowboys, not connected to the same authorative body. Then the question of infallibility boils down to a matter of trusting the magisterium or not, based on qualifications as mentioned.

    But I should say that I probably have a very different background than you – with ALL emphasis on the “invisible” or “universal” church which has no Biblical or early-historical support at all.

    I believe that Christ requires a well defined, orthodox, “visible” body on earth, but by His mercy, He ALLOWS “invisible”, heterodox body-parts as well – but for a limited time only. The former is proved by scripture, the latter is proved by history.

    And I dont inted to “convert” you – my point was that we are obliged to follow our convictions more than our social preferences, professional occupations etc… 🙂

  15. Timely, needed words. I would bet that in the end, when all is said and done, much of what we believe to be of great importance will be found trivial and insignificant.

    And, at least some of what we have rationalized and ignored may prove to be of ultimate importance in God’s eyes.

    Perhaps, like Job, we would do well to put our hands over our mouths and be silent. Better to live in humility today than to eat crow on the coming day.

    Thanks for sharing your journey. Even your struggles are a source of strength in God’s hands.

  16. Sherrill: Not me, but it’s interesting. My daughter is Noel, after my wife’s mom’s maiden name, Noel.

  17. rootsmanL:

    Believe me that there won’t be a conversion conversation on here. So that’s cool.

    My point is this: Don’t assume that everyone has the same need for certainty that brings people to a belief in inerrancy, Calvinism and the RC Magisterium. Many Christians don’t believe that infallibility exists on earth. That’s why we respect the RCC, but can’t agree with its claim that it is infallible.

    I’d also suggest that there are plenty of people who have moved to a position or a church and found that the mysterious certainty didn’t arrive. If it does for you, that’s fine.

    Just remember we’re saved by faith, not certainty.

    peace

    MS

  18. Of course, I- unlike many who have written me- have absolutely no anxieties about belonging to the “true” or “infallibly right” church.

    I can’t help but think of C. S. Lewis’s essay on the “The Inner Ring”. I won’t suggest that all with those anxieties fit, but I can’t help but wonder if the advice and warning Lewis gives should be listened to in this context. Lewis is addressing the way the world works, but I think it is still relevant, as there are times when our attempts to be “separate” from the world merely result in a separate worldliness.

  19. “Just remember we’re saved by faith, not certainty.”

    Sounds certain

    Evidence of a need?

    🙂

  20. “…wickedness,when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness: you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong – only because cruelty was pleasant or useful to him. In other words badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness.” – C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”, book 2, ch.2 (“The Invasion”).

    I think the reason why Christians have a hard time letting go of some ugly things from the past is not because Jesus ever condoned such behavior, but because somehow the devil duped us into believing that a greater good (or lesser evil) would be their outcome. That sense of making a noble decision in the face of insurmountable odds somehow forever romanticizes the decision to do wrong. The devil uses the ultimatum fallacy like a bloody two-edged sword; if he can convince us that there is only a choice between one evil or a worse one, we are doomed everytime.

    I just read in Matthew Chapter 4 about the temptation of Jesus. The last temptation was the most sinister of all: just worship the devil, and all the kingdoms of the world are yours. Declare a truce with evil, and suffering will end. Utopia will be born. Best of all: no cross. How could a loving God, who mourns over the suffering of His people, turn down such an offer? Instead, Jesus chose to worship God alone – a decision which put him on a collision course with the cross and his followers on a path of persecution and constant demonic harassment. But Jesus knew how the story would finally end, that His Father would deliver him and His flock from the valley of the shadow of death. We need to remember this, when faced with the temptation to make the ends justify the means.

  21. I think any reformed christian should be humbled a bit by their heritage to know that someone as brilliant and passionate as Jonathon Edwards owned slaves in early America. It doesn’t mean he was a monster or fraud by any means, or taint his theological contributions to Christianity and America in general. He was human and capable of clinging onto and even defending social injustice that was common in that period.

  22. All right, guys. Let’s not get sloppy here. We’re justified by faith. We’re saved by Christ.

  23. Saved by Christ by grace through faith.

    But all my theology is sloppy. God deliver me from ever thinking otherwise. 🙂

  24. Bob Sacamento says

    But we need to say we’ve been wrong about all kinds of things related to institutional and establishment, status quo Christianity….

    It’s going to take courage. I hope we have plenty to go around.

    Maybe. But I need some specifics before I sign up. 🙂

  25. I like messy theology, it helps keep God out of a nice, neat box.

    😉

  26. Lewis is addressing the way the world works, but I think it is still relevant, as there are times when our attempts to be “separate” from the world merely result in a separate worldliness. — Oloryn (probably not the Maia)

    AKA “Of the world, but not in it.”

  27. Thanks for this post. It is extremely relevant – one’s own generation is often blind to the obvious taken for granted ‘rights’ or ‘truths’ that our children and grandchildren will take for granted.

    http://endtimespropheticwords.wordpress.com