Christians must not contend as the world fights

Tim Keller sent out this tweet on Saturday, 

“the demonization and dehumanization of the other side must stop. When professing Christians do it, it is triply wrong.”

The statement shouldn’t be controversial for Christians, but in today’s America (and to a lesser degree, Australia), it was outrageous for Tim Keller to make this suggestion.

Despite many people appreciating his comment (and others that he has recently made on social media), there has been a lot of backlash and complaints. For example, 

“Another comical and tone deaf statement by Keller. It’s triply wrong when Christians do it because we expect non-Christians to be awful people that do crappy things.”

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Tim Keller is observing a very real and concerning problem in our societies. Public debate no longer has room for grace, kindness, and patience.  Genuine conversations are hard to find and even more difficult to start because of the cacophony of stereotypes, insults, and shouts that now dominate public space. The force of political diatribe is sweeping aside nuance and fairness and patience. There is little toleration for paving a new path in this age in intolerance. Keller is rightly noting how it is all too easy for Christians to slide into the assumed poles that are being defined by left and right, progressive and conservative.

Today’s posture is the opposite of Proverbs 18:13 which says, 

“To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.”

The reality is, Christians may agree with a moral principle but we may believe that there are different ways to approach the issue and we might feel more or less passionately about the issue than the next Christian. Among these matters are abortion, racism, refugees, and climate change. We can agree that these are important ethical issues. We grieve over how our culture buys into and even celebrates theories and policies that dehumanise our fellow human beings. It is quite possible, indeed it is inevitable, that while concurring that a certain belief or action is wrong, there is often diverse opinion about how to best approach the issue. It may be unpopular to suggest this, but these disparate positions often have less to do with shared theological convictions and more to do with political philosophy (ie. what is the role of Government?) and personal experience. Instead of recognising the way we form our views, we have wrongly purchased the arrogant absolutism that is now pervading our society. 

I have seen this happening even in Australia as the nation deals with the latest manifestations of the sexual revolution, with bushfire crisis and now with the COVID-19 pandemic. A person may rightly identify an important issue, but if we respond to evil with more sin, how have we contributed in any constructive way? If we only react according to our sense of ‘righteous indignation’, are we not in danger of relying upon rhetorical power to fend off terrible things rather than ‘grace seasoned with salt’? 

If I need to resort to slander, gossip, and caricature, in order present my case, I have already lost.  

As I casual onlooker of American culture and someone who lives inside Australian culture, it is clear that we have foot faulted, and convinced ourselves that because others are getting away with it, so can we. One of the consequences is that instead of adorning the Gospel, we attached a pugnacious moralism.

The harder path is the road less trod. A myopic culture may not see much benefit in taking this path, but as Christians we are surely looking ahead toward eternity, not just the next social schism or election. 

Another response to Keller’s tweet said this, 

“Are we implying Christians have NO BATTLE to fight? Demolishing arguments and exposing unbiblical ideologies ≠ attacking individuals. Let’s not forfeit the battle to “the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”

The comment is quite revealing, for it makes the very mistake that Tim Keller is urging Christians to avoid. There is a battle, but we do not fight as the world fights. We don’t resort to the same tactics that are employed by Government and corporations, by Hollywood and by social media platforms. The Bible is clear, we take our stand with truth and faith and righteousness. Our feet are readied with the ‘gospel of peace’. Notice this, Paul describes God’s good news about Jesus Christ as the gospel of peace. The staggering truth is, this is inauguration of peace for those who are not at peace with God. This is a peace for people who are not at rest but who are struggling against God and even ourselves. In this way, the Christian path in our secular age is to proclaim reconciliation and forgiveness through Christ.

When our political and social commitments speak louder than our Gospel convictions we inevitably begin to mirror the culture and not the Church of Jesus Christ. The cross is not a weapon to beat down opponents, it is God’s amazing news of salvation for sinners, of whom I am the worst. 

This is the place to begin each day and every conversation, 

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

When we view ourselves in light of the cross, it changes the ways we understand ourselves and the way we view others. We can mourn the days in which we live (and there is much reason for mourning). There are sometimes godly reasons for anger. But the cross will surely recompose our attitudes and ambitions and avenues.

As the Lord Jesus hung on the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

How can a Christian live and speak and act without seeing that it was my sin that held him there?

“It was my sin that held Him there

Until it was accomplished

His dying breath has brought me life

I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything

No gifts, no power, no wisdom

But I will boast in Jesus Christ

His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?

I cannot give an answer

But this I know with all my heart

His wounds have paid my ransom”

Nancy Pelosi repeats President Trump’s mistake with the Bible

“Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning”. (Ecclesiastes 4:13)

“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.” (Proverbs 26:14)

 

If President Trump acted with hubris and foolishness yesterday by standing in front of a church building and holding a Bible in his right hand, then someone should have told Nancy Pelosi not to repeat the mistake.

Nancy Pelosi is the serving Speaker of the United States House of Representative. She has responded to President Trump’s awful photo op by offering one of her own. During a press conference at the Capitol Building today, Nancy Pelosi held onto a Bible and spoke to the media. She had learned one lesson of what not to do from President Trump, she opened the Bible and read out loud what can be described as a loose paraphrase from Ecclesiastes ch.3

“There’s an appointed time for everything…A time for every event under heaven. … A time to heal, a time to embrace and a time to shun embracing..a time for peace…”

She might have continued and read what follows in that chapter, 

 And I saw something else under the sun:

In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

 I said to myself,

“God will bring into judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time to judge every deed.”

 

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Nancy ‘the Bible teacher’ Pelosi may have offered at least a conciliatory tone but the grandstanding is nonetheless equally egregious. It was a silly game of oneupmanship, made using the word of God as the instrument of choice.

The fact that she opened the Bible and read a few verses holds her to a higher standard of responsibility. As the Scriptures says,

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror” (James 1:22-23)

I’m sure this press briefing will be received positively by many. The media hasn’t treated it with the same kind of disdain that has been expressed over President Trump’s efforts yesterday. Let the reader understand, the media isn’t interested in the word of God being rightly handled, and neither are partisan hacks. As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, we ought to be.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)

These words are not written for politicians, they are directed to pastors, and they are also applicable to Christians in general. Christians should not be fooled by either photo op. Mocking God is not a wise course of action, and we don’t want to find ourselves excusing or supporting these behaviours.  Pretending to hold Scripture in high regard while openly legislating against its teachings is known in the Bible as ‘hypocrisy’.

As a result of criticising President Trump yesterday, I received some pushback, which is unsurprising in our fractious world. As Christians we must understand that the standard for Christian faith is not allegiance to any given political party, it is the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This is a real danger for Christians living in a polarised and politically partisan society. Of course we all hold political preferences, and I appreciate the real ideological difference between Republicans and Democrats; these things matter,  but they should never supersede our allegiance to Christ.

Criticising the wrongful actions of one political leader does not mean an endorsement of another; that is a logical fallacy. If we cannot hold people in public office to account even when they represent our political party,  and call out their abuse of God’s word, then perhaps we need to ask ourselves what kind of Christianity we are believing.

The footage of President Trump was poor and should not be defended by Christians. There was no calling the nation to open this word and to live by it. There was no humility. Today’s footage of Nancy Pelosi similarly speaks to political expediency.

Caesar is not infallible and neither is Brutus. I would love to see both Pelosi and Trump reading and meditating upon this precious word that truly gives peace, life, and hope to all who receive it. It is truly insane when the very word of life is being held in the hand and yet rejected. I encourage my American brothers and sister in Christ to pray for their leaders, as the Scriptures urge us to.

Let me finish with the words of a pastoral colleague who is serving in a church in Virginia. He summarises the issue well:

“Beware of those who use God’s Name for political gain.

Jesus is neither a Republican or Democrat.

His Kingdom is not of this world.

“God’s name is blasphemed…b/c of you.” Romans 2:24

In the past 24 hours, 3 leading political figures have presented themselves as representing Jesus without giving evidence of knowing Him.

Our church would welcome each as guests & we’d share the Gospel w/ them but I’m grieved when people confuse people about what it means to know Jesus.

To be clear: Christians can vote for candidates who are not Christian. We often will.

But beware of forming your opinion of Jesus based on the lives of those who use Jesus to further their own anti-Jesus ambitions.”