Christian Means Holy
In the age we live in of increasing tribalism, division, critical and vengeful spirits, anger, and even violence, we are rightly disturbed and concerned. We see this play out daily, both on social media where people say things in anonymity or behind a “nom de plume” they wouldn’t dare say to someone’s face. We even see it increasingly in the public arena, where often little or no common courtesy is shown. The recent October fiasco in the U.S. Congress (over trying and failing at first to choose a speaker, with yelling, cursing, and stomping out) is an embarrassment to our country before a watching world.
Our modern world is a mess (II Timothy 3:1-5), but I am thinking specifically about our attitudes and responses as believers in Christ. I’m very concerned that we do not let the spirit of the age wreak havoc in the church, the beloved body of Christ. We are different (I Peter 2:9); a people for God’s own possession, or “peculiar” as the KJV translated it 400 years ago. We are “Christ followers;” He wants us to be like Him, and His Spirit within us desires to produce, and can produce, that transformation.
So how do we reflect Christ and model Christ-like behavior in our modern world, particularly where there are disagreements and differences among Christians? Here are some thoughts:
Be one who builds up, not one who tears down. Be a friend, not a foe. Be one who blesses, not one who blasts. “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” (Philippians 4:5; moderation is rendered “gentleness,” “graciousness,” and “reasonableness” in other translations.)
Understand the other’s point of view, even if you can’t agree. Always restate his viewpoint accurately. Don’t build straw men that are easy to tear down, even while you’re misrepresenting the other person’s point of view. “A strawman is a fallacious argument that distorts an opposing stance in order to make it easier to attack. For example, if someone says, “I think that we should give better study guides to students,” a person using a strawman might reply by saying “I think your idea is bad, because we shouldn’t just give out A’s to everyone.”
Christian Means Discerning
Don’t mindlessly repeat what you read/see/hear without doing the necessary fact-checking, lest you jump to a wrong conclusion and pass along false information. Learn to nuance when you do speak, giving context, accuracy, and balance. Accurate information stated accurately is, in my estimation, a missing element in much discourse today, but a very necessary ingredient where believers should shine.
I have always admired Christian men like Leroy Forlines and Robert Picirilli, both in their teaching and in their writings, for carefully stating the theological position of someone they would disagree with. Picirilli in “Grace, Faith, and Free Will” differentiated between the Arminian and Calvinist positions, and he had a Calvinist friend read his manuscript to be sure he was stating the other’s position accurately. Forlines studied for a decade under Calvinist professors, and in “The Quest for Truth,” always made sure to state their position correctly.
Considering it from another angle, we need to realize that for the Christian there are very few hills worth dying on. Martin Luther’s 95 theses in 1517 was such a hill, as was Polycarp’s refusal to deny the Lord who had done him only good, but it’s doubtful that eschatological arguments are a place to give one’s life or be mean-spirited or denigrating toward another. We’re brothers, even if we disagree over details that are open to more than one interpretation when we both hold to the deity of Christ, salvation by grace alone through faith alone and the infallibility of the Scriptures.
I’ve heard it said, “I want to be kind, but I have to be right.” No, I must do right. I may think I’m right only to find out later that I’m not. But I should always be kind, considerate, gentle, and courteous. Always.
C.S. Lewis in his classic book Mere Christianity spoke about all believers being in the hallway of a house, agreeing on certain core truths concerning the Scriptures, the Savior, and our common beliefs. To be in the house (i.e., the family of God) is to be a Christian. But he said that it was in the rooms of the house where we had the deepest fellowship and found those with whom we most closely agreed. By that I think he meant different types of churches and denominations. Naturally, as we grow in grace, study the Scriptures, and are taught by our pastors and teachers, we will usually come to a more settled theological position that defines us.
We will not always agree with other Christians (though we must concur on core, fundamental truths from Scripture), but we can, and should, learn to live in unity. Courtesy, kindness, and respect should always characterize God’s people in dealing with others, both believers and non-believers. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
A subject for another day is how Christians can, and must confront evil, heresy, and wrong. Paul used irony on occasion. He was direct in dealing with unbelief and legalism. John the Baptist called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “generation of vipers.” Jesus likewise was harsh with the Pharisees (rightly so) and called Herod “that fox.” There is a time and place for everything. But gentleness and consideration are always appropriate for family discussions.
There is possibly no clearer and more compelling passage in Scripture as to how believers are to relate to one another than Colossians 3:11-17. Even a simple overview makes it crystal clear that distinctions such as Jew-Gentile, circumcised-uncircumcised, and slave-free don’t matter; Christ is all, and He lives in us. Because Christians have been chosen as His holy people, we must be clothed with tenderhearted mercy, gentleness, and patience. We are to forgive, as we’ve been forgiven. We are to be clothed with love, and let Christ’s peace rule in our hearts, because as members of one body we’re called to live in peace. (New Living Translation)
No one ever said it better than Jesus: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, NKJV)