From North’s Critical Mass – Part 13: Preparing For Resistance
But sanctity the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing (I Peter 3:15-17).
Paul’s injunction applies to the avoidance of strife with people who are in the clutches of Satan. There are lots of Christians who are not in the clutches of the devil, covenantally speaking, but who will enthusiastically give the dedicated reformer a lot of trouble. Why? Because they are in sympathy with some teaching or practice that the devil finds useful in deflecting covenant-keepers from keeping the judicial and moral terms of the full-orbed covenant they profess.
Yes, there are Christians – even saved believers – who are trapped in some snare of Satan, and want to ensnare others to ease their conscience “everyone is doing it”, or at least avoid rebuke and being forced to abandon the corruption.
It is certainly possible that these people are in influential positions in the local Church.
Strife is an illegitimate alternative to two things: peace and a formal trial. Anyone who is unwilling to seek the second should seek the first.
Cutting Strife Short
If the level of confrontation has escalated to the point of church court action, but neither participant is willing to bring a formal accusation against the other, both are commanded by Paul to cease the confrontation. A debate has become strife. Strife must be settled. Any confrontation that is not worth settling judicially should not be allowed to escalate to the point of creating divisions in the church: one vs. one, faction vs. faction.
When someone approaches a pastor with a warning about someone else in the church, the pastor may be wise to listen. But when he perceives that the talebearer is trying to recruit him to act as his personal agent of informal condemnation, the pastor should take out a notebook and ask the talebearer to repeat his statement, just in case the complaint should go to a trial. This will normally silence the tale-bearer, who is not interested in a trial. (I am reminded of Anita Hill’s 1991 tale about Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. She did not volunteer to testify publicly under oath. She consented to do so only after the story she told to Senate staffers was leaked to the press.)
We must learn to think judicially. This is not easy for modern Christians. They have been taught to be antinomians. They do not think in terms of legal categories. They prefer to talk about “relationships” rather than law, as if covenantally established relationships were not law-bound. The word “relationship” has become a code word that means “not under biblical law.”
Over time, the antinomians will grow more consistent in their beliefs, moving from “men can earn salvation” to “men can generate their own salvation.”
This can be proven by looking around you, and observing the shift in this antinomian civilization who is disposing of the last few rotting rags of ‘Our Christian Heritage’.
(But then again, “Our Christian Heritage’ was always a code phrase of conservatives who wanted to pose as Christians, but deeply despised actually obeying the law and commandments.)
The trouble is, such relationships keep winding up on the front page of the local newspaper: “Pastor Admits Adultery, Asks Forgiveness.”
Is anyone surprised, by this point of time? Lawless men are lawless men… regardless of their deeply religious language.
Somewhere in the article will be a paragraph on his employment status. “Forgiveness” in such a context has also become a code word. It means: “will not be asked to resign.” That is, he wants to evade and avoid negative sanctions. He assumes that there are no negative sanctions attached to his transgression, other than embarrassment.
The problem is, many, many congregations will keep the adulterer on the payroll in order to avoid strife. The scandal is public, but the congregation pretends that strife can be avoided by ignoring the required sanctions. It refuses to press charges. This frequently leads to an exodus of the morally outraged faction. There can be legitimate forgiveness in the settling of strife, but only by the victims, and the victims can insist on restitution. If the husband of the adulteress says “fire him,” he should be fired. Even if a victim refuses to press charges, the church must, as the victimized institution. The man is no longer blameless; he is no longer eligible for the pastorate (l Tim. 3:1-2).
The original sin is bad enough: but why do churches ignore the explicit commandments of God regarding how to run their church?
I guess that they don’t feel that God has poured enough contempt on them, and they still have too much power and respect, even now.
No matter: this will be rectified, and sooner than you’d expect.
Peter wrote: “For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.” It is better to become the victim of one seeking to create strife than to be the initiator of strife.
A winner is a winner, and a loser is a loser… regardless of political machinations.
The Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) is a very powerful doctrine. It creates opportunities for strife. It blows things up; for example, Old Covenant Israel. Modern Christians have sought to limit the devastation by narrowly defining the Great Commission as strictly the salvation of souls. But this is not what the text says: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (v. 19). Baptize nations — whole peoples: this is a huge assignment. It means that nations are to be brought under the comprehensive covenant of God, which alone offers comprehensive redemption.
Christians dislike power, because power has a price tag: increased Divine scrutiny, and judgement for failure to live up to the standards God has set.
Looking around you, it’s clear that Christians would prefer to be ruled by Loving Masters who have utter contempt for everything they believe in, and everything they are… so long as the cheap/free/corporate health care, the pensions, and the job is secure.
Worthless salt exist only to be cast aside, to be trampled into the earth.
When someone who reads and believes Kenneth Gentry’s book, The Greatness of the Great Commission (ICE, 1990), begins to discuss its thesis of comprehensive redemption in a typical evangelical church, he will meet opposition. The doctrine of comprehensive redemption — the whole of sin’s realm progressively subdued by God through His church — is too divisive today. It announces the comprehensive responsibility of Christians. Christians are not willing to accept this degree of responsibility, so they seek ways to avoid the implications of the Great Commission.
“We Christians don’t want to work too hard, or be judged for failure, so let’s completely ignore the Direct Command of Jesus Christ!”
Christians go out of their way to bring judgement on their heads: THAT much should be obvious by now; again, just look around you…
One way is to attack the interpretation given to Christ’s words by the one who has presented the gospel’s comprehensive claims. This challenge becomes an opportunity for strife.
The best way to avoid strife in this case is for the defender of comprehensive redemption to present his case initially through deeds rather than words.
“Presenting your case by deeds rather than words” – now, that’s a powerful idea!
He begins a charitable project or other worthwhile project. He acts as a steward over the project. When he recruits people in the church to work with him, he speaks about all the good that the project will accomplish, and all the spiritual benefits to those participating as co-workers. He should stress benefits: to the beneficiaries (the word reveals its origins) and also to the participants. He does not talk theology; he practices theology.
Then, if he is asked what his motivation is, he can direct the discussion back to the Great Commission.
Now, on to the necessity of works:
The worthwhile nature of the project, coupled with the sacrifice of the project’s initiator, forms a shield around the theology of social transformation. The agenda of the initiator is visible: the project. The agenda of the critic is implied: avoiding commitment to the project. Both agendas are grounded in a theology. But most Christians care little for theology. They share this attitude with non-Christians.
Yes, this bears repeating: “But most Christians care little for theology. They share this attitude with non-Christians.”
What most people do care about is making the world a little better for the decent people of the world, including the underprivileged. This caring attitude is an important aspect of common grace. It helps soften the resistance to the gospel:
But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day. Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? (Deut. 4:4-8).
James wrote: “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:18). He who defends himself based on his works alone is doomed. But he is not interested in hearing of saving faith from someone whose works are non-existent. The “hook” is the presence of good works. The good works do not supplement saving faith; they confirm saving faith. Works are an aspect of testimony.
And on to the finish:
Rather than go on the offensive verbally, the reformer must go on the offensive charitably. He begins a project that is clearly worth doing. He bootstraps it. This effort will be seen as a work of righteousness. This work will tend to undermine workers of unrighteousness in the community outside the church and non-workers inside the church.
That is the offence – and the offensiveness – of actual believers: works of righteousness.