Resisting the Urge to Retaliate

My sister and I used to play a game that could get us into trouble. It’s called “I Hit You Last” and here’s how it’s played:

While on the couch watching TV, one sibling hits the other on the arm or leg and says “I hit you last.” It is then the other sibling’s turn to do the same. The siblings must remain fairly quiet though, or a parent will call out from the other room, “Are you kids roughhousing on the couch?” Both siblings are obligated to respond in the negative, then one sibling will reach out and strike.

“I hit you last.”

You might think this a horrid game, or merely bizarre. And some of you are thinking, “Hey, that sounds like something I used to play.”

The thing about this game that keeps it from getting out of hand is that there’s one sure-fire way to end it. Here’s the final rule of the game:

Don’t hit back.

Since my sister is older than I by about three years, I was usually the first player to invoke the ultimate rule.*

A Very Biblical Game

This fun little childhood memory gets me thinking about Jesus. Not because I needed divine intervention when watching TV with my sister, but because he spoke of something similar to I Hit You Last.

If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:39.)

My sister and I didn’t slap each other’s cheeks, of course, but the principle applies. If I was tired of the game I could stop it by not hitting back, and so could she.

Some people hit or hurt others regardless of whether the victim is hitting back. This is the real application Jesus spoke to. Roman soldiers could order Jewish citizens around, and knock them silly if they felt it necessary to get the job done.

You probably won’t find yourself  being hit by the modern equivalent of a Roman soldier, yet some people are contentious and love a good argument.** Those people engage in a verbal game of I Hit You Last through their words, whether in person, through email, social media or old fashioned gossip around the neighborhood, in the office or at school.

In one of the most whiplash inducing passages in all of Scripture, the Bible tells us what to do with such foolishness.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5.)

So the Bible tells you to ignore foolishness and also not to ignore it. Which is it?

It depends, and that’s where the wisdom of I Hit You Last comes in. If answering the gossip is the equivalent of attempting to hit the person last, then don’t answer the gossip. But responding to the gossip doesn’t have to be an act of retribution. It might actually follow the advice Jesus gave soon after telling people to turn the other cheek.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44.)

There are three things in that short verse that can guide you in deciding how to respond to someone who has maligned you.

  1. Listen to what Jesus is telling you. You have the Spirit of Christ within you to guide you and give you wisdom. (John 14:26, Ephesians 1:17, James 1:5.)
  2. Love your enemies by doing good for them, because only that which is good can overcome evil. (Romans 12:20-21.)
  3. Pray for those who wrong you. Jesus tells you to do it, and it’s what he did himself. (Luke 23:33-34.)

These aren’t easy when you’ve been the victim of malicious gossip, or had your reputation attacked, or someone you trusted has revealed your secrets. Believe me, I know. There are things that happened years ago that I harbor resentment about. But I know the right path is to listen to Jesus, do acts of love for those people whether I feel loving or not, and pray for them.

So that’s what I do even when I don’t want to, and so can you.

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*My sister and I get along great. Today’s her birthday so I figured I’d bring this post out from the archives.

**This post is not meant to address situations where a person is being abused or similarly hurt. If you or someone you know is being abused, it’s time to call the police. Nothing in the Bible prohibits this and anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong.

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Running Like an Inflated Drunk

[From the archives.]

Contrary to the impression I might have given with posts on running a 6 mile obstacle course and a half-marathon in the Happiest Place on Earth, I am not wont to join a few thousand strangers in order to traverse long distances in company.

But I did it again.

This time it was a 5K through a bunch of bounce houses. Three miles and a dozen inflatable obstacles made for a fun-run in the truest sense. It also made me feel like the folks in this verse:

They reeled and staggered like drunkards … . (Psalm 107:27.)

Me reeling and staggering, but not falling down.

We signed up along with a bunch of people from the gym. As the day approached the young guy who owns the gym – and whom we looked to as our fearless leader for the race – went and blew his knee out and ended up having surgery.

That didn’t stop him from taking the course. He said he’d do it, and he did. And we did it with him. He couldn’t run so we all walked with him 3.1 miles from obstacle to obstacle. He hobbled through the obstacles along with the rest of us, laughing and joking. It wasn’t the way the course was designed to be taken, perhaps, but it was the right way for us to go.

The Right Way to Go

Which reminds me of another verse:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24.)

This group of friends stuck together for the sake of the one who could not run full speed. It’s the same with the church, the people of God. We are called to come together, to be with one another, to love each other in the good times and the bad times. In fact, it’s this love for one another that shows people who we belong to.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35.)

How can you love one another so that people will see you belong to Jesus? Good question, and one I hope you’ll help answer in a comment. For me it often means encouraging people. I don’t restrict this to fellow Christians, of course. Jesus’ love is something I can share with everyone God puts in my life.

When we love those outside the body of Christ, we do it without expectation of reciprocation. When we do it with each other, though, it should be a mutual care and love for one another. It is this bond of love – the back and forth, the give and take whether everyone can run at the same speed or not – that shows people who we are.

That’s what Jesus said.

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Staying Home While My Wife Goes Out Is Fine With Me

[A dialog based on too many conversations, and some turns I would have liked those conversations to have taken.]

***

“What’d you do this weekend?”

“I spent Saturday morning in the kitchen cutting up vegetables to roast.”

“Aren’t you married?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Then you have a wife to do the kitchen work.”

“She was at the gym.”

“Oh, I see. She was working out to make sure she keeps her figure to stay attractive for you.”

“What? No. What?”

“A woman wants to look good for her man!”

“She was just working out with her friends.”

“Well, the ladies do need their time together.”

“She works out with men and women.”

“Together? I’d put a stop to that if it were my wife. She’d be at home doing that kitchen work.”

“You do know men are allowed to cook, right?”

“Sure we’re ‘allowed’ to, but it’s better that women do those things.”

“So I shouldn’t have done the grocery shopping, too?”

“Why would you have to do that?”

“I didn’t have to, I just did it. My wife was at work and I wasn’t.”

“Your wife was at work? You mean outside the home?”

“Of course.”

“I don’t mean to get personal, but don’t you make enough money for your family to live on?”

“What does that have to do with anything?

“The Bible says women should stay home while men work. That’s how I run my house, biblically.”

“You mean like the Proverbs 31 woman?”

“Exactly. Now you’re talking!”

“Yeah, she was great. All that buying and selling real estate, starting up new businesses, staying up all night in order to make sure her goods got a fair price on the trading market.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“You mean run your house like Jephthah did when he was Judge over Israel?”

“I don’t know about …”

“He was a decisive father who meant what he said. Even sacrificed his daughter because of a rash vow. But he sure showed his family what it means to be a man of his word!”

“I wouldn’t say he’s what I meant.”

“What about Nabal and Abigail? She knew what was best for their household and wasn’t afraid to act accordingly. She even went behind her husband’s back to deal directly with David. Now there’s a biblical example of family life.”

“Their marriage isn’t what I had in mind.”

“I know, you meant someone like Ananias. He told his wife what to do and what to say, and she obeyed him right up to her death. It didn’t matter if it meant lying to God in front of the apostles. He told her to do it and she did. What a great wife!”

“We don’t run our family like that!”

“‘We’?”

“I mean me. That’s not how I run our family.”

“You don’t? Those are all biblical examples of family life. Every one is in Scripture.”

“But they’re not what I meant by saying we live biblically.”

“It’s not biblical to insist a woman stay home while a man goes out to work, either. We each have the freedom in Christ to work or not work as is best for our family.”

“OK, I’ll give you that. But I still say it’s still best if the man is the one leading and the woman follows.”

“Did I tell you that my wife is the one who asked me to have the vegetables cut up for her by the time she got back from the gym?”

***

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Pastoring, Parenting, and Best-Laid Plans

[Today’s guest post is from April Fiet. She’s wise, caring and knows how to put the two together.]

When my oldest child was a few months old, I took him to the nursery at our church for the first time.

My husband and I are co-pastors, and it was my Sunday to preach. My oldest child had, up until that time, been able to stay in the service with us while we co-led worship, but he was beginning to be mobile enough that it was no longer easy to keep him with us and juggle our leadership roles.

As a first-time parent of a child who had never had a babysitter, I was nervous to leave him with someone. On the flip side, I wanted him to be well cared for while being able to do my job. So, I took him to the nursery where the attendant assured me he’d be just fine. I knew he would be, but I was still concerned about how things would go. I swallowed my worry and handed my baby to the woman. My child immediately started screaming.

“Go ahead and go. It’s always the worst when you drop the child off. He’ll be over it in a minute,” she assured me.

With my eyes full of tears and my mind full of “what ifs,” I went into the sanctuary to prepare myself. The organ started playing the prelude. I took a few deep, cleansing breaths, and I prayed that God would take care of my little boy and give me the peace to be able to lead worship.

At first, everything seemed to be going well. No one had come to tell me they needed me to come get my child. I couldn’t hear him crying anymore. Everything was going to be just fine. The worship service began. We prayed. We sang hymns. We read the morning Scripture lessons. I gathered my notes and ascended the stairs to the pulpit, opened my Bible, and started my sermon.

That’s when it happened.

I could hear my son screaming at the top of his lungs.* It was that kind of cry that gets under your skin and frazzles your nerves. I could hear him wailing , and I was absolutely helpless to do anything about it. I tried to preach. I tried to follow my notes. I tried to speak slowly enough that people could still hear every word…but quickly enough that I could finish up and go get my child.

I started sweating. My heart was pounding. My ears were ringing. No matter how loudly I preached, the only thing I could hear was my baby who needed me. I have no idea what kind of a sermon was actually preached, no clue if any of it made sense. I ended with an “Amen,” and did the quickest run-walk down the center aisle of the sanctuary I could manage, you know the hurried run-walk where you’re also trying not to make a sound or draw attention to yourself – both of which I’m sure I failed at.

I went to the nursery and got my baby. He calmed down immediately when he was in my arms. He stopped crying, and I started crying.

Even though I have found co-pastoring and co-parenting to be the best of both worlds most of the time, this particular memory is etched in my mind. It was the moment I realized that my best laid ministry and parenting plans couldn’t be plans laid in cement. At most, they were suggestions that would have to change if a child woke up ill on a Sunday morning, or a pastoral emergency came up, or something else happened outside of my control.

That Sunday morning began with me taking my child to the nursery, but it ended with me realizing that co-pastoring was not going to be neat and tidy. Co-pastoring with small children is a beautiful thing, to be sure, but it is also constantly evolving and changing as the needs of our family evolve and change. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, even though I’ve had to trade in many of my expectations for what life and ministry would be like. Changing has been hard at times, but the end result has always been worth it.

***

*I seem to have super human hearing, especially for high-pitched noises. I’ve heard bats in our wall (in our parsonage several years back) before anyone else knew they were there. My husband is a very involved father – and if he would have heard our baby, he’d have gone to get him. The nursery attendant must not have thought the situation was bad enough to merit coming to get me, and no one else in the service told me they could hear him cry. I’ll just have to chalk it up to my sensitive ears.

***

April Fiet is a reluctant trailblazer who preaches, pastors, and parents in partnership with her husband Jeff, and enjoys accidental alliteration and crocheting creatures.

You can find more from April at her blog At the Table – where you’re invited to pull up a chair and join the conversation – as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

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Caring about Climate Change is Biblical

[Updated from the archives.]

Denial of Overwhelming Evidence

According to a report on NPR:

Academies of science around the world agree that climate change is real and caused largely by burning fossil fuels. So do many professional scientific organizations. Polls of scientists point to the same conclusion, and so now does a review of the scientific literature. It shows that 97 percent of the time, scientists who express a view say that human activity is warming the planet.

This agreement among scientists has not been embraced by the public, though.

Less than half of the public understands that there’s widespread scientific agreement about climate change. About 40 percent believe that there’s a lot of disagreement among the scientists.

Why do people not follow the scientists’ lead? There are a lot of reasons, perhaps, but Jeremiah 5:30-31 and 2 Timothy 4:1-5 hit the nail on the head when saying that people love to turn away from truth. Of course Paul was focused there on the truth of the gospel, but we need to keep in mind that all truth is God’s truth, because our God is himself the Truth. (John 14:6.)

Sadly, some of God’s own people want to deny the truth, and even make jokes about what’s happening to the world God has made. But as Jonathan Merritt pointed out, a prominent pastor who jokes that he doesn’t care about the environment and will drive a behemoth of a car because God’s going to burn up this world anyway is not only joking in poor taste, but preaching a lack of stewardship and a lack of concern for the people around us. And for those people around us, this is not joking matter; in fact, as Karen Swallow Prior reported from Malawi, it’s become worse than HIV-AIDS for some communities.

Here’s where we are, then. The survey of the scientific community shows scientists are convinced that human activity is warming the planet. And as Merritt explains, that human activity is devastating to African dirt farmers, communities neighboring Appalachian coal mines, and little children living in modern cities. Drought, polluted drinking water and asthma all result from the planet-wide impact of human activity.

Our Responsibility

The Blue Marble photograph of Earth, taken during the Apollo 17 lunar mission in 1972. (Wikipedia)

You can add John MacArthur to the list of prominent pastors who preach there is no need to preserve the planet. He teaches that since Jesus will create a new heaven and a new earth:

It is a disposable planet. We’re not here to preserve the planet, we’re here to proclaim the gospel. (John MacArthur, The Eyewitness Account of Creation.)

But Mr. MacArthur is preaching an unbiblical dichotomy. It’s not a matter of preaching the gospel or taking care of the planet. The Bible tells us both are worthy and important. No one disagrees with Mr. MacArthur that preaching the gospel is important; the Bible says it is, after all. Why will he not teach that caring for the planet is important when the Bible says it belongs to God?

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. (Psalm 24:1.)

God cares for plants and animals, and Jesus said that because he does we can be assured that God cares for us too. (Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 12:22-31.) In fact, we are not separate from the rest of Creation; we are in the process of salvation with it.

 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21.)

People and Creation. People in Creation. People with Creation. However you look at it, we’re all in this together. And what we do with what God has given us matters a lot to God. (Matthew 25:14-30.)

Now there’s an idea we can warm up to.

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Running the Good Race Is Contagious

My wife and I use an app that tracks our workouts, including our runs. It has GPS and can map the route taken, and at the end it not only tells us the distance but the time and pace. Input your weight and it will even tell you how many calories you burned. It’s almost like having a coach in your pocket.

Another feature on the app is connecting to others and allowing everyone to see how each others’ workouts are going. We don’t us that feature, but some people do and to great benefit.

Now a study finds that sharing this kind of data may make running contagious. People ran more, ran faster and ran more often if their friends using one of these apps did. (Can Running Be Contagious? This Study Shows It May Be.)

Encouraging others to work out isn’t a new idea, of course. It’s been around long before smart phone apps, or even telephones themselves, existed. And it has spiritual significance:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly … . (1 Corinthians 9:24-26.)

Notice that Paul is not saying that only one Christian will be awarded the prize. That’s merely how sports competitions work. He tells his readers that they are all in training to receive a crown. How do you train? By focusing on Jesus:

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2.)

Eric Liddell, a runner who trained well both spiritually and physically (Wikipedia)

In fact, because of your new life in Jesus you have already received your spiritual reward:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. …

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household … . (Ephesians 2:6-7, 19.)

Being a member of God’s household means you belong to him forever. As Jesus said:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:28-29.)

Jesus himself has given you the encouragement to continue along the race he has set before you. You will finish it because he has not only promised to hold onto you forever but because you are already seated with him in the heavenly realms.

Run well. You have a great coach.

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The Bible Encourages Women Who Work Outside the Home

A recent report by Ashley C. Ford for Refinery21 notes that in a significant number of domestic relationships between women and men (married or unmarried) the woman earns more than the man. This is creating tension, according to an article from NBC News:

The feedback they receive from the culture is clear: Men should be earning more so that they can provide for their families, and if they don’t, it’s symptomatic of a problem. These messages produce an “almost unavoidable emotional and psychological consequence,” Ford writes. Women feel guilty. Men feel emasculated. (Millennial Women Are ‘Worried,’ ‘Ashamed’ for Out-Earning Boyfriends and Husbands.)

They shouldn’t, neither neither men nor women. Women being breadwinners is honored in the Bible.

Wisdom and Women in the Workplace

Proverbs 31 personifies Wisdom as a woman. (Exposing the Myth of the Proverbs 31 Woman.) She’s a powerful woman too, and is so successful in all she does that her husband, children and community praise her. As verse 11 says: “Her husband has full confidence in her … .” Why is he so confident? Among other reasons, because she works day and night to bring in money for the family:

She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
(Proverbs 31:16-18.)

Real estate magnate, winemaker, trader – she knows business and continues to earn profits from her work. How does her husband spend his days according to Proverbs 31? He is freed up to take part as a civic leader:

Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
(Proverbs 31:23.)

Of course, just because the passage doesn’t show him holding down a job doesn’t mean he was idle. He likely worked as hard as she did. Yet she is the one whose wisdom and skill is praised in this passage, with no hint of criticism for engaging in business that made her family wealthy and certainly no suggestion that her husband should have felt emasculated.

The Old Way Is the Wise Way

Ford’s report on women earning more than men suggests that the problem is societal:

Ford writes that “the overwhelming majority of millennial women breadwinners don’t believe the men in their lives should feel emasculated by the gap in their income.” Now they’re waiting for the overwhelming majority of Americans in general to catch up. (Millennial Women, above.)

I’d suggest instead that the solution is not catching up to a new way of looking at women and work, but to return to the ancient way found in Proverbs 31. Families are meant to thrive – not cover themselves with unbiblical shame – when the wife earns a high wage. There is nothing shameful or emasculating about it.

And let’s not only praise women whose work allows their families to thrive, but even more let us praise the One whose blessings allow that thriving in the first place.

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What Religion Really Is, and Why It’s Good

The Bible looks at religion not as a way to understand God but as a way to treat the people God has put in our lives: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27.)

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Hitting Slave Owners in the Wallet – why the Emancipation Proclamation was lawful and proper

[From the archives.]

In the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln ordered that all slaves in Confederate controlled areas were set free. Some say Lincoln overstepped his presidential authority, arguing that slavery was allowed under the U.S. Constitution.

They’re wrong.

220px-abraham_lincoln_o-77_matte_collodion_printOne of the oldest rules of war (although to say that war has rules is a bit counter-intuitive) is that armies and governments exercise dominion over captured enemy property, even private property. That is what Lincoln contemplated on September 22, 1862, when he issued this preliminary order:

That on the first day of January [1863], all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free … .

The delay from September to January was designed to allow States in rebellion, or portions of those States, to cease rebelling against the United States and take themselves out of the Proclamation’s scope. (Lincoln letter of August 26, 1863, to James C. Conkling.) The order only extended to property of those living in areas governed by the Confederacy.

A central tenet of the Confederacy and its slaveholders was that the people held in slavery were property. They objected to anyone interfering with their property rights. But just as armies appropriate property from conquered people, this order declared the necessity of terminating the property rights of those in Confederate held territory for the purpose of advancing the cause of the United States.

On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln “as Commander-in-Chief … and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion” issued the Emancipation Proclamation enforcing the September order:

I do order and declare that all persons held as slaves within said designated States, and parts of States, are, and henceforward shall be free; and that the Executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.

The proclamation made the war effort explicit in several places, including this invitation to join the battle:

And I further declare and make known that such persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed forces of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.

In 1864, Lincoln estimated the number of black soldiers and sailors exceeded 130,000 men, and said those who joined the Union’s cause in any way were owed what had been promised in preserving their freedom. (Lincoln letter of August 17, 1864, to Charles D. Robinson.) Lincoln’s sense of duty to the freed people was tested more than once.

Several politicians and civic leaders argued for peace with the Confederacy through compromise. Some sought reunification by reinstating the status quo on slavery before the war. Others were willing to recognize the Confederacy as a separate nation that could make its own decisions on slavery. Lincoln would have none of it, pointing out more than once that without slavery there would have been no war and with it there could be no real peace. He considered it his duty to preserve the nation, not preside over its fragmentation.

Keeping Promises

Lincoln felt his oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States required every lawful effort to preserve the union governed by that constitution. He also considered himself honor-bound to keep the promises of the Emancipation Proclamation.

This sense of duty to keep your promises reminds me of Jesus’ words:

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all … . All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37.)

A paraphrase might be: “Say it if you mean it, don’t say it if you don’t mean it, and follow through on your promises.”

Jesus knew what he was talking about because it is his job to keep promises. In fact, the Bible tells us that when it comes to God’s promises Jesus is the one who keeps them all.

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:20.)

God promised to set people free, and did it in Jesus Christ. (Luke 4:18-21.) Just as Lincoln ordered the army and navy to take part in guaranteeing the freedom of the slaves, now we get to take part in Jesus’ ministry of freedom.

Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:35-36.)

Freedom indeed. There’s no going back.

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People of Other Doctrines – the new drunkards and gluttons

A friend sent me an email saying she’d started getting criticism from those in her blogging circles. The criticism? She was perceived as interacting too much with me on line. I was not proper company for her to keep. The doctrinal lines were being drawn.

I’ve heard this before from people trying to tell me who to interact with. Sometimes people tell me to be careful of who I hang out with and sometimes they tell me my friends are bad people because of their doctrine. The criticisms can come from someone being Complementarian, Egalitarian, Young Earth Creationist, Old Earth Creationist, Evolutionist, Calvinist, Arminian, Pentecostal, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or any other matter of doctrine.

This happens in non-church circles too, of course. There the criticisms can focus on political matters – too conservative, liberal or libertarian –  or they can relate to social issues – capitalist, communist, environmentalist, gun rights advocate, home schooling and more.

Then there are the criticisms that cross over both secular and religious issues, such as drinking or LGBT issues. Go out for drinks with a friend and you can get ostracized in some circles, yet if you refuse to associate with those same friends you’re likely to find you get judged for that too.

Jesus faced the same criticisms.

Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.’

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ (Luke 7:31-34.)

Jesus got called out for being with the wrong people. Then again, his cousin John was called out for not doing the things Jesus was accused of doing. Jesus’ accusers included the Pharisees, who thought they were above both Jesus and John. Yet Jesus welcomed a Pharisee to come to him (Nicodemus in John 3), and someone from the opposite party – a Zealot – as well. (Simon, noted in Mark 3:18.)

There was no satisfying some people.

Matters of Fellowship

Being a Pharisee or a Zealot did not disqualify someone from fellowship with Jesus. And as much as I might disagree with someone’s doctrinal stance, if they belong to Jesus then I am in fellowship with them as well.

This doesn’t mean ignoring doctrinal issues. I am in agreement with the creeds of the early church which correctly summarize Scripture and have guided us through the centuries. But a disagreement over doctrine does not draw a line that puts one Christian inside the kingdom of God and another outside.

This is the mark of a believer in Jesus:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9.)

Connections among those who belong to Jesus go deeper than merely coming to agreement over whether it’s best to be Calvinist, Arminian, Catholic or another gathering of Christian thought. Or whether to baptize infants. Or whether the communion bread and cup represent the body and blood of Christ or are transformed into those elements.  Or whether to hold egalitarian or complementarian views (the particular dividing point that led people to criticize my friend according to the email she sent me). *

When it comes to deciding who has it right, I like the way Paul put it when writing to his friends in Philippi:

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. (Philippians 3:15-16.)

Paul did not reject those who held other views. Instead he had confidence God would bring everyone into agreement eventually. In the meantime Paul knew the important thing was to work together, living up to what God had already accomplished in their lives and moving forward from there.

Don’t let anyone’s criticism keep you from being in fellowship with someone else in the kingdom of God. Whether the fellowship takes the form of robust engagement over doctrinal issues with a friend, or caring compassion as you come alongside a person in need, or any other way God would have you interact within his kingdom, remember that it all is just that: within God’s kingdom.

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Some might be tempted to use the comment section to argue the doctrinal issues I’ve mentioned, such as infant baptism or whether communion is merely symbolic of Jesus’ body and blood. Please resist the temptation, and instead discuss ways to engage in true fellowship with those who hold differing views.

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