Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Why Christians Don't Need to 'Take a Stand Against Evil"?

I just read a blog post by someone named Jared. Jared argued that Christians need to show more love and compassion, but that by taking a stand against evil we often become "the voice of the accuser, while those who are not connected to God function as the voice of love."  

I tried to respond to Jared's post on his blog but was unable to log in so I sent the following response to him via the contact form on his blog:

Good article, Jared. Well written and thought provoking. I agree with you that we need to focus more on showing love to others—even to our enemies. I agree with you that Lady Gaga’s visit to homeless LGBT teens was commendable. I would add, however, that I suspect that all the aid Gaga and her like-minded multi-millionaire friends give to the needy does not even compare to what relatively poor Christians give through organizations like Samaritan’s Purse, WorldVision, Compassion International, Feed My Starving Children, Operation Blessing, etc. Nevertheless, we do need to do more to reach out and show the love of Christ in tangible ways to others.

On the other hand, we will have to agree to disagree on Christians as the “voice of the accuser.” If I really thought that it was wrong to “Take a stand against evil” I would have to take a stand against the prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul. Jesus fully affirmed what we Christians call the Old Testament (Mt 5:17-20), and the Old Testament prophets powerfully took a stand against the evils of their society. For example, Isaiah calls the people of Judah “offspring of evildoers,” a “sinful nation” who are “laden with iniquity” (Isa 1:4). Jeremiah condemns those who have killed the “innocent poor” (Jer 2:34) and “…have defiled the land with your prostitution and wickedness” (Jer 3:2). Hosea writes that the land was full of “swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery…”(Hos 4:1-2). Ezekiel condemns the people of Jerusalem for immorality, bribery, unjust gain and extortion (Ezek 22:9-12). Zephaniah condemns Jerusalem as a city of rebellious, defiled oppressors (Zeph 3:1). Joel attacks the drunkenness of his society and calls them to repentance (Joel 1:5). Micah pronounces woe on those who oppress others and “devise wickedness and work evil on their beds” (Micah 2:1-2). Malachi tells the people that God will “come to you for judgment” and “will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice…”(Mal 3:5). These quotes barely scrape the surface of the prophets’ stand against evil.

That stand against evil continues in the New Testament when John the Baptist comes preaching baptism for repentance saying, “…You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt 3:7-8). He then warned of fiery judgment for those who do not repent (Matt 3:12). According to Luke, John the Baptist tells people to share what they have with those who don’t have. He tells tax collectors not to collect more than what is required, and he tells soldiers not to use extortion or false accusations (Lk 3:11-14). John was preaching to people from all over Judea and his preaching included a stand against evil.

Jesus also took a stand against evil. In fact, the very first words Matthew and Mark record Jesus saying at the beginning of his public ministry is a call to repentance (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15)! It is a call to get one’s heart right with God and it applies to everyone. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus did not just publicly criticize religious leaders—he criticized his whole society calling them an adulterous and sinful generation” (Mk 8:38), a “faithless and perverse generation” (Mk 9:19/Mt 17:17//Lk 9:41) and an “evil generation” (Lk 11:29//Mt:12:39; 16:4).

In John’s gospel Jesus proclaims that it is the world, not just religious leaders, that hates him because he testifies “that what it does is evil” (John 7:7; 15:18, cf. 17:14). More specifically, Jesus publicly calls out sins of hatefulness, adultery, easy divorce, judgmentalism, and evil-doing (cf. Matthew 5-7). He made clear to his disciples that such sins as “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” began in the heart (Mark 7:21-23). When Mark begins discussion of Jesus’ ministry with his public call to repentance, these sins were undoubtedly among those he had in mind.

Then right after the resurrection, Peter preaches to an enormous crowd in Jerusalem. His message is not a warm, fuzzy, feel-good sermon designed to win friends and influence people. He says, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:38). Peter then calls them to repentance! The result is that many got saved and they “gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44).

Similarly, when Stephen preaches, he does not announce God’s understanding and tolerance, or a new social program by the newly formed church. Stephen calls them“…stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears!” (Acts 7:51). He tells them they have always resisted the Holy Spirit and that they have not obeyed the Law (Acts 7:51-53).

When Paul preaches in Lystra, he does not talk about their culture’s great religions—he confronts their idolatrous culture publicly, saying, “We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God…” (Acts 14:15).  When Paul was on trial before King Agrippa, he pretty much summarized his whole ministry starting with his conversion on the way to Damascus saying, “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached the they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20). Proclaiming Jesus without calling people to repent and turn from their sins is not really proclaiming Jesus at all!

Jared, you are absolutely right that “we never hear of them protesting or boycotting,” but then again, they didn’t live in a democratic society with freedom of speech, and that makes a huge difference. When I was in Russia, one of the believers told me that they have absolutely no say in their government—all they can do is try to be faithful to God regardless of what the country throws at them. That is not unlike the plight of first century Christians. We in the United States, on the other hand, are fortunate enough to live in a nation where “we the people” have a say in the future direction of our country. I reject the notion that because we are Christians we should just shut up, sit on the sidelines, and let secularists determine the direction of the country our children will inherit. I’m quite sure our founding fathers (and mothers) would have rejected such a notion. As I understand Jesus’ affirmation of the prophets and his command to be salt in the world, I suspect he may have rejected it too. We have the privilege of calling out our society’s evils and attempting to affect change—especially though calls to repentance, but also by influencing voters.

Anyway, my point is NOT that we should immediately walk next door and tell our neighbor what a sinner he or she is. I’m NOT saying we should stand up on a desk at work and preach against office sins. And all this certainly doesn’t mean we should self-righteously look down our noses at others as if we ourselves are not worthy of God’s judgment! But it does mean that proclaiming Christ is not JUST about showing love and compassion (as important as that is). People cannot be saved unless they are confronted with the seriousness and horribleness of their own sin, respond in genuine heart-felt repentance and turn in loving devotion to Jesus as the only one who can save them from the penalty of their rebellion. If ALL we preach is love and compassion, we are not preaching Jesus. I suspect you would agree with this.

So, Jared, you make some very good points in your article but I don’t think it tells the whole story. And without the rest of the story, it may give fuel to some of your professing Christian readers who really just seek to avoid being hated by the world at all costs (but see John 12:25; 15:18, 19; 17:14; 1 John 3:13) and seem to imagine God to be an all-tolerant, non-judgmental, cosmic Santa Claus who accepts our sin and exists to makes us healthy, wealthy and prosperous. Such a god is merely an idol, a figment of self-centered imagination.


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