By / Jul 22

Our world is in turmoil. All you need to do is turn on the news or open your social media apps to find a volcano of responses—differing opinions on how to handle the world health crisis, whether states should reopen or stay closed, accusations of racism and injustice, and tense debates that seem like personal attacks. If you desire states to reopen, some think you don’t truly care about the health of our nation. If you desire them to stay closed, then you’re said to be promoting an economic crisis. If you march in a protest, you’re accused of contributing to the riots and anarchy. If you choose not to protest, you’re accused of not caring about racial injustice. It’s a lose-lose situation. 

In our fallen world, we can’t be too surprised at the outpouring of emotional and angry responses. Yet in the midst of all of the turmoil, do followers of Christ appear any different than our unbelieving neighbors? Have we considered how our responses affect those watching and listening to us? All it takes is a quick look at Twitter or Facebook to see the mud-slinging between the body of Christ when there is a difference of opinion. From name calling, to snarky remarks, to shaming—even questioning whether someone can really be a Christian while holding to their view. Do we believe the best about our brothers and sisters in Christ, or do we assume the worst? 

Galatians 5:14-15 gives us a dire warning, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” 

As Christians, we’re to be beacons of light and hope. We’re to offer peace to a hurting world by pointing them to the sacrificial love of Christ. We’re to love our neighbor as we love our own body, caring for and nourishing it. But our biting words begin to consume our thoughts and affections, leading to animosity toward those sitting in the church pew next to us with different views. It’s a slippery slope that leads to division in the body of Christ and an ugly witness to the world. 

Dealing with different opinions and opponents

How will we draw the unbelieving world to Christ if we’re shaming and slamming one another, standing self-righteously in our own opinions, unwilling to listen to those around us? We’re supposed to be known by our love for one another (John 13:35). How can we have unity in our churches when so many varying opinions exist? The Bible speaks to how we’re to interact with those around us, especially with those who stand in opposition to what we believe. 

Titus 3:2 reminds us to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Notice that it doesn’t say we’re to show perfect courtesy to those who agree with us, but to all people. This includes those who are diametrically opposed to what we’re saying. 

James 1:19 reminds us to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. Have we truly listened to those who share a different opinion than our own? Or are we formulating our response and just wanting to be heard? 

In 2 Timothy 2:14, Paul instructs Timothy to charge the people “not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” Yes, we should defend the gospel. But how many of our debates as believers are unprofitable? People are listening to our conversations within the church. And Paul gives us a dire warning: that these types of quarrels will destroy the hearers. Are our words promoting love in the body of Christ? Or are they leading to division? 

Later, in 2 Timothy 2:24-25, Paul gives Timothy a model of how followers of Christ should behave, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” Paul acknowledges that we will have opponents. And, we’ll have different opinions within the body of Christ. There will be instances where it is appropriate to passionately defend our view. Yet, will we do so with a spirit of gentleness or pride? Our words are to be sweet like honey, increasing persuasiveness and full of grace.  

Before we speak, post, or respond, let’s examine our own hearts. Do we truly care about the injustice surrounding us? Or, do we want to prove ourselves to be right? Do we need to respond publicly to every opinion that’s different than our own? Can we admit that we might be wrong about something? 

Our main concern as believers should be to glorify God with our words and actions and to uphold the value of all humans as being made in the image of God. Our hearts should mourn the trouble that surrounds us, and we should be zealous to love our neighbor, regardless of our differences. Let’s keep first things first and remember that our words and actions are representing Jesus to a watching world. 

By / Aug 25
By / Jul 9

The cascading news stories of violence involving police have sent Americans from shock to grief and back through the terrible cycle multiple times this week. How should Christians respond? Here are five ways to help guide our thinking:

1. Love. If you’re like me, the headlines have taken you on an emotional rollercoaster in the last 48 hours. Always choose to love. Always choose to forgive.

2. Seek unity. As members of the body of Christ, Christians should identify more as their new spiritual race than as their biological one. This is impossible without the power of the gospel working through faith in Christ. That ethnicity that you are tempted to blame: Jesus shed his blood for someone in that ethnicity. Strive for the unity that Christ has accomplished with his redemption. Let the church be the model of forgiveness and unity that society is lacking. Let your Christian unity in this hour be the story you pass down to your grandkids when they ask you about these troubled times.

3. Do justice. Do what you’re called to do as a citizen and pray (1 Timothy 2) for government to do what they are called to do as civil authority. Recognize that God has given the sword to the civil authorities to ensure justice. They need prayer. In a fallen age, human governments are riddled by human failure and human sin. Because vengeance is the Lord’s, and because He grants some limited authority to civil leaders for the sake of justice, unjust officials are to be held accountable by the government.

At the same time, Christians are commanded to respect and honor governing authorities (Romans 13, 1 Peter 2). Every act of police injustice needs to be paid for under penalty of law, but don’t hold good officers guilty until proven innocent. What peaceful citizen would wish upon their city the lack of a police force? Through prayer and proper honor, seek justice by promoting good government. Because government is intended to be God’s gift of common grace to man, Christians are seeking the good of their neighbors when they seek to promote good government.

4. Soberly recognize and mourn sin’s effects. These events remind us that we live in a cursed world. As we feel the effects of a fallen creation, we must view these events with sober-mindedness. Police injustice, mass murders – these are the results of humans being humans in a sinful age. Let us mourn the effects of a fallen world with those who mourn. Sin is tragic, and it is not God’s will.

5. Have hope. This city is not your city. You have a home with God where no police are needed and no punishment is given because Christ has paid for your every sin. Let the victory of the cross in your life compel you forward to courageously seek gospel transformation in your city today. In times such as these, God often uses the hope of Christians to powerfully shine into a culture in despair.

By / Sep 23

When your members walk through the church doors this Sunday, they will arrive after a week spent living in a changing American culture. Their thoughts are not only being shaped through a variety of media—talk radio, social media and television—but also through water-cooler conversations at work and dinner-table discussions.

Christians living in a fallen world are confronted by a variety of choices. How should we think through the moral and political issues? More importantly, how can God’s people, out of desire for the flourishing of their neighbors and the advance of God’s Kingdom, winsomely shape the discussions going on in their spheres of influence?

It’s not only the pastors who are tasked with driving the discussions at church; it’s the church leaders, who interact often with the average layperson. They carry a sober responsibility to steward their office well, to bring to bear the gospel on the questions brothers and sisters in the Lord are facing each day.

1. Be informed by the Word

When it comes to cultural engagement, perhaps the biggest temptation Christians face is being influenced primarily by voices who may not share the Christian worldview. Regardless of political affiliation, we imbibe the latest content from our favorite cables news channels, ideological websites or Twitter pundits. If we are not careful, we allow a political party or movement to form our belief system.

But Christians should be people of the Book. And church leaders should model this more than anyone in the church. In Acts 6, Luke tells us that the deacons chosen to serve the people were devoted to “the ministry of prayer and the word” (Acts 6:4).

God’s people have a different grid through which we view the hot-button issues of the day. What does Scripture have to say, not only about our positioning, but about the way in which we should engage? This doesn’t mean every Sunday in the lobby has to turn into an ethics lesson, but that those called to lead the church are known for their prayerful, thoughtful, gospel-saturated viewpoints.

2. Be led by the Spirit

The men chose to lead the church at Antioch were not simply men of the Word, but they were men led by the Spirit of God. And there are few places where the Spirit’s work is more evident or more important than in discussions about divisive cultural issues. It is possible to be correct theologically and yet sin with our tone and with our speech.

Paul reminds us in Galatians that peace and joy are fruits of the Spirit. Church leaders must not only model Christ-like speech but must be sensitive and mindful of the right timing for discussions about culture within the church. There are times when it is better to simply listen to another Christian’s viewpoints without interjecting. There are other times where arguments are best left unengaged for the sake of unity in the body of Christ. The church lobby is not the place for warring political factions to wage their turf battles. Christian leaders should reflect humility and grace, serving as peacemakers and not agitators.  

3. Recast the story

The real cultural battles are not between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, elites versus the tea party. These are ancillary skirmishes in a longer conflict that traces its beginning to a Garden and a snake. The crimson-colored narrative that runs through the Bible helps us see our world in a fresh new way. The injustice and evil we see around us is the product of the Fall, but in Christ we have a new King and a new Kingdom. The gospel isn’t just something we tack on to the end of our messages, it’s the radical new paradigm that brings hope the world.

The gospel teaches us to look at the evil in the world and know that the demand for justice comes from an inborn desire to see the world made right again. It points not to temporary political messiahs, but to the resurrected Christ who is now Lord and King. It teaches us to view our political adversaries, not as enemies to be vanquished, but as people made in the image of God. The gospel breaks our heart as it broke the heart of Jesus, leading us to engage through tears, living out the mission of God in the world.

4. Mind the mission of the Church

Many are asking today, “What is the mission of the church?” Is it to preach the gospel and see the lost converted and discipled into followers of Jesus? Or is it to be the hands and feet of Jesus in shaping the contemporary culture? But faithful Christians don’t have to accept this false dichotomy, because the gospel is not only the story of personal regeneration through Christ’s atoning work, but the story of God’s renewal of his creation through Christ’s defeat of sin and death.

Therefore, Christians are not just saved from hell, but saved to good works (Eph. 2:10), which is why we are not transported in a chariot of fire to heaven the moment we are converted. Jesus placed us as otherworldly citizens in this world. The church models in miniature what the Kingdom will look like when it is fully consummated.

So the church’s mission involves both the conversion and discipleship of lost sinners and the flourishing of local communities, the care for every creature made in the image of God. This mission helps keep church leaders centered on the mission, from becoming single-issue outposts or auxiliaries of political parties of movements. By solid teaching, preaching and gospel-informed discussions, church leaders set the tone, helping their people see past the one election, one ballot initiative, and one issue. Instead, we equip God’s people to engage for the long haul, a faithful presence on all cultural issues informed by the gospel.

5. Equip for engagement

Lastly, church leaders are tasked by God to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12-16). Unfortunately, we’ve come to believe this simply means the work it takes to make a church run. And undoubtedly this is one aspect. Local churches have a need for continual training in ecclesial functions. But this goes much deeper than Sunday School teacher training or usher meetings.

The work of the ministry, for a follower of Jesus, is the holistic implications of the gospel in all areas of life. When we equip saints, we equip them to be influencers for Christ in the world in which God has called them. How they live as fathers. How they perform in the workplace, and for purposes of this discussion, how they engage the cultural questions of their day.

To equip saints for cultural engagement is more than simply mobilizing the church for activism but helping the church think through every cultural issue with a gospel lens. It’s equipping them on how to navigate the tension of courage and civility and how to speak and think with a kindness and grace that shapes civil discourse.

Bottom Line: Church leaders have a unique position of influence in which to shape the people God has called them to serve.

This article was originally published in Deacon Magazine.