Speaking the Truth in Love

whisper.gifAs a result of a recent discussion at my favorite blog in the world, SharperIron, I have again come to wrestle internally with various aspects of Christian character and how they are communicated to a watching world.  The following is just my thinking over the issues.  I did not supply supporting Bible passages for each assertion, but can if it would be helpful for anyone.

I come from a tradition that takes pride in being called “Fighting Fundamentalists” and uses terms like “militant” to describe their stance toward error.  I agree with this approach, by the way, as long as it is focused on the faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  When militancy and a fighting spirit, however, become the modus operandi of Christian fundamentalists, I can understand why many “hold their noses” at us.  That kind of lifestyle stinks.  Don’t believe me?  Try talking to homosexuals today in terms of Sodom and Gomorrah and what will happen to them if they don’t convert.

Now admittedly, I’m making a generalization.  Some may say, “That’s not the fundamentalism I know!”  And…they’re right.  Not all fundamentalists live and breathe hellfire and damnation.  But many do.  I have been to fundamentalist churches in over 40 states and seen it for myself.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that most people outside fundamentalism would characterize it as an angry, mean-spirited movement.

On the other hand, the New Testament is replete with spiritual terms to describe the follower of Christ–terms like gentle, meek, humble, longsuffering, kind, loving, gracious, and edifying.  How do we reconcile these terms with the spirit of militancy so closely identified with the movement I identify with?  Further, as a pastor, I am not permitted to be pugnacious or to have a quick temper.  Wouldn’t those qualities be of great assistance in a spiritual war?

My opinion on which of these seeming opposing lifestyles a Christian should embrace stems from what I believe about God.  If you view God primarily as the eternal Judge, sitting on the throne, condemning iniquity and issuing punishment, you may tend to be a bit on the judgmental side yourself.  If you view God primarily as the loving Father, always nearby to help, always wanting to bless, you may tend to be a bit on the sensitive and overly-gracious side.

Now, the right thing for me to say at this point in the article is this: Christians should possess a balanced view of God and thus seek to imitate that balance in their personal life.

The problem is: I don’t believe that.

I don’t believe God to be primarily a Judge, demanding compliance with His decrees and issuing swift retribution on transgressors.  I believe God to be primarily a God of mercy and grace and love, who doesn’t want anyone to perish.  I believe in a God who is far more longsuffering than anyone of us can possible realize.  Yes, He is the One who destroyed the earth in a flood…after 100+ years of longsuffering and communicating His message through Noah!  Yes, He is the One who called down fire and brimstone on the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah…after allowing for only 10 righteous people to spare the city!  Yes, He is the One who will judge at the Great White Throne and send unbelievers to an eternal torment…even though He wants ALL to come to repentance!

The fact is: God is not normally quick to judge.  He is not normally quickly angry.  He is not like Shrek, an ogre with a soft side.  He is love.  God is truth.  He is righteous.  God is good.  He will judge sin, but I believe He does so with great sadness in His heart.  We saw such sadness in God, exhibited in the Incarnate Christ.

Here is what I have come to believe: God is all about relationships.  He is all about fellowship with His special creation: mankind.  As one author puts it: “He’d die for your sin before he’d let you die in your sin, so he did.”  God’s primary attribute is not holiness; it is love: sacrificial, unconditional love.

So also our lives also must be primarily characterized by love, not to the exclusion or minimization of holy living, but to the encouragement of it.

The problem, in my opinion, stems not only from our view of God but also from incorrectly targeting our enemy.  The fight is against false teachers, those who would deny the Gospel or teach contrary to it.  We fundamentalists, however, have determined to take our militancy to fellow brothers in Christ.  As a result, we have garnered an angry army who is constantly judging each other.  This is an error of no small magnitude.

A detractor might say “Are we not to correct sin in a brother’s life?”  My answer is “NO!”  Our obligation is simply to bring the matter to his attention in a meek and humble spirit with hopes of his repentance.  But we do not bring repentance.  The Holy Spirit brings repentance.  Sure, we as pastors are to “reprove, rebuke, exhort” but we always seem to forget the end of the verse “…with all longsuffering and doctrine.”  And don’t forget…if you must correct a brother, make sure you’re right.  In our efforts to be the most separatistic, the most holy, we have sometimes made mistakes in our judging.  Let’s own up to those with humility instead of holding out in stubborn pride.

But why shouldn’t we be like God?  God mocks sinners.  Paul called them “dogs.”  Why can’t we have a little fun with our rhetoric?  God is God.  Paul wrote under the inspiration of God.  And notice that God never mocks those who are seeking to follow Him.  He mocks the unbelievers, the faithless, the fools.  He mocks those who have been given a chance to repent and stayed in their sin.  This is God’s prerogative, not ours.

My conclusion: we fight hard for the faith.  It is worth fighting, even dying over.  We fight hard against our flesh for personal purity with the Lord’s help.  We lovingly and gently confront our brothers in Christ when they choose to disobey God’s truth.  We speak the truth…but we must speak it in love.  What does that look that? 

“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Bruce on April 30, 2007 at 7:19 pm

    Great to see you blogging again Brian. Found myself saying Oh Me instead of Amen! Great article!

    Reply

  2. Brian, just a thought, and I hope you can take this well. Who should give in? Greg, thinks he’s right. He’s explained himself. Do you think it is possible that your dogmatism about his speech is actually what is offensive?

    Douglas Wilson has written a whole book on this, which defends the proposition for “tough” speech, entitled “The Serrated Edge.” I mention Douglas Wilson, not as an endorsement of all his theology, but because non-separatists seem to get more latitude than separatists do today.

    If Greg were to give in to you, then, it seems, you would be thinking that now he would be using the proper speech. However, could it be that you could have allowed Greg the latitude to use that speech with his reasoned explanation? Is it possible that you are the one in error, that your dogmatism about his speech is offensive?

    Reply

  3. Kent,

    Greg’s speech was never the issue with me in the thread on SI. If you’ll look back, my reprimand was directed to another poster. Greg took up his offence, but I did not really have any lengthy interaction with Greg’s point-of-view. The purpose of this article was not to generate an online “peer pressure” for someone to “give in.” It was more to take the opportunity to develop some thoughts I have on communication, with regard to fundamentalism in general. I stand by the points in this article.

    FWIW, if anyone has “given in,” it has been me. I submitted any further discussion of the topic to SI administration. I agreed with several of the other moderators that a “warning” may not have been the best first approach. I realize that the technique we employ when we say things can be as important as what we actually say. The content of what I said I maintain is correct. If I were to confront a poster in a similar manner in the future, I would use a more indirect approach–probably private message to begin this. However, I have some misgivings about not dealing with public speech in a public manner. Still wrestling through that.

    Reply

  4. Posted by David Szweda on May 3, 2007 at 8:04 am

    Brian, do you really believe the statement that you made above

    “God’s primary attribute is not holiness; it is love: sacrificial, unconditional love.”

    I have difficulty understanding this statement. By making this statement you are displaying that God’s attributes are not equal and that they are sometimes in contradiction to each other. I do not see where you have developed this idea from scripture?

    By pulling a single attribute of God and placing it above other attributes you are stating that God’s attributes are not equal. In addition you are stating that an attribute needs to be pulled out and placed as primary attribute in order to allow one attribute to control your thinking about God. I find this approach very dangerous in your view of God. None of God’s attributes have contention amongst themselves. Each is in perfect symmetry and agreement.

    God’s holiness governs all of His attributes (Isaiah 6), but it is neither a primary or a secondary attribute. The Bible doesn’t exalt one attribute of God over another. They are fully harmonious without any contradiction.

    Spurgeon said “Any theology which offers the pardon of sin without a punishment, ignores the major part of the character of God. God is love, but God is also just—as severely just as if he had no love, and yet as intensely loving as if he had no justice. To gain a just view of the character of God you must perceive all his attributes as infinitely developed;” (Spurgeon, A Message from God for Thee, November 16, 1862)

    You are trying to exalt one attribute over another to solve a paradox that you feel exists. I am not aware of any fundamentalist preacher who has taught what you are teaching, nor am I aware of any scripture that ascribes God’s love above his attribute of holiness.

    Reply

  5. Actually, David, I don’t believe a paradox exists. I believe that some of us have chosen to elevate one attribute of God (holiness) to the exclusion or minimalization of others. I think that’s wrong.

    At the same time, based on God’s revelation, I cannot help but see that God’s love is not equal with His other attributes. In fact, I’m not sure that I’m aware of any Scripture passage which teaches that His attributes need equality.

    Yet, as I stated in the article, “our lives also must be primarily characterized by love, not to the exclusion or minimization of holy living, but to the encouragement of it.” Please don’t assume that I am creating an either-or scenario with God’s attributes. They are all fully-developed in God and are wonderful to observe. However, my observation as a student of the Scripture is that God’s love is pre-eminent, not however to the exclusion of holiness. If that were the case, I would be an advocate of universalism, where everyone goes to Heaven because God loves us too much to judge our sins. No, God still judges our sin and will send all unbelievers to a place of eternal torment; however, the message of Scripture to the world is this “Be reconciled to God.” He is all about relationships. That’s because He has revealed Himself to be primarily a God of love.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Bobby on May 5, 2007 at 6:37 pm

    Brian,

    Here is what the Bible says about loving the brethren. This is how we know whether or not someone loves the brethren.

    1Jo 5:1 ¶ Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. 2Jo 1:5 ¶ And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk after his commandments. This is the commandment, That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.

    Do you agree with the Bible on this?

    Love is not feelings, sympathy, or emotions. Loving the brethren is to love God and keep His commandments.

    Reply

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