Monday, December 29, 2008

An Atheist's Unintentional Message to Christians



I generally like James Taranto's column at the Wall Street Journal's on-line section. I am saddened that he describes himself as an atheist, but at least I'll give him this nod. He's not a hostile one, unlike many of his counterparts.

Below is a clip from one of his recent columns. I want you to read it carefully. Note especially the part in boldface . . .

Atheists Debate: Are Christians Evil, Insincere or Confused?

Christopher Hitchens and Heather Mac Donald, both atheists, are having an amusing debate about religion, prompted by Hitchens's outrage over President-elect Obama's choice of the Rev. Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration. Hitchens argues that certain Christian beliefs are "bigoted":

"It is theoretically possible to make an apparently bigoted remark that is also factually true and morally sound. Thus, when the Rev. Bailey Smith, one of the deputies of the late Jerry Falwell, claimed that "God almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew," I was in complete agreement with him. This is because I do not believe that there is any supernatural supervisor who lends an ear to any prayer. . . .However, if the speaker says that heaven is a real place but that you will not get there if you are Jewish, . . . then you know that the bigot has spoken."

Hitchens describes Warren as "a relentless clerical businessman who raises money on the proposition that certain Americans--non-Christians, the wrong kind of Christians, homosexuals, nonbelievers--are of less worth and littler virtue than his own lovely flock of redeemed and salvaged and paid-up donors," but he does not note that has carved out a lucrative niche for himself as an antireligious provocateur. He also describes evangelical Christians as "weirdos and creeps," leaving himself vulnerable to the charge of bigotry.

But these points are tangential. Mac Donald gets to the heart of what is wrong with Hitchens's argument: "I don't think it's fair to label a theological position as bigotry simply because it does not conform to secular principles." Indeed, an atheist has no business imputing bigotry to anyone except on the basis of attitudes toward worldly matters. It is bigoted to think Jews should not be allowed to join a country club or to live in Hebron, regardless of whether that belief has a theological predicate. To a true nonbeliever, a belief about who is going to hell or whose prayers God hears is mere nonsense.

Mac Donald, however, doesn't quite see it this way either. She speculates that Christians must not really believe all that stuff:

"But here's another possibility: Do modern Christians still believe with the same fervor as in the past all those unyielding doctrines of eternal damnation for the unbaptised and unconverted? They sure don't act as if they do. If they really were convinced that their friends, co-workers, neighbors, and in-laws were going to hell because they possessed the wrong or no religious belief, I would think that the knowledge would be unbearable. Christians surely see that most of their wrong-believing personal acquaintances are just as moral and deserving as themselves. How, then, do they live with the knowledge that their friends and loved ones face an eternity of torment? I would expect a frenzy of proselytizing, by word or by sword.
In previous centuries, when religion had the upper hand, religious differences meant more. But ours is a world dominated by the secular values of tolerance and equality. Either believers live with an extraordinary degree of cognitive dissonance between the inclusive values of their society and the dictates of their religion, or they unconsciously mitigate those bloody-minded dictates as atavistic vestiges from a more primitive time."


One wonders if either Hitchens or Mac Donald has ever met an actual Christian. We know quite a few who are neither bigoted, as Hitchens insists they are, nor insincere or confused, as Mac Donald speculates they must be. Could it be that the problem lies not with religious belief itself but with Hitchens's and Mac Donald's own poverty of imagination in understanding it?

We claim no special insight into this question; like Hitchens and Mac Donald, we approach it as a nonbeliever (although unlike Hitchens, we stopped worrying about whether other people think we are going to hell when we were about 17). But it occurs to us that there are other areas of life that reason alone is inadequate to explain.

The best example is romantic love. When a man loves a woman, he experiences her as being the most important thing in the world. Would Hitchens call him a "bigot" for believing that other people are of less worth and littler virtue than his own lovely companion? If the man also professes to believe in the equality of all people, would Mac Donald claim it must be either that either his love is insincere or that he is experiencing cognitive dissonance?

Of course not. "She is the most important thing in the world" makes no sense as a logical proposition, but that does not make it false. Its truth lies elsewhere than in the realm of reason. Our conjecture is that something similar may be said of the religious beliefs that infuriate Hitchens and mystify Mac Donald.


Unbeliever though she is, Heather MacDonald makes a spot-on observation in the boldface area. If we as Christians were really convinced that our loved ones were on their way to an eternity in Hell, wouldn't that make us more concerned, eager witnesses for the Lord Jesus Christ? And even beyond our loved ones, wouldn't general, Christ-centered compassion make us more zealous to proclaim the life-changing Gospel to a lost world? Is it possible that we've either been intimidated into silence, or perhaps that we just aren't that concerned about it anymore? One correction, though. We'll leave the sword out of it, thank you. We'll leave that to radical Islam.

We're commanded to preach the Gospel. Who gets saved and when is up to God. But He has given us a role in the process, and it isn't optional. If the Lord has saved us and has done great things for us, we need to be eager and willing to share it. Of course, there is a right time and place for it, as well as inappropriate times and places. But all too often, we use that reason as an excuse not to say anything at all.

Heather, thank you for a good reminder -- albeit unintended -- to your Christian friends. I hope and pray you are drawn to saving faith, and soon. You too, James. And yes, even you, Christopher.

24 comments:

Phil Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Perkins said...

This is one of the great proofs that Evangelicals aren't saved on the whole. God said that the mark of a regenerate would be obedience.
Yet I spent the first 20 years of my life in "churches" who didn't even attempt to evangelize their communities.

Any man who calls himself an Evangelical and does not speak the evangel is a liar. Is this not evident?

Simple logic.

Phil Perkins.

Solameanie said...

I don't think I'd qo quite that far and say that evangelicals aren't saved on the whole. None of us obey perfectly, and we also have to allow for different levels of maturity in the faith. I would be comfortable in saying that I question the salvation of anyone who refuses in toto to share their faith, but God alone knows the heart.

Phil Perkins said...

Sola,
God alone knows the heart, but quite a number of measureable things have been given us in Scriputre as signs of regeneration. And those things are all over Scripture. I don't have the time today to get into them, but just take a quick read through Matthew and see how many times Jesus says someone isn't worthy or will be deniied by Him to the Father. He spoke that way at least half a dozen times in Mt., and He was speaking to His own disciples.

Also, remember the Interstate Batteries thing? You thought it was such a cool thing, but upon closer examination, they presented another gospel. If you go to his site and read his motivation, it was to make his life more comfortable. He was distressed about all the sin and crime in our society. It wasn't for God's glory and it wasn't the gospel we read in the NT.

He presented a gospel that isn't the gospel. He did it for his own comfort. He called folks to his "christ" to achieve self-fulfillment, not righteousness and forgiveness for sins. He attempted to draw folks with a sales pitch, not a straightforward call to repentance because God is both wrathful, yet loving and ready to forgive our filth.

Nothing in the Interstate Batteries "gospel" presentation was one bit biblical. (Well, he said "Jesus" and "God" a few times.)

I know you think I'm a nut, but, Sola, we're just about as far from the real gospel as the RCC was at the time of Luther. It's hard for guys like you and I to see because we are the frogs in the pot.

I took me years to come to that conclusion. When you see Christ, you'll agree with me, I think.

This is why I say over and over again to think biblically, not according to the cultural "Christianity" in which we have been raised.

Also, if you look at the stats about both belief and practice, ME's aren't significantly different than those around them.

Dust off the old doctrine of regeneration and think some of these things through. Then read the Old Guys about it. ME's aren't in the same universe as Spurgeon, Henry, Pink, et. al.

Think of this: Jesus said that those who didn't listen to Him weren't His--John 18:37. The same thing is said in I John 4:6, John 10, and the same concept is found in passages like Deut. 12 and 13.

In other words, one of the great signs of a regenerate man is he hears and obeys. (I'm not talking about honest differences of opinion about what the Bible actually says, of course.) Now how many Evangelicals relate to the Bible like that? How many times have you spoken to ME clergy and been told that we couldn't obey a scriptural precept because it would mean too many folks won't like us or some other such excuse. (Remember the frienship non-evangelism movement?)

Try this experiment: Tell your pastor or any ME pastor that you would like to see the local church begin to obey the command to evangelize and discipline all adult males in the congregation who don't regularly participate in evanglization in the community. Or tell those who claim to be saved, but remain unbaptized that they need to obey or admit they really aren't saved. See what happens. You'll hear more excuses than I had pimples in eighth grade. Then apply the scriptural yardstick.

Or simply go to your next prayer meeting and count all there. Then count all there who you know aren't actively engaged in both studying Scripture seriously and evangelization. What is the percentage?

Or what percentage of ME pastors are active in meaningfully trying to evangelize the neighbors in the place where they live? As opposed to that, what percentage are involved in denominational meetings, mininterial associations, etc.? Get the picture? What is their priority--religion or obedience?

How many ministerial associations was Paul in? How many ME pastors would go tell the gospel some place they were pretty sure they would get a few teeth knocked out? Paul said he got beat up just about everywhere he went.

What gives? How do we explain this chasm of disparity?

I'd really encourage you to stop and ask if we would live like that today the next time you read the NT. I mean really--stop and think if we would welcome persecution like Paul says in Phil. 3. Most ME clergy won't offend the ladies in their churches--that ain't Christian, if we take the NT seriously.

Go talk to an ME pastor about biblical separation from false teachers and see what happens. The last time I did that, I got a reaction like I touched his hand to an electric fence.

Rick Warren's doughnut-stuffed face is the public face of MEism now. Go to a standard church and ask who there realizes RW is a heretic. Or don't even do that--instead, present the gospel the way he does and see if anyone there catches it. Go there and talk like an Emergent and see who objects.

Only the nuts object. (Like me--lol)

I know--I'm just a nut, but just start thinking some of these things through.

God bless you and yours, Joel. I have to go now and wipe the foam off my chin and change my shirt.

Hope you had a great Christmas--I did,
Phil Perkins.

Solameanie said...

Phil,

Please tell me how you define the Gospel. That might give me a better reference in responding to you.

I do think things through more than you realize, and quite frankly it's a bit insulting to have you keep throwing that at me. It is possible that I just might come to a different conclusion in a few areas. You're not going to find too many people more conservative than I am doctrinally.

I do know this. You've got to be very, very careful that, in your zeal for doctrinal purity, you don't put new laws on believers that Christ never intended to put on them. The church of Christ cult (where I grew up) is a good example of that kind of behavior. They were champions at splitting hairs and straining gnats. They were also experts at endless back and forth arguing in true legalistic style.

In terms of "disciplining all adult males who refuse to participate in evangelization," give me the biblical reference for such an idea. I believe the Apostle Paul makes it plain that different believers have different gifts and different roles in the church. We should all earnestly desire to share our faith as God grants opportunity, but all of us are not evangelists. Ephesians 4 also speaks of equipping the saints for the work of service, that all might GROW etc.

Believe me, Phil..I find plenty to criticize in today's church. You've read quite a bit of it here. However, if we're not careful, we can go way too far in being condemning and wounding brothers and sisters for whom Christ died. May He give us the wisdom to discern the difference.

Part of being in the body of Christ is that we are indeed part of a body. We are not supposed to be lone rangers, and it seems to me that you might be heading in that direction.

Solameanie said...

Ooops. I misquoted you. My apologies.
You actually said "don't regularly participate in evangelizing" etc.

I have to be out for the evening and then am tied up all day tomorrow, so I won't be able to deal with any responses right away. The long and short of it is, I am concerned (and I say this most kindly) that you seem to have an awful lot of anger and bitterness toward the church. Considering the amount of error prevalent, I can understand being angry, as we should be at error and false teachers. But we also know from Scripture that anger can swiftly move beyond a righteous anger into either vengefulness or a root of bitterness, or even both.

I don't know what your specific circumstance is, but the particular church I am in has a deep love for the Lord and His Word. The elders are godly men, and the pastors are dedicated to preaching Scripture, and Scripture alone. We had a narrow shave with the Emergent Church the past couple of years, but praise God, the truth won out. That doesn't mean we don't have our problems. Every church does. But I love them. They are my brothers and sisters. I think there are quite a few more churches out there like this than we realize. Remember that the Lord had 7,000 that had not bowed the knee to Baal. The Lord will present to Himself a church without spot or blemish. As individuals, He has promised to complete the work He began in us. We have to be careful with tares in the field because we just might pull up some wheat. The tares will become evident in time and we know what happens to them.

I hope you can see what I am saying and will appreciate the spirit in which it is given.

To put it more baldly, I admire your zeal and dedication to truth and the cause of Christ. But use a precise scalpel to deal with error in the body, not a chain saw or gullotine.

Gilbert said...

Phil,

"God said that the mark of a regenerate would be obedience.
Yet I spent the first 20 years of my life in "churches" who didn't even attempt to evangelize their communities.

Any man who calls himself an Evangelical and does not speak the evangel is a liar. Is this not evident?

Simple logic."

Not so simple. Being obedient to God does not mean you're a big evangelist. First, obedience means that others should see the fruits of the spirit: all under a blanket of love. Gentleness, kindness should be evident to all, as well as humbleness, service. When that overflows from his heart, then there is put into is heart a desire to tell others about Jesus.

But let's call a spade a spade: divorce rates are equal with that of unbelievers. That shouldn't be. In fact, the differences between believers and unbelievers right now is nonexistant, in things we do, concerts and movies we watch, etc.

That is where the rubber hits the road. There will be people---granted, maybe not many, but there will be---people saved at Saddleback, Benny Hinn, and others where a reading of the Bible afterwards will show them the truth. Or the truth. But that's just it: If they don't know the truth, it stops there. And if they aren't mature enough, it probably isn't a good idea sometimes for them to speak up.

True story: on a train into Chicago a few years ago, a buddy of mine preached the Gospel to a guy who rode the train, and he got saved. The very next week, he got on that train and told people to come to their Easter service at his church, because you'd get to (BLEEP)ing know who God really is and why Jesus is Lord, and that we need to repent! He was and is saved. And, sadly, that evangelism is more than what many people get in their lives...true for me.

But obedience does not automatically equal evangelism, at least not at a fever pitch. If I do that at my secular job, I'm fired immediately. Atheists are just looking for ways to get rid of anyone (me included) who believes in Jesus. And they know where I stand because of my actions. And that's an evangelism where they come and ask me. And outside of work, I then tell them, when appropriate.

Phil Perkins said...

Gilbert,
Decades of a church or a Christian telling no one outside the church the gospel is sin. Simple.

Coming up with stories of nuttiness in the name of evangelism doesn't negate the commandment.

Sola,
Be patient, please. I apologize as well. I get pretty harpy. I DO mean what I say, but I don't say any of it to you in meanness. You'll just have to believe me on that.

God bless,
Phil.

Solameanie said...

Decades of a church or a Christian telling no one outside the church the gospel is sin. Simple.

Phil, I suspect you wouldn't get an argument from either Gilbert or me on that. That isn't happening at my church. I can't speak for other congregations.

Solameanie said...

Gilbert,

Not much time today for comment, but very quickly I had to chuckle at the guy you mention and his witnessing style. It relates to what I was saying earlier about maturity. His heart was in the right place, and I expect as he grows in Christ and knows more of His Word, he'll begin leaving the salty language aside in his witnessing. Unless he becomes an Emergent . . .

:O

Phil Perkins said...

Sola and Gilbert,
Perhaps my view is skewed. I've come up in churches that were straight (as straight as ultra-dispensational, arminian-leaning, if-you-ain't-pretrib-you-ain't-saved churches can be) and the condition I described is accurate as I described it.

Yes, the story of a young Christian doing that is not atypical. I wouldn't whack him too hard. I've seen that very thing. I'd rather have one of those than a person with no zeal.

And, actually, delete the bleeps and probably a bad emphasis on a particular church and your friend did a VERY biblical presentation of the gospel--MT. 4:17.

Randy,
Thanks for the encouragement. I read scads.

Phil.

Phil Perkins said...

Sola,
Now that I have a bit more time I'd like to answer a couple of things I previously didn't.

First, the think-biblically thing. Have you ever trained for a sport? When a fellow athlete tells another to finish the run or to make the last three reps, it isn't intended as disparagement, but encouragement to do what must be done to achieve excellence. It isn't an insult, but a prod onward to achievement.

Now, with that in mind, please indulge me a bit as I would like to address just three of the things right here in this comment thread in which we may learn together to think more biblically.

Specifically, I'm referring to the practice of simply swallowing and later regurgitating religious bromides, witticisms, and clever sayings without any skepticism about their actual origin--from the Bible or from religious tradition.

1. If you read Gilbert's comment he defends a lack of zeal for evangelism by contrasting it with Christian love. The problem: biblical love requires evangelism. Why does he believe something so antithetical with the Scripture? Is he mean? Is he stupid? No, not at all. It's probably because he has been in churches where biblical love isn't taught. It's common these days to contrast strict obedience to the commands of God with "love". Yet the Scripture says, "By this very thing we know we are loving the children of God, if God we are loving and His commandments we are doing."

The Scriptural view is actually opposite to what Gilbert thinks. Love requires and is indeed marked by sincere obedience to God's commands. Do you see that? ME tradition says exactly the opposite of what God says, thus Gilbert is probably sincere, but his view is actually harmful as the ME brand of "love" actually becomes a reason to be lax in our obedience to Him to Whom we are to be slaves.

Is a slave that acts slavishly in obedience to his master unloving?

To see just how unbiblical this is let's look at a passage from the Psalms and interject this sort of thinking to see how it works:

Psalm 119:1-4 How blessed are those whose way is blameless, (because they're unloving) Who walk in the law of the LORD. (because they're unloving) 2 How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, (because they're unloving) Who seek Him with all their heart. 3 They also do no unrighteousness; (because they're unloving) They walk in His ways. (because they're unloving) 4 Thou hast ordained Thy precepts, That we should keep them diligently. (but that would be unloving, so we'll kind of do it, but not enthusiastically)

Silly, isn't it? But that's argued all the time by MEs. I used to think that way. Who's right, the Scripture or the MEs? To whom are we to bring every thought into subjection?

2. You mentioned that the pulling of tares might pull some wheat also. This isn't found anywhere in Scripture. Instead the Scripture says, "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves."

You quoted Scripture (out of the context that interprets it), but left out scads of other passages which line up with the Scripture I quoted. Both can't be true.

Some very sloppy preachers and commentators have misapplied a parable in Matthew 13. If you read the rest of MT 13, you'll read how the Greatest Biblical Commentator interpreted His own parable. The field isn't the church; it's the world and the harvest is the end of the age. The harvesters are His angels. The instruction is to let the wicked live alongside the righteous until the end of the age.

It has nothing to do with leaving unrepentant sin in the assembly. And the command to discipline in the assembly is all over both the OC and NC.

Don't get mad at me--but do you see? We are familiar with a popular bromide that is part of religious tradition, but not in Scripture. And that gets in the way of Scripture in our lives.

To run the race, we can't afford to do that.

3. Finally, you presented an argument rooted in pop psychology. You said you detected anger toward the "church". (Caught that didja?) Consider--is that a biblical (or even logical) argument? Can you present a biblical passage that says the hearers can ignore the warnings of the preacher, prophet, or plain old brother if his demeanor isn't cheery?

And doesn't the Scripture teach that we ought to be grieved by sin?
And if you look back, can you truly say that most of what I argue is unbiblical? I am a fool if I don't listen to biblical reproof and I believe I have at your very hands. Worse than that--I'd be in sin. However, I believe also that most of the objections have been rooted in traditional religious sayings and attitudes as I here have asked you to please consider.

Gilbert brought up some stats. What was the attitude of God's men in Israel and Judah when such was true under the OC?

Also, let's do some math. Divorce, drug use, incarceration, and teen pregnancy among Evangelicals is virtually the same as those around us. If only 10% of us were new creatures in Christ, and if salvation meant only that we sinned half as much...

...wouldn't there be a 5% difference?

In Christ,
Phil Perkins.

Phil Perkins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Solameanie said...

Phil,

Thanks for your thoughtful, considered comments. I actually got a short break for a moment, so I’ll try to respond in short (ha) order. I think we’re all beginning to break a key rule of internet communication, which is brevity (smile). I am rushed as I write this, so leave me some grace if there is inaccuracy.

First, you are correct about the “tares” parable and I was mistaken in my application. Score one for you. (smile)

As to Gilbert’s comment, are you sure he intended to defend a “lack of zeal in evangelism?” Let’s remember the original point that I was trying to make, which was in response to what you had said about the large bulk of evangelicals not being saved. I replied that I could not make that kind of a broad, sweeping assertion, and there are various reasons for my reluctance to do that. Anyway, I don’t believe for a moment that Gilbert intended to defend a lack of zeal in evangelism. That wasn’t his point.

His point was that not everyone is necessarily called to be an evangelist, as the term is commonly understood. Scripture makes that distinction. Not all are prophets. Not all are evangelists. That does NOT mean that we shouldn’t be willing and even eager to share our testimony. However, it doesn’t mean that everyone is called to hold crusades, preach, or even going to knock on doors. Some people aren’t gifted in that area. I don’t believe in putting someone in church discipline for not being an evangelist. I guess it depends on what you mean, which I might not be understanding clearly.

If there is unrepentant sin in the assembly by a believer, than it qualifies for church discipline. However, if someone is an unbeliever in the assembly, then they need to get saved. You can’t “discipline” an unbeliever. But they need to be clearly identified as unbelievers and treated as such.

If you intend to refer to someone who claims to be a believer and REFUSES to share his or her faith with others, then yes, I would say that’s a serious problem. Or if there is an entire congregation that is totally insular and does no proclamation of the Gospel, then yes, by all means, that’s a serious problem. In Revelation, where Jesus sends messages to the seven churches, we see how the Lord handles each one. There were only two that received no rebuke, and one that received no praise at all (Laodicea).

I also tried to make this important point – taking into account someone’s maturity and growth in the Lord. Baby Christians are just that, baby Christians. You also have immature Christians. We know what Scripture says about “weaker brothers.” Without question, all are supposed to grow in the Lord. If believers are not growing, I look first at the shepherds who are feeding them, then to the individual.

By all means, Christians are marked by their love for Christ and their obedience to Him. But He is actually the one who produces that obedience within His people. He gets the glory and the credit. Keeping commands does not save us and I think you know that. We’ve got to be careful that we don’t descend into legalism. In my view, this particular area is where Arminianism comes dangerously close to Pelagianism. Keeping God’s commandments is evidence that we are saved, but is not the cause of our salvation. We also do not obey perfectly, and will not until glory. “Little ones, I write these things that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The question is this: is someone living a life of unrepentant, practiced sin? If that is the case, then we have genuine reason to question their regeneration.

Finally, my remark about anger (and bitterness) toward the church is not based in pop psychology. It is based in reality. Nowhere did I say or suggest that “hearers can ignore the warnings of the preacher” etc. Nowhere did I suggest that such warnings have to be given with a cheery demeanor. I think that is a caricature of what I was really trying to say.

It is possible to get angry and bitter toward the church for a thousand different reasons. With some, it’s the way they’ve been treated in congregations or by individuals in that congregation. They might well have been treated wrongly, but it’s become sin for them as well because they’ve walked in unforgiveness or resentment. For others, it might be a doctrinal disagreement – and there we have to make distinctions between core and secondary doctrine. Sometimes it happens if we have an ambition to be a leader or teacher, yet the leadership of our churches might decide we’re not ready for such a role. Whatever the cause, “see to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.” (Heb 12:15).

It is possible to be truly grieved at what we see as sin and error in the church, but then our own flesh gets involved and we go beyond what we ought in dealing with it. While not the best example in a context sense, Jesus’ response to the Sons of Thunder comes to mind. They were ready to call down fire, but Jesus yanked them by the reins. That was a true “tares and wheat” context dealing with a city, but I can see similar white hot sentiments in some today in dealing with churches. They regard them as enemies instead of admonishing them as brothers (2 Thess 3:15). I don’t think you’ve necessarily arrived at that point, but I am cautioning against it.

Also, it is possible, as the Apostle Paul pointed out, to get overzealous in discipline. 2 Corinthians 1:6-7 – “Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”

That's all I have time for now.

Gilbert said...

Phil,

"The Scriptural view is actually opposite to what Gilbert thinks. Love requires and is indeed marked by sincere obedience to God's commands. Do you see that? ME tradition says exactly the opposite of what God says, thus Gilbert is probably sincere, but his view is actually harmful as the ME brand of "love" actually becomes a reason to be lax in our obedience to Him to Whom we are to be slaves."

I didn't say that we should be disobedient---quite the opposite! And believe me, I've been spreading the Gospel, including to two of my relatives on Christmas. Obedience and repentance should be at the top of the list. But of course, so should love. Witnessing is a *part* of that, not thw whole. *Everything* we do should be in submission to Christ. That's how we know we are true believers...not because of our evangelism as the only or main outpouring of our love of Jesus.

Gilbert said...

As for Sola's post, agree with his sentiments 100% in the one just above my previous one. But here's something that may wrankle both of you: I assert that a lack of evangelism in the church isn't a problem. The 31 problem, by far, is the proper expository teaching of Scripture from the pulpit, with Godly leadership therein and from the Elders/Board/Trustees/whatever. I say we fix that first, and then this problem will largely fix itself.

Solameanie said...

Phil,

On my way home tonight (a 40 mile commute out in the boonies), I was thinking and trying to cast around for an example to illustrate what I am talking about. I finally thought of a couple of areas.

Remember Keith Green, the late contemporary Christian singer and pianist? Beginning with his second album and the founding of his "Last Days Ministries," he began taking on a real "prophetic" tone in his writing and public ministry. He really indicted the church, and I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he had to say in terms of the church tolerating sin and not caring about the lost.

But as Keith went on, his tone and attitude over time grew harsher and harsher, until virtually all he had to say was in condemnation mode. He painted in a huge, broad brush. Of course, some of his theology was wrong, but the primary thing he became known for was indicting and condemning the church. He went too far, and to his credit, he acknowledged that himself and repented of that before he was killed in a plane crash in 1982. He realized that, while much of what he said in prior years was true, there were also some areas where he went overboard in his indictments, and in the process needlessly offended and hurt brothers and sisters in Christ by making unfair indictments and judgments of their motivations.

Next, my own experience. What first attracted me to apologetics was my interest and concern for people in cults, having grown up in a baptismal regenerationist cult.

After I was saved out of it, my zeal in being counter cult was mixed together with what the cult had ingrained in me -- a feeling that I was the only one who was right and anyone who disagreed with me was outside the camp. I could get pretty hostile, and I loved to argue. I could also be condescending when I thought someone else didn't know as much as I did. I still get accused of that sometimes even though I generally don't intend at all to come across that way. But early on, I WAS condescending. I found out later that I still had lots to learn.

Thankfully, some loving fellow apologists were able to help me to mature out of that mindset for the most part. They showed me that having the right heart and spirit was very important in this kind of ministry. It's important to be ready for battle, but not allowing the readiness for battle to turn into bloodlust.

It's important to take the right kind of tone at the right time. False teachers should get whacked hard while the untaught in congregations often must be handled more gently. And when I say that, I am not talking about believers who are in rebellion and unrepentant sin. Our churches ought to be teaching the untaught and encouraging them to love and good deeds -- teaching them biblical truth and how to stand on it. Lousy shepherds will have much for which to answer, because they are leaving their sheep vulnerable to error.

I think that's largely what I've been trying to get across, perhaps badly. I appreciate and agree with much of what you have to say, and welcome your contributions here. I just get concerned from time to time because you can get really, really aggressive, and at times can come across very condescending. I caution about it because I myself can fall into it pretty easily, as you've no doubt seen here, and on other blogs where I've made comments. The Emergent Church really, really riles me, and there have been times I've been harder on people who have unwittingly been sucked into it than I have on the teachers and authors out there peddling the poison.

When you've been in apologetics for a while, you tend to notice that it sometimes attracts the wrong kind of people -- hostile and looking for a fight, eager to find fault and wrongly judging people's motivations. They might perhaps have an ax to grind because of an experience in a church, and they make that ax very obvious. Right at the outset, if they see something that might indeed be a legitimate problem, sin or theological issue in the church, their first way to deal with it out of the box is to issue a knee in the groin.

I want to defend the faith. I want to win the lost, and I want to help make disciples. I want to be firm and to wield a sword when necessary, but also want to know when to be gentle and comforting. I want to be an encouragement to fellow believers. I don't want to be known for being harsh and ugly.

In a blog like this one, it's a tough balancing act. I comment on secular issues and church issues. I can be fairly scathing in a general sense. But when dealing with individuals, I hope I am more temperate.

Solameanie said...

Gilbert,

Actually, that didn't rankle me at all. In fact, I've often said similar things. Preach and teach the right things, and the Holy Spirit will do amazing things as He acts through the Word of God.

In terms of evangelism, I think that we are wrongheaded about it. We think because we pay the pastor a salary, it's his job to win the lost and draw people into the congregation. Wrongo! It's our job to witness and share our faith, and it's the pastor's job to equip the saints for the work of ministry.

Solameanie said...

To all...

Now this is interesting. Check out this column by Dr. Robert Morey, a friend of mine and keynote speaker at the Rockford Conference on Discernment and Evangelism.

I had forgotten all about this address, which I heard in person. On the surface, he seems to be contradicting much of what I said above. Here's the rub. I agree with him when it comes to dealing with false teachers and cult leaders. However, I am much gentler with the average untaught Joe.

I also think that satire, while permissible and something that should be in the arsenal, is something that should be used with care. The fact that we are still human beings struggling against a sin nature means that we just might relish calling people names too much if we're not careful.

Phil Perkins said...

Joel,
You're a great guy. And there is no score.

Phil.

Phil Perkins said...

And thanks for the consideration given to my thoughts.

Phil Perkins said...

But was KG right? I don't know because he isn't a cat I followed.

When we go to discussing his psychological state, we don't consider his claims. We can play the same game and dismiss Ezekiel, Paul, Isaiah, Hosea, and of course, Jesus, who was just mad at the synagogue boys.

Was KG right? That's the first question. If the answer is yes, the rest is a smoke screen that (again) we've been trained to raise by our religious tradition.

You said, "I am much gentler with the average untaught Joe." That's very Scriptural. Paul spoke of gentleness with the novice.

Phil Perkins.

Solameanie said...

No, it is not a smoke screen. Did you read what I said? I said he was right about much, but he went overboard.

Think about this also. You've referenced the words of Jesus often. What was his purpose (depending of course, on context). The New Covenant had not yet come into force, and would not until Jesus' death. Was Jesus talking to the House of Israel, or was He also talking to the church? That is something that I am still sorting out. I've heard some interesting arguments of late on that subject, and I'm not to the point of buying into them yet, but it's interesting.

2 Timothy talks about correcting those in opposition with gentleness, as well as not being quarrelsome. That doesn't mean that sharp rebuke is never necessary. In fact, Paul says in one instance (Titus) to reprove severely so that they might be sound in the faith. I am just saying that such an approach or response should not be our template automatic.

Phil Perkins said...

Sola,
Boy, now you're getting into some heavy stuff. Was Jesus talking to Israel? Well, I've come to be very covenantal, but not like the Presbies. For the most part whenever He was speaking, He was speaking as under the OC, probably. But He was preparing for the NC, formally established at the time of the Last Supper and crucifixion/resurrection. On the other hand, the ecclesia was established in Exodus. There two terms for the OT assembly, qahal, and adah. Both of these terms first came to use in the last few verses of Genesis and, of course, all over Exodus. The LXX used synagogue and ecclesia. We Gentiles are graft-ins to the original. We aren't separate. See Romans 9-11.

But that's a long, long discussion. It's a very important one and its misunderstanding has played into evil hands in the assembly. Notice how often I use "assembly" instead of "church"--biblically there is no reason to use a separate word for the assembly after Pentecost. In fact, it's caused a lot of confusion.

But that's not really relevant. Jesus got angry all the time. Moral law didn't change with the covenants. For instance, in this evening's Greek reading I did Mark 2:11-3:6. See 3:5: "And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored."

Notice, too, that His anger was aimed at those within the visible assembly (not the real assembly) who had access to the truth, but wouldn't obey it. His anger was seldom at the novice, the interested, or those outside the realm of spiritual knowledge. And at the times that it was recorded for us, it was much more mellow than it was toward those who knew better, but wouldn't obey. And His anger toward the should-have-known crowd was pretty much a constant after just a few attempts to straighten them out. I believe that's where a big distinction is to be made. Especially in evangelism, we have to tell the harsh truth, but in such a way that sinners come to us, knowing we don't hate them. Interesting that was also in this evening's reading, too.

Interesting discussion, huh?

Phil.