Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Lone Voice

Earlier this year I sat in a gathering of fellow believers listening to a passionate speaker grossly misapply scripture to his subject (that is, when he wasn’t skipping past the supporting references in his PowerPoint presentation entirely).

The meeting had to do with the perceived need for a particular sort of social activism, but that’s unimportant: the issue could as easily have been anything. The point is, context was ignored, facts were misstated, commands to national Israel in specific situations were given universal application, differences between saved and unsaved were obscured, and so on. Put politely, it was a mess — or so it appeared to me.

But from the sorts of questions posed to the speaker after his presentation, I was sure I was the only person in the entire room who felt that way.

Ever had this happen to you?

Being the only person who seems to see a particular truth in scripture is a lonely place to find yourself. What do you do when you are absolutely convinced you’re right, and nobody else gets it? Worse, what do you do when you know that misunderstanding the scripture on this subject will almost surely lead to all kinds of trouble for those whose thinking is in error? Worse still, you can’t see those who disagree with you as enemies or heretics: they’re kind, decent, otherwise admirable people with whom you find yourself in agreement most of the time.

A Moment of Doubt

One possible outcome of such an experience is self-doubt, and that may be a good thing. There’s little that is more disruptive to a group of Christians than a “true believer” with an ax to grind who won’t stop going on and on when it’s clear to all that it’s his own perspective that is skewed.

Sometimes we hear error when we are not fully equipped to react to it. Something rubs us the wrong way, but we can’t say for sure what it is. Before reacting too strongly, it is wise to go away and mull over what was said to ensure we are being fair to the speaker, particularly about the way he’s used the word of God. After all, we don’t want to straw-man anyone, or accuse him of saying things he hasn’t actually said. It’s also important to make sure we have our own ducks in a row. If we’ve thought of half a dozen scriptural retorts to things that have been asserted during his presentation … well, great. But it is important to be absolutely sure we’ve understood those scriptures ourselves so that we don’t end up doing precisely the same thing as the speaker.

But say we’ve done all that and, further, examined our own motives before the Lord and asked him for clarity about the scriptural issues and wisdom as to how to proceed. I can tell you from experience (and your own experience may be similar to mine), that even the politest and most gracious attempts to steer a group of Christians in what you believe to be the right direction may well meet with resounding apathy.

No matter how much we care, and no matter how right we may be, we may still find ourselves lone (and lonely) voices speaking for truth.

If so, we are in a grand tradition going back thousands of years. Promise me you won’t let it swell your head.

The Better Sacrifice

Abel was right about sacrifice. Cain was wrong. That was probably the last time in history a disagreement between truth and error was 1-1.

Since then, we’ve had Abraham waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises … alone. Oh, I’m sure there were other Mesopotamians around with some knowledge of truth, and there was the occasional surprise like Melchizedek, priest of God Most High, showing up seemingly out of nowhere in Canaan. But Abraham knew things by direct revelation that nobody else in the world knew. He was flying solo in very foreign territory.

Then there’s Moses, of course. Called to service by a voice in the middle of a burning bush, and sent to lead a people that were characteristically uncooperative. God spoke to Moses, Moses spoke to the people. Some of it got through, but Moses was often left carrying an intellectual, emotional and spiritual burden to which nobody else in his lifetime could possibly relate.

Samson, carnal and clumsy as he was, was the only one in his day game enough to take on the oppressors of his people in a time when God himself was “seeking an opportunity against the Philistines”. Even Samson’s mother and father misunderstood the direction their son was taking. His giant mess of a life was nothing but one battle after another with only Samson on Samson’s side.

Lonely Voices Speaking for God

The Old Testament is full of lonely voices that just happened to be speaking for God. David, on the run. Jeremiah. Elijah. Most of the prophets, for that matter. Other than Abel, all were greatly outnumbered and all had moments of serious doubt and self-examination, as the Psalms and Lamentations make clear.

But the early church was not without its lone voices either. Imagine what it took for Paul to stand up to Peter, who had walked with the Lord when Paul had not, when everyone including Barnabas had been led astray by his hypocrisy. Paul was right, the rest were wrong. If he had kept silent because he was worried about being disliked, ostracized or shouted down, the Lord would surely have raised up someone else to communicate the truth that believers in Jesus Christ are not bound to follow the Law of Moses. But Paul stood alone and got the job done.

That was one serious “voice crying in the wilderness” moment. (Hey, don’t tell me I actually forgot John the Baptist?)

One Sensible Question

The point is, there are times when the best of believers needs someone else — that lone, imperfect, sometimes-a-bit-argumentative and not-always-totally-likable voice — to publicly step up at personal risk and lay out scriptural truth in defiance of the status quo. Even Barnabas did.

It’s not without reason that believers are occasionally compared to sheep.

All Paul did was ask Peter one very sensible question, but it was a question that pointed out an inconsistency no Spirit-filled heart, confronted with an honest query, would willingly perpetuate.

Surely we can do that much.

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