Monday, January 01, 2018

Children in the Marketplace

As Rachel Held Evans is always telling us, Christians in the West have it real good. And for once, she’s not completely wrong.

When we compare our current situation to that of believers in Muslim-majority countries today, or to that of the apostles or Old Testament prophets, or to saints throughout the last two millennia who have been persecuted and even martyred for confessing the name of Christ, there’s not a whole lot for us to complain about.

Still, even if it most often takes the form of generalized online carping rather than direct personal attacks, Christians in North America do encounter hostility now and again. Such occasions provide good opportunities to assess exactly what it is to which the unsaved are reacting so negatively.

Sometimes unbelievers are responding to genuine inconsistencies in our testimony as followers of Christ. Peter admonishes us:
“Let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.”
I suspect — or at least I like to hope — most of us err more toward the meddling end of things than the murder end, but that’s sound advice either way. Big or small, when believers are publicly attacked for problems we’ve created ourselves, that’s not exactly suffering for the sake of Christ, is it?

A situation in which we have been dishonest about how we have portrayed the arguments of the other side, intemperate, obnoxious or have otherwise fallen observably short of the example of the Lord Jesus and his apostles is cause for reflection, repentance and an ongoing change of our ways. I’d like to think Christians are sufficiently self-aware to be honest about our shortcomings.

Sometimes, though, when people don’t like us, the problem is entirely theirs. There are times when nothing on earth will satisfy the naysayers.

The Lord Jesus said this about his critics:
“They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
     we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ ”
There’s just no pleasing some people. In the Lord’s case, the religious upper crust took offense at his willingness to be seen with the wrong sort of people, to accept their hospitality and perhaps even to have the occasional cup of wine with dinner (at least I assume that’s the “drinking” part):
“For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ ”
As the Lord points out, the very same crowd had taken issue with John the Baptist’s asceticism to the point of accusing him of demon possession. The internal inconsistencies of their arguments bothered them not a bit. They were content to lob whatever mud they could get their hands on in the hope that something — anything! — might eventually stick.

A sampling of recent blog posts critiquing Christians from in- and outside Christendom shows how tough it can be to find the right balance:
Some of these critics make very valid points. Others are children in the marketplace.

Hey, it absolutely matters how Christians are perceived, and we should always be careful not to give unnecessary offense to anyone.

But sometimes when they don’t like you it’s because ... they just don’t like you.


  1. In Chesteron's "Orthodoxy" (highly recommended) he writes this:

    It looked not so much as if Christianity was bad enough to include any vices, but rather as if any stick was good enough to beat Christianity with. What again could this astonishing thing be like which people were so anxious to contradict, that in doing so they did not mind contradicting themselves? I saw the same thing on every side. I can give no further space to this discussion of it in detail; but lest any one supposes that I have unfairly selected three accidental cases I will run briefly through a few others. Thus, certain sceptics wrote that the great crime of Christianity had been its attack on the family; it had dragged women to the loneliness and contemplation of the cloister, away from their homes and their children. But, then, other sceptics (slightly more advanced) said that the great crime of Christianity was forcing the family and marriage upon us; that it doomed women to the drudgery of their homes and children, and forbade them loneliness and contemplation. The charge was actually reversed. Or, again, certain phrases in the Epistles or the marriage service, were said by the anti-Christians to show contempt for woman's intellect. But I found that the anti-Christians themselves had a contempt for woman's intellect; for it was their great sneer at the Church on the Continent that "only women" went to it. Or again, Christianity was reproached with its naked and hungry habits; with its sackcloth and dried peas. But the next minute Christianity was being reproached with its pomp and its ritualism; its shrines of porphyry and its robes of gold. It was abused for being too plain and for being too coloured. Again Christianity had always been accused of restraining sexuality too much, when Bradlaugh the Malthusian discovered that it restrained it too little. It is often accused in the same breath of prim respectability and of religious extravagance. Between the covers of the same atheistic pamphlet I have found the faith rebuked for its disunion, "One thinks one thing, and one another," and rebuked also for its union, "It is difference of opinion that prevents the world from going to the dogs." In the same conversation a free-thinker, a friend of mine, blamed Christianity for despising Jews, and then despised it himself for being Jewish.