Thursday, November 11, 2021

Rage, Rage …

I had a conversation with one of my brothers in Christ recently that left me a bit shaken and concerned, I must confess.

It was outside of a local church building. The man was speaking to me about the mask mandates and the distancing regulations that the church had implemented.

Suddenly, his eyes flashed with fire, and his words became tense and cruel: “These people,” he said, “These people who just think they can …” He went on with such fierceness that his wife had to put her hand gently on his arm, and say to me, “You see we feel strongly about this. Pray for us.” “Come along, dear.” And she pulled him away.

He was still in mid-rage, I could see, and there was much more he wanted to say.

In some measure I understood his bitterness. He had trouble in his family that was making this issue particularly personal for him. But he was also a church leader, and I could see that he had actually lost perspective and was struggling with real antipathy to his own brothers and sisters in Christ who had a different view. What would Christ say, I had to wonder.

And he’s not alone. I know of families where some members will no longer allow their relatives into their homes because of a difference of opinion about some issue. Apparently, even the natural bonds of family can be ruptured by political strife of this kind. How much easier would it be to become polarized and angry with people with whom one shares no natural biological ties, such as the church?

Very concerning, I think.

The General Problem

We’ve got a lot of things going on right now that are causing some of us to see things very differently from other spiritual brothers and sisters. These issues are ginned up and sharpened by the public media, perhaps; but they also reflect basic differences in conclusions that reasonable people can have. Unfortunately, they are increasingly polarizing us, and I fear we are becoming somewhat intolerant of each other. My plea today is that we recognize that we are being pushed into this, resist it, and choose a more Christian way of treating each other.

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.” “Who are you to judge the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, as God in Christ forgave you.” “Put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”

Anybody have a problem with that? I didn’t think so.


Let’s have a few examples, shall we?

The first is an older one, one everybody should be able to recognize. It’s the tension in the church between the people who want to do something new, and the ones who are concerned about the status quo.

Every church has these two types of folks in it: folks who are most concerned with keeping things running well, and folks who want to see things change. Sometimes we broadly call them “liberals” and “conservatives”, though I think adopting those conventional labels is a bit misleading. Let’s call one group innovators and the other supporters.

Now, both are positive contributions to the functioning of a church. Where would we be without the supporters, the people who step up and take on key roles of service and leadership? Where would we be if nobody was there to make sure things got done every week, that needs were being met, that routines worked as planned, that the building was kept up, that programs we want were operating on schedule, and so on? More importantly, even, where would we be if there was nobody to service and maintain the doctrines we hold dear and the truth we have discovered? If everything always moves and shifts, where is the stability, the solidity, the faithfulness of the congregation?

Well and good. We need supporters. But where would we be if supporting the status quo was all that ever happened? Are we so sure that we’ve discovered all the best procedures already, and that, say, patterns established for us in the 19th century are still working well in the 21st? Are we certain, moreover, that we have squeezed every bit of meaning and all the leading of God’s Spirit out of scripture already, so that all we ever have to do is keep doing what we have already done, and all will be well?

Of course not, right? The word of God is inexhaustible in the depths of its teachings. And the world we live in is fluid and unstable. Traditions we invented years ago may not forever serve the objectives God has for the church. Who will step up and search the scriptures for new and better ways to apply timeless truths in our generation, and then encourage us to make changes so as to unify our meeting together with the divine objectives? If nobody ever changes anything, will we not become smug, self-satisfied and dead? Somebody has to speak up when change is necessary, don’t they?

So we need the innovators too, right?

The Problem

The problem is this: innovators tend to upset supporters, and supporters tend to frustrate innovators. This is because innovators want to introduce temporary instability into a situation that the supporters are earnestly trying to keep stable. And supporters are supporting the status quo that innovators are earnest to see improved. It’s all too easy for the two sides to grate on each other, and even to start to see each other as “the problem we have”.

Most elders’ boards, committees and churches as a whole have a mix of innovators and supporters. So it’s inevitable that there will be some vexation and difficulty in their communications. But they need each other. Christ has put both personality types, and both kinds of gifts, in the church. He wants both there, and both are perfectly legitimate. But until Christ comes, every church will continually face the challenge of learning to listen to brothers and sisters who come from a different direction of concern, and of maintaining good relations with them.

And the best for the church is likely to happen when both the concerns of the innovators and the concerns of the supporters are respected, are given attention, and sensible and scriptural compromises are being worked out. The supporters can actually slow down the innovators, and make them think about what they’re proposing, keeping them from being too hasty and introducing too much instability suddenly into a system that cannot deal with it. But the innovators also stir their more-settled brothers and sisters to put in the effort to reform and improve things that genuinely need fixing.

It all works out if everybody is obedient to the Spirit of God, both in using their gifts and in being kind and respectful to those who are different.

Next Example

Now, another example would be in politics. Some Christians likely favor one political party and some the other. We live in a society in which hotter and hotter rhetoric is being circulated about both sides of the political spectrum. It’s increasingly becoming like everybody is expected to wave a flag of allegiance to one or another party, even if they never have before.

I won’t get into the who’s-right and who’s-wrong of that. It seems to me to be beside the point I want to make. The point is this: what makes secular politics any good excuse for Christians to treat one another unkindly? Have we forgotten that the Lord’s kingdom is “not of this world”, and that there are no political solutions to spiritual problems? Have we lost touch with the fact that the scriptures predict all the current upheaval, so that we have begun to believe that which wicked party controls the wicked political system is more important than the bond we have with our own brothers and sisters in Christ?

So does it matter if your brother is a Republican or a Democrat? Does it matter if he supports Brexit or the European Union? In a sense, it does: there are some political positions which are more harmonious with the priorities of God than others. And many of these issues are important. But what purpose is served by a furious partisanship taking over the local assembly, so that brothers and sisters in Christ begin to think more about the political winds of the day than about the fact that they are sitting beside people for whom Christ died?

By all means, let us discuss the issues: but if we do so with anger, spite and partisanship, then we have already lost the battle. For ultimately, Christ’s objective is to make us all one, for all eternity. We need to remember that, and to have our conversations with grace, and with a view to helping each other understand our relative concerns. This polarization is either an opportunity for us to learn how to communicate, how to come to peace with each other, and how to work together, or it is an occasion of fracturing and defeat for us. We pick how it plays out.

Fair enough?

The Case of the Moment

Okay, now to the really hot one.

Right now, there is a lot of serious controversy over vaccination. I wish I could report that Christians were handling this well; but in honesty, I cannot. On the one side are those who say that it’s a “public health” issue, and everybody is a fool if they do not immediately capitulate to everything the government is handing down. On the other side are their brothers and sisters in Christ, many of whom have good, solid reasons for choosing not to accept the vaccine right now.

I know one man who is recovering from a serious operation, and has been instructed by his doctors not to get the vaccine until he is more healthy. Another couple is holding off immunizing their children out of concern for the lack of long-term research on the effects of the vaccine on early growth. I know of another man who has read more data and medical reports than most of us are likely to read in a lifetime, and has come to his own conclusion that something very dangerous and unhelpful is going on with the vaccine program. Another couple I know has just chosen to wait until more information is evident, since they have no confidence in the vaccine because of the government’s many self-reversals. I know of a virologist who has had the illness and has provided the statistical data showing his natural immunities are present and far more powerful than any vaccine … and yet he’s lost his job standing for a principle he believes in.

At the same time, some people have decided to be vaccinated. They are not evil folks either. Perhaps they have a loved-one in elder care, and cannot access him or her unless they are vaccinated. Perhaps they have to travel. Perhaps they trust the government and genuinely believe the vaccine is likely to be more good than bad. And what about the people who are vaxed or unvaxed because they really just don’t know what to think?

The Cure

One thing we’ve most certainly got to do these days is to start to regulate our emotions. It’s okay to feel strongly about something; but it’s not okay to express in every way that frustration which the flesh would like. So easily, human beings can flash with anger … and today, who is not at least somewhat fearful, apprehensive and nervous? We must be patient with each other.

And here’s a helpful hint: let rage be your guide.

What I mean is that you need to stay in touch with your inner emotions, and use them to alert you to the attacks of the enemy. Whenever you feel a surge of rage, an impulsive urge to speak harshly or out of turn, to raise your voice, to interrupt, and to boil with resentment … do nothing.

I mean it. Wait until you are dead calm. Then decide between your conscience and the Lord what you should do. But when you feel yourself to be in any emotional state at all, don’t act. Don’t speak. Don’t engage. Make sure your spirit is under the full control of the Holy Spirit before you do anything at all.

Doing nothing is far better than you beating up your brother or sister for whom Christ died, or stirring up resentment, bitterness and factions with your rage. So give yourself the time to simmer down, reason your response, and act as Christ would want you to act.

“The anger of man,” says the scripture, “does not produce the righteousness of God.” Any doubts about that?

I didn’t think so.

In the Long Run

This is a confusing time, and a very unclear issue. What is clear to me, however, is that the main thing the enemy wants to do with this controversy is to split Christians apart. I have seen flashes of anger, self-righteousness and defiance in some people’s eyes. I wish I had not. I fear that the enemy has gotten the jump on us with this one, and a lot of people are not realizing that health is not the real issue here at all.

WE are the issue here. You and me, brothers and sisters in Christ. When this world finally collapses under the weight of plagues, pandemics, natural and unnatural disasters, personal wickedness and political corruption, and when it dissolves in the fire of the wrath of God, your brother and sister in Christ will endure. For all eternity, he and she will be a fact that remains.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, may I exhort you to continue, through all the controversies of the present day and all that will yet come, to treat each other with grace and kindness, remembering that we are coheirs with Christ and citizens of heaven?

When Christ comes back, I’m certain that’s what we’ll care about.

Best we start caring about it now.

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