For a series intro, check out the first post: Intro
This week continues last week’s topic of respect and honor to everyone in the name of evangelism in a world where WE are the exiles.
Clark picks up on this note in the American church which, of course, hits home:
“American Christians no longer have the upper hand. Maligning our cultural and religious adversaries is therefore no longer an effective strategy. The days of mocking atheists, crass joking about homosexuals, slurring Muslims, and making derogatory remarks about political rivals need to end. They should have never existed. But the church could get away with such impudence when we were the cultural majority. Not anymore. As we face increasing opposition, we can either turn up the volume on our vitriol, or we can follow the instruction of Peter and put aside all malice and slander. We can approach our enemies with gentleness and respect. And if we do, we’ll have an incredible opportunity for the gospel.”
“But we must admit that glad-hearted respect isn’t our normal response. In my observation, our social dialogue naturally slides toward such dehumanization, especially in a technological age that’s disconnected from personal relationship and the natural decorum that often flows from it. Social media are the prime example of disconnection, functioning like the digital version of bumper-sticker Christianity. On these media we parade our views on any number of issues with casual indignity. After all, we won’t ever see half the people who read our tweets. But we also won’t know half the disrepute we bring to Jesus’s name.”
Clark gives us one of those moments that makes us pause…
“For this reason, I think one of the most important lessons we can learn is the virtue of silence.”
“When we seek to do evangelism as exiles, we already have a really hard sell. We’re trying to convince people that a Jewish carpenter was God’s Son, come from heaven to die for our sins. He was buried, and three days later he rose from the dead and now reigns over all. Not only that, we’re also calling them to join us as social outcasts. Must we also try to persuade them about matters of history or geopolitics? Do we really want to argue for our opinion on the environment or economics? Or could those hobby-horse topics end up as barriers to Christ’s gospel? Please don’t hear me say that Christians should never address controversial topics. Or that we shouldn’t speak out against evil and injustice. Of course we should. But the value of silence still stands.”
“We must learn to triage our agendas. We must learn to prioritize our preaching. Some things are of higher value; others are likely not even worthy of comment. Because as much as people can be won to Christ through our witness, they can also be lost by our words. Our endless social commentary and political engagement can be off-putting. So better to be quiet and respectful than bold and boorish. Better to sometimes be silent.”
“We still haven’t really talked about what it actually means to respect others. For me, describing disrespect is easier than defining honor. That’s likely owing to the fact that honor as a virtue is lacking in Western culture. We don’t have a plethora of good examples. But Paul’s instruction to the church in Rome (which mirrors Peter’s in many ways) can help us fill out some of what it means to honor our opponents. Below is my own paraphrase of his words to believers living in that hostile environment: Bless those who persecute you. Be kind to them with your words and wish them well. Don’t curse them to their face or berate them behind their back.”
“He also notes how Paul, certainly aware of hostility and provocations against the believers, does not merely call for “passive resistance” but “a positive outgoing goodness in response.” If they are happy, be happy for them, even with them. Rejoice at their successes, and tell them how glad you are when they get a raise or a new grandbaby. Be sorry for their losses. Weep and mourn when they are sorrowful, when they lose a loved one or even suffer the natural consequences of their sin. Don’t say, “Serves you right.” Instead, live in harmony with one another. Do what you can to get along. Don’t look for ways to spite them, and don’t create unnecessary strife. That would be a proud attitude. You are no better than them, so be humble toward everyone. Associate with people beneath you. Dignify the poor and the ill. Show lavish honor to your employees and contractors and vendors, to your babysitter and to children. Take time to talk with the people no one else will. Don’t be too big for your own britches, and don’t take other people’s bad behavior as your opportunity to be bad yourself.”
“Instead, live a completely honorable life, because the world is watching. If at all possible, live at peace with everyone. This won’t always work. Some people will hate you no matter what. But that’s not your concern. Never seek revenge; God has your back. One day he will exalt you and judge them. But today, your job is to show them the utmost respect. So if your opponent is hungry, feed him. If he’s is thirsty, give him drink. In every way you would wish to be loved, demonstrate tangible love to your enemies. And if at the end they still want to be your enemy and God’s, then he’ll deal with it. Don’t let their evil overtake you. You overwhelm them with good.
The shift in our world…
“A total role reversal is happening in our nation. Christians used to be respected in society. Churches were revered institutions. Serving as clergy was a noble profession. As such, we could leverage that status to our evangelistic benefit. We could invite people to church and assume they might want to come. We could host evangelistic events with well-known speakers and expect a captive (and large) audience. We could run a summer children’s outreach or Sunday school and think even pagan parents might want their kids to get some religion. But our secular world is increasingly suspicious of religion. Christians are no longer part of the solution; we’re the problem. Pastors aren’t trustworthy. Churches are suspect. Bible-believers are bigots. Thus the days of attractional evangelism are waning. The times of relying on the gravitational pull of our social standing to bring people into church, a Christian camp, or a revival meeting are all but gone. The time is coming, and is here now, when the world won’t listen to our gospel simply because they respect us. However, they might listen if we respect them. Because how can we expect homosexuals to believe our concern for God’s created order when we don’t dignify them as people made in his image? How can we call our coworkers to submit to Christ as Lord when they don’t see us gladly and respectfully submitting to our boss? How can we tell of God’s love for the world when we exhibit disdain and revulsion toward our neighbors? How can we demonstrate a Christ-like compassion for our enemies when all they hear from us is concern for our rights and privileges? To honor others is to have a genuine care and concern for them. So this is what we must do—even for those who have no concern for us.”
“One of the most practical ways we can demonstrate such concern is through prayer. Even during our exile we can bless the world by praying for and with others. This is something I’ve learned by watching our faithful brothers and sisters all over the world. Everywhere I go I see national believers using prayer as a means to reach out to those around them with love and the gospel.”
“As I’ve observed, nothing demonstrates gentleness and respect quite like praying for someone else in their presence. It shows care for them. It honors them. In doing so we bless rather than curse. Actually, whenever we pray with unbelievers, we have the dual opportunity to honor them and present the good news. In fact, I think sometimes the best ice-breaker for an evangelistic conversation is to pray. When you don’t know what else to say you can always ask the question, “Can I pray for you?”, then do it right there with them.”
Questions for Thought or Discussion:
1.Who should you be praying for? Who does this post bring to mind and heart?
2.In what ways do you privately, in your own heart and mind, belittle people? Examples? Names? How does that spirit affect your evangelistic efforts toward them?