Thursday, May 10, 2012

Contending for the Faith vs. Turning the Cheek

This is a command:

·        Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (Jude 3-4)

Contending for the faith involves both challenging the sin and its philosophical justifications. Jesus contended for the faith during His entire ministry. He never ceased judging and correcting His own Apostles. They tended to be very class- and ethnicity-conscious. He judged their attitudes and never complimented their faith – only that of two, who His disciples had discounted because they were both Gentiles (Matthew 8, 15). He pointed out that it was the children who were the most Kingdom-like, not themselves or the esteemed learned ones (Matthew 18). Even when Peter had taken up the sword in His defense, Jesus corrected his theology:

·        Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:53-54)

The faith is simply too valuable to allow others to twist it to suite their own tastes. Jesus also defended the faith against the unbelievers. When He was accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan, He would not allow this interpretation to stand. Against it He reasoned that it was unthinkable that Satan would cast out Satan, lest his kingdom would collapse (Matthew 12).

When we are passive in the face of such charges against the faith, our silence is interpreted as agreement. In contrast, Paul promoted a more proactive spiritual engagement:

·        We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)

Jesus demolished “arguments” and took “captive every thought to make it obedient” to His Gospel. However, we have been silenced and rendered passive by the accusation that we have violated Jesus’ words:

·        "Do not judge, or you too will be judged…You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

We have been intimidated into believing that when we raise our voice in defense of the faith, we are judging – something that Jesus had soundly forbidden. However, upon close examination, Jesus didn’t forbid judging – just judging when the judge refuses to judge himself! We first must contend with our own sin before we contend with the sins of others. Until we do this, we remain with a blinding plank in our own eye.

Even many churches preach a Christian passivity that precludes contending for the faith. In support of this errant position, they quote from Paul:

·        Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head" [Proverbs 25]. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)

Some argue that these verses counsel only love and not verbal confrontation. Indeed, we mustn’t allow the evil of revenge to overcome us. Instead, we must “overcome evil with good” and leave revenge and “wrath” to God. However, this doesn’t mean that we are limited to addressing the evil of lies and bad theology with only good deeds. Consequently, they think that they shouldn’t do anything further about evil and that they shouldn’t even bring charges against the rapist or burglar.

Such a stance is not of wisdom and will only bring disrepute upon the church, if we allow evil to go unchallenged. Once the burglar or rapist strikes again, the community will rightly blame the church.

Instead, Paul counseled “It is mine to avenge” and that we should allow God’s “wrath” to bring this revenge. This “wrath” is not limited to the final judgment. God expresses His wrath through the justice system, which He has ordained. Paul continues:

·        The authorities that exist have been established by God….For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of WRATH to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Romans (13:1-4)

Clearly, God exercises His wrath through the criminal justice system. Justice is holy, and therefore, we have a responsibility to see that He will exercise His wrath through this system. It is this system that frees us to love our enemies without the need to take justice into our own hands. Although we don’t personally avenge ourselves, we must see that justice is done through this system, not through vigilantes. Loving and pursuing justice are not incompatible! Likewise, loving our enemies doesn’t disqualify us from contending for the faith, even when they are offended by what we say.

The Christian life is not simply about hugging and feeding the hungry. It’s also a display of God’s entire body of wisdom. Israel’s light to the nations had been a matter of showing forth His wisdom as they followed all of God’s laws:

·        Observe them [My laws] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people”…And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? (Deut. 4:6-8)

This entailed a living demonstration of the entire counsel of God – not just justice and not just love. Both are essential! Passivity alone will not win hearts. During my brief stay as a substitute teacher in a public school, I too thought that Jesus had been teaching passivity – to turn the other cheek at the misbehavior of the students. This only won me the deserved contempt of the teachers. They didn’t find anything virtuous in passivity but rather, a clear display of folly. Instead of bringing glory to my Lord, I had briefly demonstrated that the teachings of Jesus (wrongly understood) had no place in the real world.
The health of the church depends on contending for the faith. An elder had to be able to contend:

·        He [the elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach. (Titus 1:9-11)

We are built up by the faith, and we are ruined by those things that undermine the faith. If we fail to contend for the faith, “whole households” will be ruined. If we contend for anything, it must be for the faith! Love requires it!

I write this because many young Christians are being ruined because attacks against the faith aren’t being adequately addressed. We are failing to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” and we are not taking “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

We are continually accused of “hate speech,” “hate-mongering,” and “bigotry” by the surrounding culture. For example, Mrs.Clinton blames Christianity and other religions for denying homosexuals their deserved rights:

·        In a speech [December 8, 2011]designed to convince the world that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said religious objections to homosexuality should not stand in the way of vigorous United Nations action to promote the homosexual rights agenda. On Tuesday, Clinton said promoting the global acceptance of “gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people” is “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time,” likening the effort to ending racial, sexual, or religious discrimination. She noted that perhaps the “most challenging issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens.” These objections, she said, are “not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation.”
Clinton wrongly likens our stance against same-sex marriage to “honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation.” However, she is not alone in making such unfair comparisons. Many indict the Bible and the church as “homophobic.” Many of a more moderate voice are claiming that we are depriving the gays of justice, and our youth are all-ears, if the polls are any indication.

Mustn’t we speak up earnestly against these accusations? Will they not stick if we don’t? If we are denying the gays their rights, then we are also denying the adulterer, the polygamist, the father who wants to marry his daughter, or the aged billionaire who can afford to marry 50 10-year-olds. However, the university and the media would also deny these people their “rights.” Wouldn’t this similarly make them “unjust?” Why then are they calling us “unjust,” when they too are “unjust” in depriving others of their “rights,” according to their own definition?

These charges and double-standards – this blatant but unacknowledged hypocrisy – should be exposed (Eph. 5:11).  This is not an enviable task. However, when we fail to contend for our faith, no one else will, and the charges will stand.

At times, this seems like an endless and wearisome battle, but Jude assures us that it isn’t. He continues:

·        Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home--these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies…(Jude 1:5-8)

It is the Lord who will avenge. This frees us up to tend to the wounds of our detractors as we speak truth in love.

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