Friday, August 26, 2016

IS LOVE AND KINDNESS ALWAYS ENOUGH?





In an essay entitled “Fear Not,” Presbyterian minister, Dan McNerney, argues that we should not even fear Islamic oppression, terrorism, and immigration. Why not? Because God is in charge and can bring good out of the worst situations:

·       Yet, they survive through their incredible faith, often becoming witnesses in jail for their Lord.

·       In recent years, the underground church in Iran has become the fastest growing church in the world, now numbering three million believers.

Of course, I rejoice at such testimonies. These not only reveal the glory of our God but also His care for His Church—us! However, from such examples, McNerney also seems to argue that if God is in control we shouldn’t be. Instead, we should adopt a politically “hands-off” stance when it comes to confronting Islam:

·       Too often, we prefer holding onto and controlling the reins of our lives, reluctant to trust anyone, not even God. We would rather be racked with anxiety than give up control of our lives. It makes no sense, but we do it all the time.

Certainly, we must trust in the Lord and not be “racked with anxiety,” but doesn’t the Church have a responsibility here, at least to advocate for the protection of society and the innocent? And aren’t we showing a lack of love for our neighbor when we remain silent in the face of hundreds of thousands of potential jihadists entering our neighborhoods?

McNerney’s only response to evil seems to be to “give up control of our lives” and to live without care before the proven dangers. However, we also have a role to play:

·       Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:17; ESV)

·       Thus says the LORD: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3)

When we can make a difference and yet fail to protect against the oppressor, we are at fault:

·       So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17)

Instead, the Church must be prophetic and expose evil:

·       Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (Ephesians 5:11)

When we fail to stand against evil and even welcome evil into our midst, we betray our calling. The Church had failed to stand against segregation and Hitler. This opened the door to great suffering and brought disrepute upon the Church.

However, it seems that McNerney would just have us pray, turn our back, and walk on.

Jesus told a parable about a Good Samaritan who took care of a man who had been mugged and left “half dead.” Seeing him, a priest and a Levite crossed over to the opposite side, but why not? Perhaps, like McNerney, they were determined not to be “racked with anxiety” over what to do about this man. Indeed, God is sovereign. It’s His business, right?

However, to be fair to McNerney, he does advocate in favor of love:

·       The only thing that will bring a radical Muslim to his knees is the power, love and grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We cannot allow fear to enter our souls and extinguish our faith or hope in our own country. Fear has no place in the Gospel.

Truly, the Church must lead with love. However, love alone did not stop the Jim Crow laws or Hitler. Force also was necessary.

If Mordechai had thought according to McNerney’s thinking, he might have planted Haman a garden or polished his shoes, once he heard of the edict, inspired by Haman, for the utter destruction of the Jewish people. However, Mordechai knew that stronger measures were needed to rescue his people. Therefore, he prevailed upon Esther to approach the king, even at the risk of her own life.

While we are called to love as Jesus did, sometimes other measures are necessary to protect the innocent. That’s why God had ordained a justice system to wield His vengeful sword (Romans 13:1-4).

It is now common to hear people say that, “If Hitler had just been loved enough, he would have been tamed.” However, this is not the message of Scripture, which acknowledges that sometimes kindness and peace are not enough:

·       If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18)

Sometimes it is not possible, since it doesn’t depend entirely on us. Jesus is our exemplar of love, and yet He was put to death. And He warned that the world would also hate us:

·       “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)

This happens, not because of our lack of love but because of evil. Therefore, there are times when love must cloth itself with coercion—even excommunication. In the case of brethren who had proved that they weren’t amenable to reason and gentleness, Jesus instructed:

·       “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17)

Notice that Jesus didn’t follow McNerney’s admonition: “The only thing that will bring a radical Muslim to his knees is the power, love and grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” If our own brethren won’t always be brought to their knees by love, we should not expect that this one tactic will bring the radical Muslim to his knees.

Nor did Jesus castigate the Church at Pergamum for not loving enough. Instead, He criticized this church for not taking decisive measures against false teaching:

·       “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.” (Revelation 2:14)

Likewise, the Church at Thyatira had not been criticized because they did not love Jezebel enough to bring about her repentance:

·       “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.” (Revelation 2:20-21)

Love will not overcome all evil. In the case of Jezebel, she refused to repent. Meanwhile, the Church at Ephesus was commended because they resorted to more coercive means:

·       “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.” (Revelation 2:2)

Likewise, when Jesus returns, He will return with more than tenderness. The Prophet Malachi gives a description of what His return will be like even for some of His elect:

·       But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. (Malachi 3:2-3)

Jesus will not just come with tenderness. Nevertheless, McNerney is right that we shouldn’t be shaking in fear over the Islamic threat. Our God reigns. However, we must be as wise as serpents and take a meaningful stance against this threat, if not for ourselves, then for the innocent who are now being decimated by this sword.

4 comments:

  1. Danny I wouldn't normally respond to your distortions but to think I prompted this one leaves me wanting to offer some balance.

    First of all, you’ve recast Dan McNerny’s essay to match to your own categories of fear. Your first charge distorts McNerny’s appeal for courage and grace in the face of persecution, stating that he “argues” we should not even fear Islamic oppression, terrorism, and immigration.” I don’t recall McNerny ever mentioning immigration; that is your issue.

    The answer to the title of your response, “Is love and kindness always enough?” depends on how one defines “love and kindness.” You suggest McNerny’s “love and kindness” is a weak sentimentality. You write, “Certainly, we must trust in the Lord and not be ‘racked with anxiety,’ but doesn’t the Church have a responsibility here, at least to advocate for the protection of society and the innocent? And aren’t we showing a lack of love for our neighbor when we remain silent in the face of hundreds of thousands of potential jihadists entering our neighborhoods? McNerney’s only response to evil seems to be to “give up control of our lives” and to live without care before the proven dangers.”

    McNerny speaks from a context of courageous faith in the face of imprisonment—of a church exploding in the face of persecution. You write from a context of control and responsibility. You speak of Church responsibility; that begins with proclaiming Jesus as redeemer, not protector.

    You cite many Scriptures advocating “laws” of compassion and mercy for the poor and oppressed and turn them upside down, advocating for protection from the oppressor. The contrast is stark, to begin with concern for people oppressed and displaced and seeking relief or fear of danger and loss of power and control. To think that anyone but God is in control is a delusion.

    Yes, Christians have a responsibility to be politically active. But that’s not McNerny’s concern here. He advocates we be Christian in how we respond to others who may be different from us culturally but who are also God’s children.

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  2. Dave, Thanks for your response. Please observe that I didn't write that we are in control but that we have certain biblically ordained responsibilities. In contrast to this, McNerney wrote that "The ONLY thing that will bring a radical Muslim to his knees is the power, love and grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ." In claiming that this is our ONLY response, he has truncated our life and responsibilities in Christ.

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  3. I am thankful for Dan McNerny's word to us: the Gospel is on the move in countries like Iran, in the midst of persecution and hardship for Christians there. Fear has absolutely nothing to do with this wonderful expansion of God’s kingdom. Instead, Christians are showing their courage—praying and sharing the Gospel. The church is growing and this is indeed good to hear.
    And then we have Mr. Mann's response. I am sure that he would be the first to agree that we should not fear. But our responsibilities do not end there. There is more that we can do, as Christians. We should be speaking up about these issues—and right now—while we still have some shreds of influence left in this culture. We are called by Christ Himself to be wise as serpents, so let us take that command seriously. For just one example, does that not mean that we should be wise and careful about whom we allow to immigrate into our country?
    We Christians need to really examine what we are seeing and reading, especially from other Christians. And, we need to be charitable; at the very least, civil. Don’t we applaud those niceties of human exchange when we see them on display on our TVs? Did “Anonymous” really need to begin his comments by characterizing Daniel’s words as “distortions”?
    Yes, I enjoyed reading about what is happening in Iran and the admonition to be of good courage from McNerny. But I am also grateful for Daniel Mann’s reminder of what the Bible says about Christians—that we are to be wise. And—although this idea is so counter to the nearly monolithic view of mainstream America today—we also need to be reminded from time to time of the government’s God-ordained role as a wielder of the sword.
    As un-PC as Mann’s words might sound in this perverted political/cultural atmosphere we live in today, those of us who are Christians need to get back to the point where, if something makes sense from the standpoint of the Word, then that ought to be our view. No matter how unpopular…and no matter how much it might cost us.

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  4. Thanks for the affirmative reply, Van. Yes, living counter-culturally and according to Scripture is often a lonely place.

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