"And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the LORD." (Jeremiah 9:3)
The above verse immediately upon my reading of it became precious to me. The land of Israel had become polluted with lies and the reasoning given was that the people were not "valiant for the truth". This verse in our age is like a rabid rhinoceros in a fine china shop, upon which tranquilizers have become useless. I say this because the spirit of our age is one that has given up on objective truth.
When I say objective truth I mean truth that is true for everyone, whether they fancy it or not, whether they know of it or not, and whether they accept it or not. Modern man has given this up as he has either accepted that there is no God, or if there is how should I know what He's all about? Thus, everyone has their own "truth", and it is the height of insolence to come along and correct another saying, "Sir, you are wrong."
This is very much the spirit of our age.
Now in this post I am not aiming to address the unbeliever, but rather how this spirit of the age or zeitgeist has affected the Christian mind. Ever since my coming to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ I have heard incessant calls for unity, and observed furrowed brows in discussion of church division. That seemed all well and good until as I grew in my knowledge both of the scriptures and what was going on in churches, that I realized that some people claiming to be Christians believed some pretty off the wall stuff.
Some were saying, "Come to Jesus he'll give you that raise. And send me a check as a seed of faith showing that you believe your raise is coming."
Others were saying, "Remember, O most loving Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, we turn to you, O Virgins of virgins, our Mother. To you we come, before you we stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, do not despise our petitions, but in your mercy hear us and answer us. Amen." (link here)
Still others said, "You need to be baptized in order to be saved."
Many females of the more "progressive" type have said, "When it says 'I don't permit a woman to teach' it just applied to that specific church for a few years because the women there were especially rowdy, so women should be in leadership, remember Deborah."
Some other chap would come along and say, "If you just believe, you will be healed from your sickness, because healing is in the atonement."
Yet another fella would say, "When the Bible says 'predestined' it just means God saw what you would choose ahead of time."
Lastly, and this one takes the cake for me, as I heard a wild eyed lewd fellow of the baser sort say in all seriousness, "In heaven all the women will become men, if it wasn't so we'd all be a fighting over who would get the girl and that just wouldn't be heaven, now would it? People fighting all the time like that, no sir, not in heaven, so all women become men."
Well, lets get out the marshmallows and hot dogs for a hearty round of Kumbaya arms locked as we celebrate our unity around the campfire. Surely this is the appropriate action as division and splitting would simply be out of line right?
The answer I hope is obvious, the main problem comes when in our dividing we behave less than Christian. Ugliness is detectable to all men, and when Christians behave in an ugly manner towards one another the watching world has grounds to say, "See! See! Where is the manifestation of what you talk about!"
Christ Himself said this as he stated that "the world will know you are Christians by your love". Note that He didn't say by your seamless agreement and unity in all things, but by our love. Schaeffer stressed this point greatly in his wonderful book "The Mark of the Christian". It is a small book and it is less academic than Schaeffer's other works, so if you have the means it is simply a must read.
One of my favorite Schaeffer quotes comes from this book and reads as follows:
"Before a watching world, an observable love in the midst of difference will show a difference between Christian's differences and other men's differences. The world may not understand what the Christians are disagreeing about, but they will very quickly understand the difference of our differences in an open and observable love on a practical level.
That is different. Can you see why Jesus said this was the thing that would arrest the attention of the world? You cannot expect the world to understand doctrinal differences, especially in our day when the existence of truth and absolutes are considered unthinkable even as concepts." (Francis Schaeffer)
The point stressed is that the world knows of disagreements and divisions, we see them all the time, in marriages, friendships, and of course in our points of view. It is in these areas that the grace of God can shine, as it is not in the areas that we agree upon that will demonstrate love but where we disagree. It is here, when most we are tempted to ugliness that the church can stand before the watching world, not shirking the disagreement or sweeping it under the rug, but boldly having the matter out...all the while not ceasing to love one another.
In part this is why rug sweeping is so detestable, not only is the matter not resolved, but further, an opportunity to be the church before the watching world is missed.
We are called to love all men as ourselves, because all men bear the image of God and thus have value and dignity commanding our respect and love. Thus, in our evangelistic witness as well as in our relationships with Christians with whom we disagree sharply, we are called to "Speak the truth in love." (Eph 4)
Ours is an age skittishly averse to saying, "They are wrong." It smacks of arrogance, because nobody can know the truth, and thus nobody can utter such as pronouncement with authority. This again is the spirit of the age, and more often than not Christians react in like manner to such utterances.
Rather than throwing truth under the bus and leaping into relativism we need a robust display of speaking the truth with love. There will come points where the person with whom we disagree is so far out that they probably are not really a Christian, nonetheless, we are called in our being valiant for truth to love that person and hope for their repentance even though they may be excommunicated from the church.
This is the attitude of Paul in his epistle to Titus as he states that we are to be, "showing all meekness unto all men for ourselves were onetime foolish" (Titus 3). There is no justification for displacing compassion, even for people espousing foolish things, as we ourselves were once foolish. Equally, there is no room for acting as though it were not foolishness, a spade must be called a spade.
I must confess as I wrap up here that I have failed terribly at this, my disposition is to be like a wild ogre clubbing people in the name of the truth yearning for more blood. At other times I have been silent when I know I should say something. I have failed at this in both ways, being zealous for the truth at the expense of the person, and being zealous for relationships at the expense of the truth.
However, the times by the grace of God I have seen the balance struck it has been glorious, in evangelism as well as doctrinal disagreements. The paraphrased quotes I gave vary in their degree of gravity, however, one thing they have in common is that they are issues we absolutely have to divide over. Yet, in our division we are called to love one another, as this is the mark of the Christian, love.