Jeffrey L. Samelson
“I’m confused,” we might say. “You accuse me of being hateful, unloving, and unworthy of the name ‘Christian’ when I say God has much to say about sexual relationships. But at the same time you say you are not hateful or unloving when you say with strong language that I am wrong. What principle are you following? Have you actually thought any of this through, or are you just more comfortable accusing me of hate than actually considering what God has to say and that you might, in fact, be wrong?”
If you are at all like me, saying something like that is the way you would like to bring many a conversation or confrontation to a conclusion—or, perhaps, add to the beginning of an actually productive exchange of ideas. It’s a sad fact of life that many in our culture have decided both that any criticism of others’ values and behaviors (theirs in particular) is hateful and that their own criticism of Christian standards and teachings cannot possibly be hateful.
What is even more tragic is that such thinking is not limited to those outside our churches. Many Christians seem to operate as though they have been personally authorized (by what or whom is unclear) to redefine and redirect the teachings of Christ’s church to make them more acceptable to our culture, simultaneously labeling the faithful as “backward” and “unloving.” They see no contradictions or irony in affirming on the one hand that they love Jesus and believe that the Bible is God’s Word, but on the other hand claiming that Scripture’s condemnations of presently popular sins and calls for repentance are “not what Jesus would say” or “things real Christians don’t believe anymore.”
Our first instinct in responding might be anger or resentment at the idea that holding faithfully to God’s own definitions of what is loving and Christian makes us unloving and unchristian. We might also want to complain about the hypocrisy of those who sanctimoniously judge us as evil for making judgments. Yet such reactions will do little to correct the underlying error of these accusations and judgments.
With non-spiritual criticisms we seek to restore a foundation of logic and mutual respect in our discussions of hot-button issues that put us at odds with the culture’s prevailing worldview. Gently pointing out their contradictions and appealing to fairness might open the door to explaining that our criticisms are not, as they suppose, about lifting ourselves up over others as righteous judges but about pointing others to truths they need and will be blessed to understand.
With misguided Christians we must stress that when we say what God himself says about sin, we are not only speaking the truth but we also are speaking it in love. To refuse to call sinners to repentance is unloving because it leaves them condemned to an eternity in hell. Christlike love desires sinners to repent of their sins and to find salvation in Jesus. There is no other way to heaven.
These are not mere academic or abstract disputes; real lives and real relationships hang in the balance—not just with “those people” but with friends and family members. We cannot let our own discomfort or fear stand in the way of what needs to be believed and spoken. It is not only possible to love someone dearly and still call him or her “wrong,” but where sin is concerned, it’s also absolutely necessary.
Contributing editor Jeff Samelson is pastor at Christ, Clarksville, Maryland.
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Author: Jeffrey L. Samelson
Volume 104, Number 3
Issue: March 2017
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