It seems that every election year the politics get more intense and the discussion gets more heated. Christians who have remained relatively dormant in their faith throughout the years suddenly become active at fighting for the precepts of Scripture, i.e. conservative, judeo-Christian values. If we could get people as excited about sharing the gospel as they are about supporting a political candidate, the political factors would seem insignificant in comparison to the lives being changed.
Many Christians are even hostile in their presentation of the gospel, noting that the gospel itself is offensive. While it is true that the ‘good news’ is offensive to the unredeemed, it does not justify a hostile method in presenting it.
Is it ever right for Christians to become hostile for the truth? Lately I’ve heard Christians suggesting that Obama is a snake, calling the Republican nominees sleazy, and proclaiming Sandra Fluke a slut. Christians are burning Korans, picketing soldiers funerals, and writing blazing articles about how thankful they are for the atrocities of war. None of these seem right within a Christian worldview, but is it ever justifiable to be hostile for the truth?
The highest authority we have in looking for direct answers are the specific commands written in Scripture. We are told, clearly, to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). This statement in no way precludes the importance of speaking the truth, but it must be presented in a way that represents grace and mercy. Speaking the truth in love implies the intended result is to restore, not destroy.
In Romans 12, right before Paul teaches about how Christians should relate to government, he presents an important principle, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:18-21 esv) Paul makes it pretty clear, that hostility is to be a last resort. At the least, Christians should be in support of a ‘just war’ position and peaceful relations. The important principle here is that hostile efforts result in hostile responses. The outcome of war is never worth the casualties to get there. Furthermore, Paul tells us not to seek vengeance on our own, but to leave it to the wrath of God. Today’s Christian blood-lust for justice against terrorist attackers goes beyond the basic principles of criminal justice and steps into treacherous waters of prejudice and hate. Neither which are characteristic of Christians.
The second highest authority we have for understanding a complete worldview is to understand how Christ and the saints of the Bible handled certain circumstances. Many Christians will use the example of Christ to negate biblical commands. This should never be so. Christ’s actions and the actions of saints in the Bible should never be held to the same authority as the specific commands from Scripture, though they should always be viewed together.
Christ’s whipping the money changers in the the temple court and calling the pharisees ‘a brood of vipers’ is not permission for Christians to do the same. The amount of times I’ve heard Christians use Jesus as an excuse for their inexcusable behaviors is deplorable, and more in line with a toddler’s understanding of what’s acceptable than a mature Christian. At the least, if we are going to follow Jesus’ example it needs to be used in similar context, i.e. the corruption of religion not politics.
In this section it is important to note is that God’s wrath burns hot against the unrighteous. Throughout the Old Testament God had given leaders and prophets the proclamations that He was going to cast judgement on sinners. Yet, the response of the leaders and prophets being given the imprecatory decree was to remind God of His mercy and grace. In fact, the one time that the prophet did not remind God of His benevolence, the people repented and were forgiven and the prophet was scolded for his bitter heart. That story was of Jonah and Nineveh.
Other examples modeled for us by judges, prophets, kings, and apostles suggest that there is a specific time and place in which it is appropriate to be hostile for the truth, but in each of these instances the opposition is applied to those who uniquely share a common authority, and therefore should know better. In these instances, the position being fought for is always grounded in definitive authority and it does not reflect specific values. Paul, probably the most offensive apostle of them all, called Jews dogs when they would bring down the grace of God for the traditions of man. Yet, uniquely, most of his attacks were on the religiously overzealous, not the mild mannered.
The Problem with Hostility
Hostility is often used as a means to emphasize the weight of a particular point. It is probably used too often and too loosely that it has lost its significant ability to warrant anyone’s attention. Everyone has something to yell about these days. But should Christians resort to shocking language to make their points? I think if Christians were more careful with their words, and spent more time developing their arguments, they would be able to find a much more civil approach to the argument.
Lately, I have been delighted to see how some young people are changing the tide to the fruitless hostile approaches that have gotten Christian values nowhere in decades. This article about a young man leading a successful campaign against abortion represents a more positive and effective approach contrary to the 180 video, who’s ‘converts’ seem less genuine. It’s interesting to note how one organization, approaching the problem with sincere love and concern, is making a much broader difference than those attempting to attack it head on. Christians are known to be hostile toward a long list of depraved activities: abortion, pornography, homosexuality, socialism, Islam, etc. Because of this hostility, a great chasm has divided those sent to carry the great commission with those who need it the most.
The Principle for Hostility
The answer, then, to this complex question is this: hostility is not a characteristic that Christians should be proud of, if anyone is going to be hostile they had better have definitive reason to support their claims, and hostility should never be used to divide but instead to unite. Because this is dealing with such a broad view of Scriptures, it is important that we strive to understand individually what it means to remain peaceful with all and yet earnestly contend for the truth. I will admit, I have not always been the most exemplary Christian in this regard, but it is something that the Church as a whole must strive for if we are going to be both salt and light to what the Bible teaches and what redemption brings about in the life of a believer.