Is it Ever Right to be Hostile for the Truth?

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?

Biblical Commands

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.

Biblical Modeling

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.

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6 Responses to Is it Ever Right to be Hostile for the Truth?

  1. Nate says:

    Big fan of the “kill with kindness” approach to changing hearts instead of merely demanding righteousness. I did want to raise a point about your article not being entirely internally consistent with its message. Attacking hostility, or at least the image of it, seems self-defeating. What would be your thoughts on the following duties of a Christian? Advocate all that is righteous, defend all that is righteous, and illuminate every hidden thing.

    Some other thoughts:

    Hostility, as a word, has some ambiguity to it. This was key to clarifying your use of it: “Speaking the truth in love implies the intended result is to restore, not destroy.” If taken as a word meaning violent or harmful, Scripture does give tacit approval in the case of defense where someone else was hostile first. Jesus drove out the peddlers from the Temple because they invaded His house.

    The only time offensive hostility is advocated in Scripture is when God commanded the Israelites to destroy the inhabitants of the Promised Land. But applying the word hostility seems awkward (at least to me) because the Israelites were 1) acting under God’s direct command for a limited purpose, and 2) clearing out a land for whom God had transferred ownership.

    So the question ultimately raised by Christians who feel a need to be hostile, is at what point do we engage repel mode, and to what extent are we to repel, when we can see powers and principalities gathering their strength to invade our homes and families? There’s an underlying fear that the enemy is becoming too strong. We do have God on our side, but God also calls us to be prepared (i.e. when He told His disciples to do what they could to buy swords.)

    • Adam Miller says:

      Thanks Nate. I wasn’t fully happy with how the article panned out. I had such a grandiose image of it in my mind when I thought it through before writing. There are several things I was unable to cover. War and self defense were two of those things. I did, however, write a review of a book called ‘Blood Guilt’ a few weeks back, which I feel addressed the issue of physical hostility.

      The point I was attempting to make was about verbal hostility. What I was intending with the comment about speaking the truth in love was in line with my thoughts on verbal opposition. Whether it is preemptive or reactionary, it’s goal is always to restore, not destroy. This is consistent with the Matthew 18 principle of Church discipline and with Jesus whipping the money changers who were destroying the purpose of the temple, Jesus was restoring it.

      I’ve seen, especially more lately, how Christians are becoming vicious with their speech. I’ve never been comfortable with Christians publicly saying they wanted to shoot Bin Laden in the head. I think there is a big difference between that and someone stating that they felt he should be brought to justice. I simply wanted to write a piece that pointed out that thin line.

      Hostility is ambiguous and surely anyone can make the claim that what they said was true, therefore they weren’t wrong to say it. I think it’s horrendous that Rush called Sandra Fluke a slut. Christians should not defend him for that, on the contrary, Christians should make it public that they do not respect actions like that. But after seeing several of my friends giving Rush the FB high five, I was appalled.

      I think it is important that Christians stand up for the truth, fight for the truth, and defend it, but we need to consider loving ways to do it. The world is going to respond negatively when we make comments that homosexuality is a sin and they need to be saved. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say it. It’s not a jaded statement or intended to inflict hurt. As well, it is consistent with Scripture. But to make statements that homosexuals will not make good parents, homosexuals cannot reproduce, etc. Those are clearly unnecessary.

      The second thing I wanted to cover, but didn’t have the time or find the place to squeeze it in, was the Titus 3:10 principle which states that after the second admonition to reject a divisive person. I forget this too often, but there’s really no good reason to continue a heated discussion after your second remarks, unless they are to apologize for your actions.

      Does that clarify my thoughts on the matter?

  2. Nate says:

    Oh I was just thinking with my types on this one. Not sure I agree about not naming sins. Proverbs 26:4-5 addresses this most appropriately. Society has gotten a lot more confusing since the days of the Israelites, so I’m still trying to wrap my head around to what extent it is right to drive out those who sin and to what extent we are to live side by side (all in a loving manner.) The clues, I’m sure, are in Jesus’s life, being a cultural radical rather than a political radical. Maybe the wicked/sin language needs to be more reserved for those who are of the faith or at least have a strong understanding of the faith, and the church should move more towards a language about foolishness to describe sinful behavior by those outside the faith.

    I’m in it to fish for men, but I’m also in it to build a family to subdue the earth. (I understand that Christ’s Kingdom is not worldly, but that alone doesn’t negate the more material mandate.) Is a church community a family?

    • Adam Miller says:

      Not sure what you mean by not naming sin? Did I say that somewhere? I think we should call sin what it is. I don’t think we need to call people sluts.

      I think we agree on the practical matters here, though we would differ on our views of eschatology.

      I think it’s playing a semantic game when we call the church a family. While it can be clear in some people’s perspectives, I prefer to use biblical terms and call it a body.

      • Nate says:

        Probably. I found this paper a good overview, though the critique unconvincing, of what I am increasingly being convinced of: http://www.reformedreader.org/rbs/tarba.htm

        On naming/not naming a sin, I think it would be important for me to warn someone that what they are doing is destructive if I love them as I would myself. Destructive actions are sin. All sins are destructive. No righteous actions are destructive. Nothing destructive is righteous. Granted, I have to clarify this because I see God retaining the only rightness of destruction, hence, in part, why we should very much fear God. Additionally, if the foolish actions of someone puts my person or my family at risk, here I must deviate from merely warning to actively repelling.

        Body/Family, there seems to me a hierarchy of bodies. Christ and Man > Husband and Wife > Children and Parents > Family and Church > Church and Community > Community and “Greater Community”…where community is any set of shared cultural bonds in addition to those of religious fellowship. Stated differently, my duty would be to my relationship with God before my relationship to my wife before my relationship to my kids before my relationship to my home church before my relationship to my neighbors before my relationship to my business before my relationship to my industry before my relationship to my nation, etc. All that to say, I will shoot my fellow citizen if they encroach on my family. If that’s not moral, then how to justify the harm done to family? What if the harm begins with the creation of a new civic law or the degrading of a cultural institution (i.e. the idea that ladies shouldn’t act like or praise the behavior of sluts)?

        I think there are grounds for calling someone a slut, or choad (I had to look up derogatory names for men), but I am unsure what those exact grounds are as the only Biblical grounds would be for defense. To address Rush, he clearly wasn’t defending anyone so I’m not defending his remarks. But it raised the topic in my mind. Thought I’d put it out there.

  3. Pingback: Are You Inexcusable? « He Dwells — The B'log in My Eye

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