Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Christian and Controversies

We all love to win. In fact, there is nobody who loves to win more than the theologian. The history of theology is all too often a long exhibition of a desire to win. - Francis Schaeffer

The following post is a reflection based upon the book by Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1976).

What is the distinguishing mark of a true child of God? According to Francis Schaeffer, "Love - and the unity it attests to - is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father." (p. 35) At first glance, it seems that Schaeffer is simply regurgitating the same definition of love as propounded by the ecumenical, syncretistic wing of Evangelicalism. The world likewise is inclined to define "love" as a romantic, deep inner feeling - more like a kind of sentimentalism or emotionalism. This "love" is all encompassing and all embracing. It transcends every breed of false philosophy, worldliness, and loose living. But are Christians indeed commanded to show before a watching world this sort of "love?"

I believe Schaeffer clearly elucidated the biblical meaning of love when he dealt with the question of, "What happens, then, when we must differ with other brothers in Christ because of the need also to show forth God's holiness either in doctrine or in life?" (p. 25) In other words, when faced with controversies - be it doctrinal or experiential - how are true brethren-in-Christ supposed to react and respond (cf. John 13:34-35; John 17:21)? When confrontation becomes necessary so as to uphold the holiness of God and the truth of the Word, what should be the Christian’s attitude and reaction to such situations?

I shall now reiterate the following points as observed by Schaeffer. "First, we should never come to such difference with true Christians without regret and without tears. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Believe me, evangelicals often have not shown it. We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men's mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down. This can never show a real oneness among Christians." (p. 26)

Loving confrontation is sometimes necessary, but nevertheless, such confrontation might become the bedrock for further bitterness and controversies in the future. A Christian man does not come to such controversies with an appetite whet by the prospect of blood and claw. A peaceable man approaches such controversies with a distaste that is rightly contrasted with the eagerness with which the moth dances around the candlelight. It is no pleasant task to rebuke or to correct error, and such correction must not be done apart from the sincere desire to edify and build up the brother-in-Christ. But it must be emphasized that a genuinely loving Christian will love his brother enough to drag him away from the fire of self-destruction. The godly pastor will love his congregation enough to risk reputation, popularity and offerings so as to lead his flock to safe pastures and clear waters. And woe is the man who, seeing his sheep running astray, keeps his peace and usher the flock to the wolves. Woe is the man who is unable to find the courage to rebuke error, and yet maintain a fa├žade of holiness, peace and unity before his flock. Such is the cause of ruin for many Christian churches. Nevertheless, we will do well to follow Schaeffer’s admonition, "The world must observe that, when we must differ with each other as true Christians, we do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God's sake. If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed." (pp. 26-27)

Secondly, we must have the maturity to discern the gravity of the differences that separate brethren-in-Christ. Not all differences hold the same measure of importance within the Lord’s church. Some are only matters of preference, while others may even be soul-damning errors. But in all areas of differences, Christians must possess "a practical demonstration of love in the midst of the dilemma even when it is costly." (p. 28) Schaeffer elucidates further, "The more serious the wrongness is, the more important it is to exhibit the holiness of God, to speak out concerning what is wrong. At the same time, the more serious the differences become, the more important it becomes that we look to the Holy Spirit to enable us to show love to the true Christians with whom we must differ. If it is only a minor difference, showing love does not take much conscious consideration. But where the difference becomes really important, it becomes proportionately more important to speak for God's holiness. And it becomes increasingly important in that place to show the world that we still love each other." (p. 27)

Love must never be confused with an accommodating spirit towards error, or an attitude of indifference masquerading as an appearance of peaceable unity and comradeship. This is not biblical love. This is the devil’s lie. It is the devil’s way of removing all forms of correction and rebuke by imposing a charge of bigotry and hatred against the one who raises an opposition against error. And how else would the devil deceive the church into capitulating with error unless such godly corrections are silenced, and better still, redefined as anti-Christian pride and intolerance?

Is the true mark of the Christian merely "love?" Many religions and cults preach about love. Buddhists and New-Agers are able to exhibit love in the form of philanthropy, kindness, accommodation and tolerance. So how does such "love" distinguish the Christian man from adherents of other religions? Of course it cannot! Biblical love is holy love. It is the form of love that must hate evil, sin and worldliness. This love is first and foremost directed towards God and His Word, which is subsequently manifested as obedience to his commandments. As the Apostle John has declared, "But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him (1 John 2:5)." We must, therefore, never attempt to create an antithesis between holiness and love. The Christian who claims to love God and his brethren must first be exemplary in his Christian life. His walk must be marked by godliness, holiness, and truth. Only then can he claim to love his brethren, and not by giving in to error, but by an active and loving confrontation of such worldliness, sins, and untruths.

As Schaeffer emphasized, "So often people think that Christianity is only something soft, only a kind of gooey love that loves evil equally with good. This is not the biblical position. The holiness of God is to be exhibited simultaneously with love. We must be careful therefore, not to say that what is wrong is right, whether it is in the area of doctrine or of life, in our own group or another. Anywhere what is wrong is wrong, and we have a responsibility in that situation to say that what is wrong is wrong. But the observable love must be there regardless of the cost." (p. 28) True Christian love can only be demonstrated with power when there is moral courage, godly integrity, and biblical obedience to God’s Word. A coward who pussyfoots around crucial issues, and is unable to find the nerve to rebuke sin within the congregation might appear to be a loving, patient, and understanding leader. But in the eyes of the holy God, such "love" is abhorrent, impotent, and characterizes the spirit of the blind watchmen of ancient Israel (cf. Isaiah 56:10).

Finally, we must accept Schaeffer’s proposal that the proper way of resolving differences amongst Christians is to adopt a problem-solving mind-set. He writes, "[One] way we can show and exhibit love without sharing in our brother's mistake is to approach the problem with a desire to solve it, rather than with a desire to win. We all love to win. In fact, there is nobody who loves to win more than the theologian. The history of theology is all too often a long exhibition of a desire to win." (p. 29)

It is a fact that personal pride may grip the heart of the Christian man, and such sinful attitudes are often manifested as a lustful desire to win. It is a carnal desire to win every debate and argument, not for the edification of the saints, but rather for the puffing up of one’s pride. We must rather approach the sinning brethren with an appeal towards correction and reformation. True Christian concern and love stems from a heart which is yielded to the Word of God, and this submission to Christ’s Lordship is subsequently extrapolated to a godly longing for the building-up of the brethren. The Christian who is obedient to Christ would want to see similar obedience and submission in the lives of his fellow brethren. As such, such a Christian man has mastered his impetus to win. He seeks to edify, to build-up, to reform.

While we agree with Francis Schaeffer that the mark of a Christian is love, we must be reminded that such a love is radically different from the "love" as perceived by the world and other religions. It stands in contradistinction from the lovey-dovey, mawkish sentimentalism as propounded by the pagans. In times of confrontation and differences, the Christian is reminded to balance godly love and holiness, "without which no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14)."


Jenson said...

Did Francis S write this before "The Great Evangelical Disaster"? If so, he really shot his own foot with that one, didn't he?

Great post. Good ol' BP man - haha! Vincent, you are a "dyed in the wool" BP-man (or is it Tow-ite)?

What next...
"Systematic Theology as taught by Bushell" or
"Why fluoridated water is the number of the beast" or
"Premillenialism according to Jesus and the Apostles"

vincit omnia veritas said...


Heheh ... you know me well enough to suggest that premillennialism is according to Jesus and the Apostles :)

Perhaps fluoridated water is out of date. Why, maybe if you put Bush and CNN and Fox TV together, we may be able to figure out the number of the beast. Some might say Mediacorp and NKF.

Yes, Mark of the Christian came before the Great Evangelical Disaster. That explains the word "disaster."

vincit omnia veritas said...

Dyed in the Wool? I didn't know I was that hairy.

Spiritual Israel said...

Looks like this is a relevant book for those Christians who are in the midst of a doctrinal controversies.

Mike Messerli said...

thanks for the post. I read this book when it first came out, and it was an important book in my thinking as a young pastor....thanks for your thoughts and the flashback.

Jenson said...

Helpful, in light of all our discussions.