In the light of various posts last week regarding the “Strange Fire” conference hosted by John MacArthur, and the response to it by Mark Driscoll who stood outside the event giving away copies of his book to people attending the conference, I posted several blogs (written by others) regarding these events on my own Facebook page. I did so with a minimum of personal comment. I confess that I am conflicted about posting these kinds of items, much less passing along my comments on them. Why?
First, I am reminded to consider what the Apostle Paul says about love. When I do this I am always forced to hit “pause” and slow down. Here are his memorable words (1 Corinthians 13:4–7) in case you’ve forgotten:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (NRSV).
Years ago my wife and I began to use these verses to ask ourselves a simple question when we had a relationship problem: “Are my words, or actions, filled with love according to this clear teaching of the New Testament?” I have found that a prayerful pause over these words, and the questions that they so powerfully pose to my mind and heart, will generally stop me from saying or doing something that I will regret later on. I still react with far too much passion in my voice and spirit than I desire. I will continue to struggle against this besetting sin because I know “passions and desires” (this is what the ancient Christian tradition called this problem) are not neutral within the human spirit.
Second, I realized that I had made a private commitment several years ago to not engage these types of brothers in a public way. (I made this commitment in order to protect my own soul since I have experienced my share of public comment from Christian teachers who often misrepresent what I’ve said and what I believe.) I regret that I went beyond my own private commitment in this particular case. To be truthful this whole business of commenting on public controversies is a veritable minefield. Wherever you step you may harm yourself and others. I have learned that it is better to keep your silence and pray for others in most cases. I did not do that last week. I regret that deeply. I do not expect some to understand this stance but for me it is where I need to be.
The position that I have taken does not mean that others should never comment about controversial subjects where it is appropriate to do so. In some cases I believe such comments are called for so that those who follow various Christian teachers will hear a different perspective about controversial subjects. I have said here, at several times and in a number of different ways, that many conservative evangelicals do not differentiate between dogma (which is central for understanding the Christian faith) and teaching, or doctrine. Following the Reformation, and the early creeds of that period, evangelicals increasingly moved toward sects and religious movements that were detached from catholic orthodoxy. The result is something far worse than what John MacArthur has called “charismatic chaos.” I suppose I would call this problem “evangelical chaos.” (This is clearly a major reason why some evangelicals eventually become Catholic or Orthodox, though it is plainly not the whole story.) You can be the judge of where this applies and how. I know this problem when I see it and do not need to wage this battle. I grieve that so many Protestant evangelicals can turn the Christian faith on such a narrow point of private interpretation and then feel that they are called by God to regard most other Christians as outside the faith.
Finally, I believe the very best way for people to grow is not by engaging in controversial Christian apologetics aimed at fellow believers. Indeed, the best way to defend the faith is to live it and the best way to live it is to feed your soul on the truth that leads you to Jesus and that truth is love. Why is this so hard to see?
I am not always a fan of The Message, which is a paraphrase of the Bible that sometimes sings powerfully and sometimes includes a discordant note here and there. In this case the words of 1 Corinthians 13;4-7 in The Message are worth hearing:
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Far more important than understanding doctrine is love. If that statement troubles you then I earnestly beg you to humble your mind and heart before the mystery of Christ and his great love for you. I am reminded of the words to a modern song that frame John MacArthur’s own powerful and fruitful radio ministry, “O how he loves you and me . . .”
A dear friend, Pastor Mark Moore in Plano, Texas, wrote a blog yesterday that summarizes my thoughts about all of this very well. He writes a letter titled: “Dear Christian Bloggers.” Here is some of Mark’s post:
Why do you rejoice in wrongdoing? It’s as if some of you have blogs just so you will have a place to point out the wrongdoing of others.
Don’t you realize that most people enter into the Christian blogosphere and hear only noisy gongs and clanging cymbals?
Let me remind you that my fellow apostle, John, wrote that God is love. If love is not rude, and God is love, then God is not rude. Therefore be godly in your discourse. Don’t sin by being rude to one another.
Yes, rudeness is sin.
Jesus told us that the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another. I’m not sure that the Christian blogosphere is doing much for our claim to be his disciples.
Blog in such a way that your blogs and comment sections will not be used against you on the day of judgment.
So go on blogging, but as you blog be sure and remember Jesus, who left you an example so that you might follow in his footsteps…when he was insulted he did not reply with insults (1 Peter 2:21, 23).
If you will remember Jesus, who was crucified unjustly, you will surely be alright. Just type as if your fingers belong to him.
You can read Mark’s entire blog post at: http://markmooreblog.wordpress.com. Mark knows what he writes about since he was once connected with one of the major controversialists in this current story. In fact, Mark met me in that particular context when I was invited to teach a group of pastors when he was in that particular group at the time. Since then we have tried to help one another become more accountable to the love of Jesus in our speech and life together. Thanks Mark for reminding me of what I wanted to write Tuesday night before I read your post yesterday. Well done brother, well done. You have helped me recover the priority of my mission. I am profoundly grateful.
My wife urged me to delete all my public links to the stories about this recent controversy from my public Facebook page. After praying about this I agreed with her, and what I believe to have been the Spirit’s leading, and removed those links last evening.