Social media can sometimes be the most discouraging thing to look at. For one thing, there’s no accountability and anyone will say anything. Additionally, the disconnect from any real consequences empowers people to say things they would never say to someone’s face. The worst of it, for me at least, is to see how some Christians respond to things on the internet.
Whether it’s Bruce Jenner, vaccinations, the abortion debate, same-sex marriage, gluten free diets, the uses of essential oils, or political issues, I have seen Christians act as aggressive and bloodthirsty as Somali pirates or ISIS militants. Some of it is the zealous opinions on the issues themselves, but I’ve seem some people come into a discussion with real questions or expressing honest hurts and then get torn apart. It goes beyond the internet. I know people who were asked to leave a church because they asked questions that “we don’t ask here” or because they have a different understanding of some theological issue. There is a time to stand for truth, and as a pastor, to guard the flock, but the verbal and spiritual abuse can get nasty sometimes. The Bible speaks to this clearly: “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, yet have not love I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2). In other words, if I have sound theology, but care more about my thoughts than I do about people and how that theology applies to them, I am wrong and outside the will of God.
Sadly, the church, in general, is know far better for what we are against and how unlovingly we can take a stand than we are known by what we are for. What we are against should be known … by virtue of what we are for. We are for truth, and there is no better way to teach the truth than to live by and demonstrate it. We are for true, biblical love. What better way to tell about that then to have our actions and attitudes match our words and, more importantly, God’s word. We are for salvation in Christ, so maybe they should encounter Jesus among us instead of our pride. In fact, the church cannot be afraid of bad theology, of disobedience, the sins of others, or of differing opinions. All that does is make us callous and judgmental, disconnected from those who need us most. Instead, the Bible says, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1), and that we should “Accept him whose faith is weak without passing judgment on disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). To put this in other words, don’t be afraid of someone else’s bad theology. Walk with them and help them straighten it out with loving patience, humility, mercy, and grace. You might even learn something in the process that straightens you out.
When God starts to stir someone’s heart and they are beginning to question their life and choices, they are likely going to have hard questions as they try to understand the work God is doing in them. The church needs to be the safest place in the world for people–particularly the younger generation–to work through and walk through the issues, circumstances, and struggles of life. We cannot treat people who think differently as thought they’re lepers, or worse, our enemy. There is a distinction between those who are stout in their rebellion and those who are lost and starting to see the light. There is a difference between the belligerent or self-righteous and those who are honestly just trying to put the pieces of God’s mystery together. Humbly discern the two and be willing to patiently, kindly, and selflessly walk beside them. Guide them back to the truth and help them to see. It’s not about having all the right answers, knowing chapter and verse, or getting them to mimic some churchy behavior. It’s about showing them the truth and love of Christ. His Spirit is here, at work, and we are his body.
God doesn’t need us to defend him. It really is a silly thought. He can take care of himself, right? So when we flare up, who’s that about? When our insecurities get the better of us we will respond with anger, apathy, or flippantly dismiss someone because we think we know the biblical stance on their issue. This isn’t about issues. It’s about people. We may very well be right, but God’s work is bigger than just being right about something. If Jesus had taken that approach people like Zacchaeus, the woman at the well, the Roman official, and the Syrophoenician woman would never have known truth and love and come to repentance and found grace. Don’t worry, the world will still hate you. Jesus promised that. But let’s be hated for the right reasons. The difference is, when we are a safe house for those whose hearts God is stirring, and for those whom God is calling to repentance, we won’t wind up working against God.