Not by Angry Tirades

We seem to be at the tail end of this worldwide event called COVID-19, and yet if the Lord sees fit to allow this affliction a bit longer, we will strive to do as he commands and rejoice in all things. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes. 5:16-18)

As the crisis seems to be abating I have begun to reflect on what we’ve had the opportunity to learn over the last 15 months. I have probably not grieved anything more than the disunity that has been brought upon churches and their leaders not so much by the pandemic itself, but by agents of disruption within the churches.

The foundation of our unity is the glory of God

The unity of God’s people is of monumental importance to God. In John 17:22 Jesus, in the course of his prayer for his disciples, says, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…” The foundation of our unity is the glory of God. 

Over the last year, we have seen fractures and disunity among Christians and one reason for this is that we have not been as focused as we should on God’s glory. We have instead been focused on secondary matters. And rather than naming these secondary matters, it will suffice to say that ALL matters are secondary to God’s glory. And many matters secondary to God’s glory have occupied our minds and this, unsurprisingly, has not led to unity.

As a blessing in the midst of what seems to be a curse, we have had clearly illustrated for us various ways that are not effective in bringing glory to God. These double as very effective ways to foster disunity among Christians. God – as he always does – has made these negative examples lessons for our benefit and refinement. 

How can we best bring glory to God and magnify his glory to those who do not yet know him? 

Not by angry tirades. 

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” – James 1:19-20

Not by disrespectfully belittling those in authority. 

“I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” – 1 Tim. 2:1-2

Not by clinging to teachers who tell us the sweet mistruths we desire to hear.

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” – 2 Tim 4:3-4

Not by raising awareness for those of whom God says to beware.

“I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.” Rom. 16:17-18

Not by promoting those who twist scripture.

“There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” – 2 Peter 3:16-18

Not by praising those who claim they can add words to scripture.

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” – Rev. 22:18-19

Not by allying ourselves with false teachers.

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain”. – 1 Tim. 6:3-5

But by Humility, Gentleness, and Patience  

There are good and godly ways to oppose, expose, and resist, but there has been an obvious and fundamental lack of humility in those who have placed themselves at centre stage and demanded the spotlight. This will never foster unity and it will not bring glory to God. Instead, we are urged to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3)

May the post-pandemic days, months, and years be filled with generous, courageous, and humble men and women who are servants of God and interested in His glory and not their own.

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Col. 4:5-6)

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An Appeal to Pastor Friends (and others) – guest post by Dr. Stan Fowler

Some of you have led your church to disobey governmental restrictions that suspend your public gatherings, and others of you are thinking about it. Some of you have suggested that those of us who accept the temporary restrictions just don’t understand the nature of the church. As a friend and brother in Christ, I appeal to you to dial back the rhetoric and reconsider your choice.

Dr. Stan Fowler is Professor Emeritus of Theology at Heritage College & Seminary. He is an elder at Grandview Baptist Church in Kitchener, and has been in pastoral ministry since 1972 and theological education since 1980. He is the husband of one wife, the father of four, and the grandfather of six. (Facebook/Twitter)

Below are Dr. Fowler’s thoughts on the current restrictions and a word of caution and encouragement to fellow pastors and church leaders.

Some of you have led your church to disobey governmental restrictions that suspend your public gatherings, and others of you are thinking about it. Some of you have suggested that those of us who accept the temporary restrictions just don’t understand the nature of the church. As a friend and brother in Christ, I appeal to you to dial back the rhetoric and reconsider your choice.

Many thoughtful people have argued that the lockdowns are not really the best way to balance all the legitimate interests during the pandemic, and that is a debate that needs to occur, but good people differ on that question. If you accept the idea of a declared emergency, then you should admit that whether the current governmental choices are right or not, it is not a case of tyranny. The governing officials have to decide which “experts” to listen to, and they may have picked the wrong group, but let’s admit that we don’t have a word from God that identifies the right “experts” on this complex question.

The temporary inability to gather is a frustration to all of us. We all understand the good reasons why Scripture instructs us to gather, but the normative practices can’t all happen in their normal way in abnormal times. We are the body of Christ in the world whether we are able to gather in the same room or not. My pastor’s sermon livestreamed to my computer is still his faithful word for this time and place, no matter how it is transmitted. Baptisms do not have to occur in the gathered church, and in fact, there is no such example in the NT. Individuals can be counselled and encouraged via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, or telephone.

We all recognize that none of this is the norm or the ideal, but perhaps we can just be grateful that technology enables us to carry on with most of our ministries in unusual ways. I recognize that there is animosity toward traditional Christian values in various forms in our cultural setting. Various judicial and legislative actions have challenged our teaching of the truth as we understand it and our practice of our faith.

This is not the place to list all of the particulars, but I agree that there are current threats that may well lead us to civil disobedience. There are culture wars that are worth fighting, but temporary restrictions in the interest of public health are not persecution of the church. Giving up our right to gather as usual to serve the common good looks like one example of the good deeds that we should be known for as opposed to being known as rebels (1 Pet 2:13-16).

We may not make the same choices on this point, but you are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and this is my small contribution to the family discussion.

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An invitation to read together…

This is an invitation to you – church-goer or not, Christian or not – to read through the New Testament with me over the course of the next year. I’m starting on January 1 with a plan that includes short readings, opportunities for dialog, and helpful videos like this one:

In the New Testament, in Hebrews chapter 4, verse 12 (NLT) it says that, “the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

Because I believe that to be true, and because I have seen the difference it has made in my own life, I keep reading. I am inviting you into that experience, believing that the same can happen for you. There are no strings attached to this. I am only interested in reading the New Testament together with you and having conversations that include your questions, objections, struggles, and insights. 

How to join:

  1. Go to https://my.bible.com and register for a free account
  2. Use on your desktop of download the app
  3. Use this link to join the group plan

See you over at Bible.com!

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