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By Gary Thomas

Why Are Christians So Mean?

His answer was up to the task. He said that Christians are mean in proportion to when they value being “right” over being “like Christ.”

It’s not enough to simply believe correct doctrine; as God’s chosen people, we are asked to behave a certain way, particularly as it relates to others: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Col. 3:12-14).

The book of Romans also sets up a high standard for believers, telling us to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (12:10), “never be wise in your own sight” (12:16) and keep in mind that “love does no harm to its neighbor” (13:10). No harm. To anyone. So, in our relations with anyone we are to be devoted to their overall welfare, to not be overly confident in our opinion, and to never do anyone any harm. There’s no room here for any “Bible-believing” Christian to be mean.

What a different world this would be if, indeed, we were “devoted” to everyone’s welfare, if we were humble in our own opinions, and committed to not do anyone harm—no gossip, no mean-spirited denunciation, no slander. Doesn’t that sound like a nice world to live in?

The new life of believers envisioned by Paul in Colossians 3 basically prohibits three things: sexual immorality, greed and being mean. Sexual immorality is denounced in many ways and greed with one word: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed” (v. 5).

This denunciation of sexual misconduct is perhaps what the modern church is known for. But in Paul’s way of thinking, we should also be known for not being mean. Being mean is denounced as extensively and vigorously as sexual sin: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips” (v. 8).

Put all this together, and Christians aren’t to be involved in any form of sexual abuse, sexual harassment or sexual immorality of any kind, but we are also to shun any aspect of being “mean”: domestic violence, emotional abuse, bosses mistreating subordinates, bullying or ridiculing gays, violent rioting, and social media trolling. Just as the #metoo movement is challenging the notion that “authority” gives someone the right to be predatory, so the Bible teaches us that “right theology” doesn’t give us the right to mistreat others even when we think we are in the “right” and they are in the wrong.

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by Elizabeth Davey

church
(Photo: Unsplash/MattBotsford)

We are all aware of the rising consumer approach to church. We have even begun to use the phrase ‘church shopping’ when talking about finding a new church, and often make our decision based on whether the worship was good, if we liked the preacher, or even who has the best coffee!

As consumerism increased with the rise of disposable income after the Second World War, and church attendance fell as a result of the increasingly secularist influence in society, many churches felt they had to adapt or else be left behind. Unfortunately, this adaptation has not been exclusively left to the different tastes in coffee or music. In an age where we are offended easily, the gospel message has been tailored to the particular demands of the acceptance-based, tolerance-promoting culture. Grace included.

First up, we have Paul’s free grace – ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ We like a good bargain and the idea of God’s grace at no price is a pretty good deal.

But we like to have our options, don’t we? Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship is a Christian classic, with his phrase ‘costly grace’ being well known, perhaps primarily due to Bonhoeffer’s own costly witness. With this offer, however, grace is not the free gift we see advertised by Paul, but a more costly endeavor.

For the consumer church, Bonhoeffer’s writing on the cost of grace is unappetizing when the free grace of Romans 3 is on offer. Indeed, because of this many churches feed into the consumer mentality by promoting the free gift that all can receive, almost like when you sign up for a new gym membership and get a free water bottle in return.

The trouble with this is that the gift of grace has been read with the modern context in mind. Any good interpreter of Scripture knows that in order to understand what implications the Bible has today, the original context must first be considered. Whilst today we understand a gift as being free in the sense of pure altruism, that is, without the expectation or demand of a response, this is not what was understood in the first century.

John Barclay in his incredible work Paul and the Gift, shows how the first century Greek society practised gift giving. Whilst a gift could be a result of profound generosity by the giver, the recipient was aware that if they accepted the gift, it was ‘crucial to give a well-measure return.’ Paul would have been well aware of the implication of gift giving in his society.

Nevertheless, the shock factor of God’s gift of grace is that, unlike Greek society where gifts would have been given only if the giver was sure their gift would be equally reciprocated, God gives without regard as to whether or not we will reciprocate, fully aware that we cannot give an equal return. The gift of grace comes through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. What do we have that would even come close to an equal return for this? Paul talks of free gift when he considers the giver, who gives with no prior regard for our ability to respond.

This does not mean that we are exempt from reciprocation, however. Though God gives without calculating whether or not we can respond equally, if we accept the gift we are entering into a relationship with God where we must respond in return. This is where Bonhoeffer’s ‘costly grace’ is put into practice. Jesus talks of the cost of discipleship in Luke 14, instructing his disciples to bear their own crosses (v.27) and to count the cost (v.28). The only response close to what God has given us through His Son, is to give our own lives in return. That’s the cost of the gift of grace.

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FROM

The X in Christmas is used like the R in R.C. My given name at birth was Robert Charles, although before I was even taken home from the hospital my parents called me by my initials, R.C., and nobody seems to be too scandalized by that.

X can mean so many things. For example, when we want to denote an unknown quantity, we use the symbol X. It can refer to an obscene level of films, something that is X-rated. People seem to express chagrin about seeing Christ’s name dropped and replaced by this symbol for an unknown quantity X. Every year you see the signs and the bumper stickers saying, “Put Christ back into Christmas” as a response to this substitution of the letter X for the name of Christ.

There’s No X in Christmas

First of all, you have to understand that it is not the letter X that is put into Christmas. We see the English letter X there, but actually what it involves is the first letter of the Greek name for Christ. Christos is the New Testament Greek for Christ. The first letter of the Greek word Christos is transliterated into our alphabet as an X. That X has come through church history to be a shorthand symbol for the name of Christ.

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“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end, all his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

HE IS RISEN INDEED!!

This article is part of the 10 Things You Should Know series.

1. His ministry began in the year of his conversion as a young man.

Spurgeon was raised in a Christian home, but was converted in 1850 at fifteen years old. Caught in a snowstorm, he took refuge in a small Primitive Methodist chapel in Colchester. After about ten minutes, with only twelve to fifteen people present, the preacher fixed his eyes on Spurgeon and spoke to him directly:

“Young man, you look very miserable.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” Spurgeon later wrote, ‘Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away.’ 1

The ‘Prince of Preachers’ was tricked into preaching his first sermon that same year. An older man had asked Spurgeon to go to the little village of Teversham the next evening, “for a young man was to preach there who was not much used to services, and very likely would be glad of company.” It was only the next day that he realized the ‘young man’ was himself.2

2. He was a man of hard work and huge influence.

He went on to preach in person up to thirteen times per week, gathered the largest church of his day, and could make himself heard in a crowd of twenty-three thousand people (without amplification). In print he published some eighteen million words, selling over fifty-six million copies of his sermons in nearly forty languages in his own lifetime.

3. He was self-consciously a theological and doctrinal preacher.

While Spurgeon is not known as a theologian as such, he was nevertheless a deeply theological thinker and his sermons were rich in doctrine, and dripping with knowledge of historical theology – especially the Puritans.

Some preachers seem to be afraid lest their sermons should be too rich in doctrine, and so injure the spiritual digestions of their hearers. The fear is superfluous. . . . This is not a theological age, and therefore it rails at sound doctrinal teaching, on the principle that ignorance despises wisdom. The glorious giants of the Puritan age fed on something better than the whipped creams and pastries which are now so much in vogue.3

4. He was pre-eminently a theologian and preacher of the cross.

Spurgeon’s was a cross-centered and cross-shaped theology, for the cross was “the hour” of Christ’s glorification (John 12:23–24), the place where Christ was and is exalted, the only message able to overturn the hearts of men and women otherwise enslaved to sin. Along with Isaiah 45:22, one of Spurgeon’s favorite Bible verses was John 12:32: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

He insisted on celebrating the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, and often broke bread during the week as well. He believed his preaching of the crucified Christ was the only reason why such great crowds were drawn to his church for so many years.

Who can resist his charms? One look of his eyes overpowers us. See with your heart those eyes when they are full of tears for perishing sinners, and you are a willing subject. One look at his blessed person subjected to scourging and spitting for our sakes will give us more idea of his crown rights than anything besides. Look into his pierced heart as it pours out its life-flood for us, and all disputes about his sovereignty are ended in our hearts. We own him Lord because we see how he loved.4

5. He aimed his ministry and preaching at new birth.

Regeneration was one of the “three Rs” (ruin, redemption, and regeneration) Spurgeon always sought to preach. And regeneration was something he always expected to see as he preached the gospel. A friend of his once came to him, depressed because for three months of ministry he had not seen a single conversion. Spurgeon slyly asked, “Do you expect the Lord to save souls every time you open your mouth?” Embarrassed, the man answered “Oh, no, sir!” “Then,” Spurgeon replied, “that is just the reason why you have not had conversions: ‘According to your faith be it unto you.’”5

Regeneration, he saw, is a work of pure grace—and those the Lord regenerates, he will indwell. And “with such an indweller we need not fear, but that this poor heart of ours will yet become perfect as God is perfect; and our nature through his indwelling shall rise into complete meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light.”6

6. He knew how to enjoy life.

Spurgeon loved life and saw the creation as a blessing from God to be enjoyed. For tired ministers, he recommended:

A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours’ ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm,’ which ‘would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.’7

He couldn’t resist walking outside in thunderstorms (‘I like to hear my Heavenly Father’s voice in the thunder’), he is known for his cigar smoking, and he had a keen interest in botany. Like us all, Spurgeon was uniquely himself. Yet his big-heartedness and joy as he walked through his Father’s creation displays exactly the sort of life that will always grow from the theology he believed.

I have been a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer since I was a student at Bethel College in St. Paul, MN back in 1970s. Over the years, the person and works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer have been embraced by evangelicals, liberals, Jews and Catholics. He is also the champion of both the right and the left. He has been described as a “flamingly gay“.

No matter the issue, people from both sides of the issue look to Bonhoeffer for wisdom and guidance. The issue may be same-sex marriage, gun control, abortion, immigration, politics and politicians.

If Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived today, let’s say in America, what side would he take? Back in 2016, would he vote for Hillary or Trump? Voters for both candidates would build a case that Bonhoeffer would certainly see their point of view.

My thesis for my Doctor of Ministry degree focused on the impact of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on twenty-first century preachers, but I am far from being an expert on Bonhoeffer. But I did do enough research then and since then to say that Dietrich Bonhoeffer cannot be boxed in.

He was only 39 years old when he was hung. Imagine if he lived another thirty or forty years and was able to develop his ideas and theology further.

What side would he take? My take is this: Dietrich Bonhoeffer would teach us to pray, read the Bible and meditate on God’s Word. He would also not to place our trust in people (like Presidents) but in God alone. He would tell us to love others who are vastly different than us. I think he would say that even though, we live is an age of outrage, Christians, are to be at their very best and represent Jesus.

Bryan

“The great masquerade of evil has played havoc with all our ethical concepts. For evil to appear disguised as light, charity, historical necessity or social justice is quite bewildering to anyone brought up on our traditional ethical concepts, while for the Christian who bases his life on the Bible, it merely confirms the fundamental wickedness of evil.”

~ Dietrich BonhoefferLetters and Papers from Prison

Image result for letters & papers from prison

“It is not in our life that God’s help and presence must still be proved, but rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is far more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus died is more important that the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too shall be raised on the Last Day.”

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together54.

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