Evangelicalism’s (Sub-) Christian Business: Blasting Its Own
Man, do we Evangelicals like to criticize ourselves. And each other. Maybe especially each other. We moan about the scandal of our minds. We are materialistic. And we don’t give enough. We give to the wrong things. We don’t study the Bible enough. And we don’t know our theology. Or Church history.
Look at us: we’re weak parents and wayward youth, cowardly pastors and worldly laypeople. We don’t care about the poor and the lost. We’re more American than Christian. Sometimes when we say “our,” we mean “their.”
Pretty much everything we say about ourselves is, in some measure at least, true. We are a redeemed people upon whom sin can hang like torn shrouds. We fail in many ways, some worse than others, in the U.S. and around the world.
Having worked in politics for nearly three decades and having served for many years as the senior vice-president of one of the country’s most prominent Christian activist organizations, I know people make mistakes. Sometimes big mistakes. And sometimes more than mistakes — sinners, even those saved by the Redeemer, sin. Sometimes badly.
A fairly large industry has arisen among Evangelical commentators and journalists. Dissection of one another’s errors is big (sub-) Christian business. We’ll read anything that criticizes us and our movement. And we tend to internalize every criticism our secular critics throw at us.
The People in the Pews
As to the people in our pews, many need better training. Surveys show that on some of the most essential truths of the Christian faith, Evangelicals in the pews are sadly ignorant.
But is that not as much an indictment of our church leaders as the people themselves? The good news is that there have never been so many excellent resources – websites, Bible study guides, conferences, and so forth – for solid biblical training than ever before.
And is there not a point at which the Eeyore-like attitude in many Evangelical publications and journals becomes harmful? Endlessly drawing attention to one another’s wrongs and shortcomings only divides and discourages. The way to reach the world isn’t to spend all our time criticizing each other.
God’s grace is not a pretext for permissiveness. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” says Paul (Romans 6:1-2). We shouldn’t minimize real wrongdoing.
Yet many Evangelical critics of other Evangelicals seem to criticize more out of contempt than concern. Not everyone is called to a public role, but those God calls deserve the same charity as everyone else in the Body of Christ.
The early Christian writer Tertullian said when the Romans looked at Christians, they said, “See how they love one another!” What do our neighbors say of us Evangelicals, when they see what we say on Facebook? Or in all those books and articles? “See how they hate each other”?
Healthy self-examination is a good thing. Scripture encourages it. The psalmist asks God to “search him” to “see if there is any unclean way” within him (Psalm 139:23-24).
Among Christians, self-examination includes examining the body of Christians. That is, holding each other accountable. At a time when some Evangelical leaders have fallen into sexual or financial sin, there’s a major need for holding one another to biblical standards of “life and godliness” (II Peter 1:3).
Yes, sometimes public challenge is needed. Paul says he “opposed Peter to his face” when the latter compromised the Gospel (Galatians 2:11).
At what point, though, do we show one another enough grace to let a lot of secondary things go? How do we develop the wisdom to know when someone’s not wrong just because he disagrees with us? When we need to challenge someone, do we actually follow Jesus’s instructions about confrontation and reconciliation in Matthew 18?
Anyone active in public life, especially in Christian ministry, is sometimes going to use the wrong tone. Take the wrong approach to a given issue. Say things that seem (take your pick) too extreme, too harsh, too weak, too compromising, too legalistic, too liberal, too conservative, and so on and so on.
Be Kind to One Another
“When encouragement is absent from the life of a church, people will feel unloved, unimportant, useless, and forgotten,” writes Garrett Kell. “God knows his people are in need of grace-filled reminders, so he calls us to encourage each other every day until his Son returns.”
Paul tells us: “Be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). If that’s still true — and it is — let’s we Evangelicals do a better job of applying it.
About 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. Many more go to bed hungry for the truth of the Gospel. How do we reach them? Partly by loving each other. When we do that, people will say “See how they love each other.” That’s the way we draw people into the love of Jesus Christ.
Jesus promised this: that the world would know the Father had sent the Son by the way His followers love each other (John 17:20-21). Can we take Him at His word?