Hall of Silence

A quiet place to reflect on God, His Word, and His Church

Category: Practice

Category Errors

Thayer:

The word evangelism is a transliteration of euangelizesthai, which is a verb meaning “to proclaim the gospel” (the gospel being euangelion). Where no proclamation has taken place, there has been no evangelism. Where something other than the biblical gospel has been proclaimed, there has been no evangelism.

Good deeds, hard work, dedication, honesty, and kindness are all good things, but they are not evangelism. These other good things may help prepare people to hear the word of salvation (Titus 2:9-10), but until that word has been spoken we have not evangelized.

A farmer needs to prepare his ground. If it is new ground he clears it of trees, rocks, and other obstructions. The ground must then be plowed and harrowed. But the job is not done until he has planted the seed. No matter how well he has plowed, the farmer has no hope of a harvest until he has planted the seed. Likewise, until the gospel word has been presented, the church has no hope of a harvest of souls.

I suspect that the main reason why Christians try to redefine every conceivable act of Christianity as evangelism is due to the fact that a lot of Christians believe in the Satanic doctrine of equality. Consequently, everyone is expected to be an evangelist. Since not everyone actually goes out and literally proclaims the good news of Christ, it stands to reason that many Christians are failing in their supposed duty to evangelize. The problem is that it doesn’t really make sense to condemn otherwise good people for not being active proclaimers and thus it is necessary to redefine Bible words so that everyone can be considered to have done their evangelistic duty.
Consider, however, Paul’s words in I Corinthians 12:27-31:

Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

Just as not all are called to be apostles, teachers, prophets, miracle-workers and healers, so too is it the case that not everyone is called to be an evangelist. We are not equal to one another (at least in this life), and therefore it is perfectly fine if not every last Christian is an evangelist or evangelizes. Not everyone is called to do that. And that’s just fine.

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Develop Your Talents Wisely

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them.   And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.   Then he who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and made another five talents.  And likewise he who had received two gained two more also.   But he who had received one went and dug in the ground, and hid his lord’s money.  After a long time the lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them.

“So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, ‘Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them.’  His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’  He also who had received two talents came and said, ‘Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them.’  His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’

“Then he who had received the one talent came and said, ‘Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed.  And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours.’

“But his lord answered and said to him, ‘You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed.  So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest.  Therefore take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents.

‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.  And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ [Emphasis added.]

Matthew 25:14-30

Every time that I have ever heard anyone teach on this parable, the conclusion has always been that every servant of the Lord—that is, every Christian—should do whatever he can to develop the talents that God has given him.  Implicit in this assertion is that it is wrong to ignore the talents that God has given you.  If you have been blessed with something—an ability, material wealth, social connections, and so on—you should use them for the glory of God, and add to them if possible, again for the glory of God.  I do not dispute this line of reasoning, or these sort of arguments, but I do think that more judgment should be exercised when it comes to developing the talents that God has given you.

To this end, I think it helpful to ask the question, why was the one-talent servant so unprofitable.  There is no way to be sure, and any conjecture as to what precluded the one-talent servant from taking what his master had given him and using it is simply speculation.  But such conjecture, uncertain as it may be, can still be instructive.

It’s important to note, in the first place, that the unprofitable servant had a strong fear of his master.  There are some who I have heard assert that the unprofitable servant was lazy.  This does not really fit with what is said of the servant, for fear does not generally produce laziness.  It can cause paralysis, if one is too wrapped up in fear to actually do anything, but this is not the same as laziness.

Instead, it appears that the servant knew that he would have to return his master’s money, and he decided to hedge his risk by keeping his money in the ground.  Thus, he would always be able to repay his master, no matter what happened.

Turning now to speculation, it seems plausible that the unprofitable servant could have tried to make his own profit with his own money, so as to be able to pay his master back and then some (remember, the master asserts that servant knew that the he would want his money back with interest). Thus, the servant tried to acquire his own talents while neglecting the talent given to him by his master.  He fails to make a profit, and is condemned by his master and has his talent stripped from him.

I wonder if we have a tendency to make the same mistake in the church.  We know that God expects us to be good stewards of that which he blesses us with. We know that he expects a return on his investment, so to speak.  And we also know that he gives us things to be stewards of.  But how often do we ignore his blessings and bury them in the ground while trying to acquire our own talents and blessings?  How often do we ignore what we have and try to become something we’re not intended to be?

In I Corinthians 12, Paul shows that there is a diversity of talents, abilities, and roles within the church.  The point he makes is that everyone has their own function.  Just as the human is comprised of more than just toes or ears, so too is the Lord’s spiritual body comprised of more than just evangelists and apostles.  While some roles may be more glamorous—in the eyes of man—or attract more attention, all roles are necessary, and everyone must work to fill their role.

There has been of late, at least at the church I attend, an attempt to encourage all members of our congregation to do their part to evangelize and spread the gospel to the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, this drive is nothing more than nonsense on stilts.  There is no reason to think that everyone in the church, or even a majority of the people in the church, have been blessed with the ability to do or even support evangelism.  It is therefore ludicrous to say that everyone should be involved with evangelism.

But not only is it ludicrous to say that everyone should be involved with evangelism, it is spiritually counterproductive as well.  Not everyone has been given the talent to be an evangelist; not everyone has been given the talent to support evangelism.  Expecting people to become evangelists or support evangelists when they lack the talent to do so will require them to neglect the talent that God has given them and instead focus on attaining that which they cannot attain.  They will thus essentially bury their talent in the ground.  And what do you suppose the Lord will say to them when he demands an account for their actions?

Idolizing the Bible

Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it.’ Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift? Therefore he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by all things on it. He who swears by the temple, swears by it and by Him who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by Him who sits on it.  — Jesus Christ

Which is greater:  the Word of God or the being that inspired it?  Why, then, do so many appeal to the word of God instead of God himself?

I think the deification of the bible is a blind spot to many Christians, myself included.  We tend to view the bible—correctly, I think—as the inspired word of God.  However, we tend to deify the word itself and turn it in to an idol, wherein we appeal to the word of God to arbitrate our disputes rather than turn to God himself.

There is a certain convenience to appealing to the word instead of appealing to God.  For starters, it’s considerably easier to do so.  What could be easier than citing book, chapter, and verse to prove a point or settle a doctrinal matter?  Not a thing, which is why we make so many appeals to the Bible.

It is far more difficult to appeal to God to settle a matter.  In the first case, we must know him, which is a rather difficult thing to do.  As the heavens are above the earth and all that.  In the second case, we must imitate him. (Cf. Eph. 5:1.)

Now, one objection to this line of argumentation is that knowing God’s word is the same as knowing God.  This, unfortunately, is nonsense.  Some of us even today can be said to know Plato’s words.  But how many of us can be said to know Plato?  It is thus obvious that knowing someone’s words is not the same as knowing that person.  Likewise with God, merely knowing his Word is not anywhere close to being the same as knowing him.  While it is true that knowing God’s word can aid in knowing God, ultimately our knowledge of God will have to surpass mere book knowledge.

Long ago, Christ, referencing the prophets, said, “they have eyes to see but cannot see and ears to hear but cannot hear.”  He said this when explaining why he spoke in parables.  Christ claimed that some truths about God are hidden in order to ensure that only those who are actually seeking God will find him, which fits in with what he said on the Sermon on the Mount when he claimed that everyone who seeks will find.  Some truths about God are hidden in plain sight, so to speak.  Christ made use of many parables that referenced nature to show that even many mundane things can teach spiritual lessons.  Even common things hold the secrets of God.

For example, the marital relationship illuminates many spiritual truths, as evidenced by Paul’s writings in Ephesians 5:22-33.  The father-son relationship is another way of understanding God.  Christ even noted that a corrupted version of this relationship can still show theological truths.  The Psalmist wrote that nature reveals the glory of God.  Christ argued that God’s providence can be seen among the birds of the air and the grass of the field.  Indeed, God can be seen everywhere, if you know how to look.  We need not limit our understanding of God to simply knowing his word; we can know him through his creation.

We can also know him personally, as long as we seek him.  Prayer is an obvious avenue, but self-reflection seems to be a good approach as well (cf. II Cor. 13:5).  We are made in God’s image, and we have a form of Godliness within ourselves as a result.  Our natural instinct is to be like our heavenly father, but because of sin we often suppress it, which is why Paul encourages us to be imitators of God as dear children.  If we are sensitive to our conscience, and if we make a point of truly knowing our heart as best we can and seeing the image of God inscribed therein, we can know God better.

However, it often seems that we would rather idolize the bible because this is the path of least resistance.  We can champion the bible as an objective standard and constantly compare ourselves to the word.  This is a rather lazy way of handling the matter of spiritual growth, for we ought to compare ourselves to God, which requires some hard work and heavy intellectual lifting, as well as blunt honesty.  This is a difficult thing, which is perhaps why we so often eschew it.

Or perhaps we don’t recognize the inherent idolatry of worshiping the word of God instead of God himself.  The word of God is definitely a good thing, and it shouldn’t be ignored; it also shouldn’t be elevated above God, either.  The problem comes when we, like the Pharisees, elevate the subordinate above the sanctifier.  It’s not that the word of God is to be ignored; it’s that we must make sure that the word is subordinate to its giver.

The point in this little exercise is this:  if we often find ourselves appealing to the Word instead of appealing to God, perhaps it is time to ask ourselves whether we are worshiping God or worshiping his word.  And if we find ourselves doing the latter, perhaps we ought to spend a little time realigning our priorities.

“Speaking the Truth in Love”

This cliché is starting to feel like Orwell’s Newspeak.  It seems to serve as a buzzword among those who consider themselves faithful to Christ (i.e. those who adhere to a narrow, rigid doctrine based on literalistic interpretation of the New Testament).  The phrase seems innocuous, even noble, but it ultimately is used to mask judgmentalism and hypocrisy.

In the first place, those who claim to “speak the truth in love” often use this as an excuse to nastily condemn those who they find repulsive.  For example, many condemnations of the homosexual lifestyle are often vitriolic,* as are condemnations of drug users, lazy poor people, and other assorted lowlifes and deviants.  Of course, homosexuality is wrong, as is laziness and drug abuse.**  However, those people who are cognizant of their spiritual poverty in these matters do not need vitriolic condemnations, for they already know they are wrong.  And those who are wrong but don’t care that they are wrong will not be more inclined to listen to irascible Christians scream at them and their sins.  Thus, “speaking the truth in love” to sinners often turns into a cover for passing judgment on others, often in a quite obnoxious and emotionally violent way.

In the second, considerably more innocuous place, “speaking the truth in love” is used to excuse an absence of necessary rebukes.  In this case, “loving” becomes “nice,” and the goal is to avoid offending the person who deserves rebukes.  This standard is strictly reserved for “the faithful,” which is defined as those who take hardline doctrinal stands that everyone agrees with, while taking care to hide their skeletons in the deepest recesses of their closets.  In this case, there are some Christians who are living in sin, but no one rebukes them sharply because to be harsh to brothers and sisters in Christ is to be unloving.

Ultimately, “speaking the truth in love” really means that you won’t be judged, and publicly admonished and shamed if you join the club.  This is the opposite of what Christ did, though, for Christ’s harshest condemnations were reserved for those who thought they were faithful—the Pharisees.  Christ was nowhere near as harsh to those who recognized their spiritual poverty and their need for a savior.  In essence, Christ made a distinction among sinners, and acted in the manner proscribed by Jude. Since we are to imitate Christ, it thus behooves us to actually speak the truth in love, and not just use the phrase as an empty buzzword to mask our hypocrisy.

* Not that this is always wrong; there are many homosexuals –particularly gay activists—who are quite pharisaical in their behavior.

** Though not necessarily drug use.

A Positive Trend

Consider this:

Since 2010, 270 churches have been sold after defaulting on their loans, with 90 percent of those sales coming after a lender-triggered foreclosure, according to the real estate information company CoStar Group.

In 2011, 138 churches were sold by banks, an annual record, with no sign that these religious foreclosures are abating, according to CoStar. That compares to just 24 sales in 2008 and only a handful in the decade before.

I take this as a generally good sign for Christianity, because I believe that the Church of Christ has become too materialistic, and one way this is revealed is the emphasis on having church buildings.  Everything is centered on the church building.  Christians meet there three or four times a week and lots of activities are scheduled there (out of convenience, of course).  This does not mean church buildings are inherently sinful, but it does often seem to be the case that the many congregations make the church building the focus of their worship, their fellowship, and all other religious activities.

Incidentally, it is interesting to note the evolution of this process.  It used to be that Christians met once a week (Sunday mornings) in a meetinghouse for worship. The building was generally low-frills:  One room with lots of pews, possibly a stage with a lectern or podium, and a fireplace with which to keep warm in the winter.  Now congregations go to church buildings that have offices, kitchens, classrooms, resource rooms, etc.  No wonder the church has become so building-centric:  The building has transformed from a utilitarian place of weekly worship to a corporate headquarters.

In closing, let me simply theorize that most congregations could go sell their buildings and still meet their obligations to worship God and serve him in his kingdom.  While potlucks, bible classes (a wholly unnecessary and literally unbiblical subject that merits its own post), and lock-ins would be eliminated from the lists of official church activities, the congregation would still be able to take care of the basic things, like corporate worship.  And everything else could be replaced with something that didn’t require a massive mortgage and several hundred dollars in monthly maintenance costs.  Better yet, the money that would be recouped or saved from selling off the church building could be used to fund evangelism and mission work.  It’s a win-win.

Wise As Serpents

I got an email from my sister yesterday asking me to sign an online petition demonstrating my outrage at a new TV show called GCB, which stands for “Good Christian Bitches.”  It’s supposed to air on ABC, so if I had to guess, this is basically Desperate Housewives, except with uglier women and set in a church.  I didn’t sign the petition.

The reason for this is because I’ve spent a lot of time on the internet, and I know that if there’s one rule about life that you learn quickly on the internet, it’s “don’t feed the trolls.”  While I’m rather upset that there are some people in Hollywood who feel compelled to speak evil of my sisters in Christ, I don’t think my anger should be used as an excuse to provide free marketing for a despicable TV show.

We are expected to be wise as serpents, and I feel sometimes that my brothers and sisters in Christ are too easily baited into providing free marketing for evil.  What we neglect is that, to Hollywood, there is no such thing as bad publicity.  Negative publicity is always better than none at all.  Therefore, the best way to combat this sort of obvious trolling is to simply act like it doesn’t exist.  What they want most is publicity, and therefore, if we are truly concerned about doing what is best, we should refrain from giving it to them.

The Piety of Debating

In a prior post on status-mongering, I had noted that some members of the church demonstrate their piety by defending the truth via debating others on various matters.  The willingness to defend the truth via the mechanism of debating is certainly commendable, but that doesn’t mean that one’s motivations for debating are always pure, nor does it mean that the debate into which one enters is actually profitable.

In the first place, there are plenty of potential downsides to the debate format.  It may be that you, as a defender of truth, are not as adequate to the task as you believe yourself to be, and so your defense actually causes your brethren to be ashamed of their association with you, and of their association with the church.  It may also be that those who are attending the debate (assuming you’re in hostile territory, so to speak) are simply swine, and nothing you can say will cause them to believe in the truth.  Alternatively, (assuming you have home field advantage, so to speak), you may simply be giving error an opportunity to be taught that it would not otherwise have enjoyed.  Thus, there are several factors that may cause a public debate to work decidedly against God’s Bride.

Given that it is therefore possible that public debates may have considerably negative outcomes, it therefore behooves preachers to consider the possibility of these negative outcomes.  It also behooves brethren to consider whether they should support debates given the potential downsides.  Alas, neither brethren nor preachers seem particularly inclined to consider that there may, in fact, be times and instances in which our attempts at defending the truth may do more harm than good.  Instead, preachers and brethren focus on the more obvious outcome that truth is being taught in whatever way possible.

This focus on always teaching truth, with no concern for anything else, is generally nothing more than simple status-mongering.  Those who practice this are not so much concerned with whether engaging in public debates is going to do any practical good; rather, they are concerned with appearing to do good (or being a “shining light”).  Again, this is nothing more than signaling one’s status, which in this case is piety.  Debating shows piety because one is essentially saying that, by debating against error, one is really and truly concerned with defending truth, and defending Christ’s church from those who would assail it.  By implication, those who do not engage in these debates are inferior either in terms of motives or in terms of ability.

Piety, as demonstrated in debating, and a host of other ways, is the currency of status in the church these days.  Whereas direct displays of wealth were once the main way to demonstrate one’s status, the church has now exchanged physical wealth for spiritual displays.  In essence, piety is the new materialism, and public debates of this materialist mindset.

Again, as noted before, debates are not, in and of themselves, a bad thing; they can be and often are used for good.  This is especially true when debates are used to demonstrate the holiness of God and his church.  However, it seems in recent years that debates have mostly been used to demonstrate the apparent holiness of those engaging in them.

The Christian and the Politics of Abortion

It’s the political season again, and it is therefore time for endless political discourse among Americans, Christian and non-Christian alike.  Of course, most political discourse is nothing more than high-minded nonsense, repeated ad nauseum, such that one’s prayers are especially heartfelt the day after the election, since that means all the empty chatterheads have to start discussing things that are more important than who won the latest beauty contest.

It is during this especially trifling season that many Christians begin to get up-in-arms about their pet social issues. There are many to choose from, but for now we will focus on the hot-button issue of abortion.  Most Christians believe that life begins at conception, and that abortion—being the removal and disposal of the fetus—is thus murder.  Since murder is condemned by God, so is abortion.  But what is the Christian to do about abortion?

The answer that springs to mind for many Christians is that of political recourse.  That is to say, many Christians believe it their God-given duty to vote for pro-life candidates.  Unfortunately, this response is high-minded nonsense.

In the first place, pro-life candidates have a pretty terrible track record at accomplishing the stated goal of ending abortion, especially at the federal level.  Abortion is still legal in all fifty states, and abortionists still receive a sizeable amount of money from the federal government, and many state governments.  Abortion has been legal in all fifty states for nearly forty years, and all the efforts to eradicate it have failed.  In fact, efforts to reduce the number of abortions have failed.  (There has been a relatively minor decline in the raw number of abortions in the past several years; however, there is also a decline in birth rates and pregnancy rates, which suggests that the decline in abortions is due primarily to declines in pregnancies.  Basically, there are fewer potential babies to be aborted, and therefore correspondingly fewer abortions as a result.  The rate of abortions seems to be basically steady.)  Given the sheer amount of resources dedicated to ending abortion, the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the results is that a lot of resources have been wasted.

In the second place, Christians are not commanded to use the political system to enforce morality.  The command is to “go into all the world and preach,” not “go into all the world and politick.”  As such, the Christian’s primary duty is tell others the good news of Christ, and all that the gospel entails; Christians are not expected to impose Biblical morality onto others by government fiat. When we politick instead of preach, we fail at our primary duty.

In the third place, the poltical system cannot change people’s hearts.  As Christ himself said “out of the heart of men, proceed…murders.”  The fundamental cause of abortion is that the desire to kill one’s unborn child is in one’s heart.  If you have no desire to kill your child, then you it won’t matter what the law says because you won’t kill your child.  The law is not an argument, and it cannot change people’s hearts.  It may be able to influence their actions, to some extent, but it will not eliminate the evil desires that are imprinted in their hearts.

Additionally, if a mother would desire to abort her child but is prohibited from doing so, does it not stand to reason that she will likely be an unloving mother?  Should Christians thus vote for politicians to enact laws that force mothers to not only bear their children to term, but also to love them once they are born?  And how could such a law be enforced, anyway?  The simple fact of the matter is that the law cannot serve as a substitute for the heart, and Christians are foolish to try to use the legal system as a substitute for changing people’s hearts.

Finally, note an alternative to the legal system that can and should be used by Christians to combat the evil of abortion:  personal work.  Whether this means personal evangelism or personal benevolence, one thing is for sure:  Christians can more effectively combat the evil of abortion if they personally attempt to get to the heart of the matter.  Instead of trying to legislate someone else’s morality, why not personally counsel someone who is contemplating abortion?  Instead of attending a political rally, why not wait outside an abortion clinic and attempt to talk to those girls who are contemplating abortion?  Instead of donating money to a politician who makes insincere promises of combatting abortion, why not use the money to help a poor girl who thinks she’s too poor to afford a child?  Why not simply do your Christian duty yourself instead of delegating it to a professional liar?

Status-Mongering in the Church

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.  For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?  But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?  Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called

James 2:1-7 [NKJV]

The above passage is generally used to show that all Christians are equal in the eyes of God, and therefore no one should be treated with partiality.  That is certainly one application that can be made from James, but there is another, broader application that can be drawn:  The church has no place for status-mongering.

The problem in the first century, as implied by the passage, was that wealthy people were making ostentatious displays of their wealth and thus receiving preferential treatment.  By their dress and by their behavior, the wealthy were essentially telling the brethren that they were special, and Christians were confirming the beliefs of the wealthy by treating them with favoritism.  James isn’t clear on whether the wealthy were tacitly expecting preferential treatment (their dress would generally indicate as such) or if the early Christians were alone in taking the initiative.  At any rate, the early Christians paid attention to the displays of status (fine apparel, gold earrings, etc.) and responded by displaying favoritism.

We often do the same thing in the Church today, only our status signals are less overt.  In the first century, the most common display of high status was one’s luxurious clothing; today, the most common display of high status is piety.

Piety is demonstrated in many ways:  defending the truth (often in pointless debates), condemning denominationalism, holding the right opinions (e.g. beliefs regarding the indwelling of the Holy Spirit), conforming to extra-biblical behavioral norms (e.g. having two worship services on Sunday), and so on.  Now, this form of status-mongering is especially clever because none of the aforementioned actions are inherently sinful, nor are they wrong.  But they do serve as status markers nonetheless.

Since we are so clever in signaling our high status through innocent and occasionally laudable means, we are also clever enough to reward high status through equally clever and innocent means.  For preachers that we consider high status, we generally confer high honors upon them, usually in the form of invitations to preach Gospel meetings and, more impressively, preach at lectureships.  For high-status non-preacher males (admittedly, few of these seem to exist), they also get special invitations to participate in high-status events (think along the lines of Polishing the Pulpit and such like).  For high-status women, they tend to receive invitations to host ladies’ days and women’s retreats.

Again, lectureships, symposiums, gospel meetings, ladies’ days, and women’s retreats are not, in and of themselves, bad things.  But they can be used as a way to show preference to high-status Christians, and therefore are a means to status-mongering.

Therefore, our all as Christians is to examine the motives behind our behaviors.  Are we inviting an esteemed preacher to our lectureship because he will do a good job at explaining his assigned subject?  Or are we inviting him because he will lend more prestige to our lectureship?  Are we inviting the ambitious young creator of a successful evangelistic program to our symposium because he will provide people with the mental tools they will need for evangelism?  Or are we inviting him because he’s famous and we want to appropriate some of his fame for ourselves?  Are we inviting an esteemed elder’s wife to speak at our ladies’ day because she’s a good teacher?  Or are we inviting her because her name is well-known?

We are called to act on God’s behalf, without concern for our personal ambition.  And from what we see in James, we are not to act out of concern for others’ ambitions either.  Our job is to do what’s best for God and his kingdom.  Any other motive is wrong, and the work that comes from it will be its own reward for God has no pleasure in it.  Therefore, let us resolve ourselves to do those things which are pleasing to God without concern for the status that can be derived from them.

Must We Always Defend Truth?

Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…”  —I Peter 3:15

There seems to be considerable consensus among members of the church that we must always make a stand for the truth, no matter what.  The aforementioned verse certainly seems to validate this mindset.

However, there is a qualitative difference between being ready to give a defense and actually giving said defense.  It is akin to the difference between owning a fire extinguisher and using a fire extinguisher.  Obviously, you can’t use a fire extinguisher if you don’t have one, and likewise you cannot give a defense if you don’t have the ability.  Also, owning a fire extinguisher does not inherently necessitate using it; likewise, being able to give a defense of the hope that is in you does not necessitate doing so.

Now, there will inevitably be times when we must give an answer for the hope that is in us.  Religious challenges are more common that minor house fires, after all.  But must we always defend the truth?

Consider Christ’s words:  “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”  This is a moral imperative, and the meaning is readily discerned:  do not share the goodness of God with those who will either fail to appreciate it or actively work against it.

God understands that his human servants have a limited amount of resources at their disposal, including the most valuable resource of all: time.  God does not expect his servants to waste their time defending giving an answer to those who are not honestly interested in the answer.  How could a God that wishes the whole world to be saved prefer that his servants to evangelize the determined lost instead of those who are honestly seeking the truth?

There are certain reasons for defending the truth that are noble; leading others to a knowledge of the truth is certainly among them.  There will undoubtedly be some people who genuinely want to know the truth and—hopefully from observing our conduct—will come to us asking to more about what we believe and why.  We should be both willing and able to give an answer for the hope that is in us to these sorts of people.

However, there is one occurrence of giving an answer that is problematic:  defending the truth to show people that we defend the truth.  There is no point to doing this, as this is nothing more than status-seeking.  People won’t judge us in the final day, so defending our faith in God to them is pointless, especially since there are not seeking the truth.  God already knows our hearts, so he doesn’t need us to defend the truth to the dishonest and uninterested to know that we are willing to do so.

Further, in keeping with Christ’s commands to not cast our pearls before swine, there will be occasions when defending the truth is pointless, and therefore we will have an obligation to occasionally abstain from defending the truth.  Our time and energy can be better spent doing other things for the cause of Christ and in defense of our faith in God.

Now, it is important to note that this command requires that we use judgment.  It is up to us to determine if the person who is asking for a reason for the hope that is in us is genuine and sincere in their search for the truth.  We must consider the question and answer accordingly.  We must also examine our own motives, to ensure that we are genuinely attempting to lead others to the truth, instead of simply demonstrating our won righteousness and faithfulness.

In sum, we must always be willing and able to defend our faith, but we must also exercise judgment and discretion when doing so.  We are forbidden from wasting our time with the spurious, rebellious, and dishonest.  Ultimately, our duty is to be ready for battle, as it were, but not to rush into battle blindly or foolishly.  We are called to defend our faith, and we are called to do so prudently.