Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things (Ephesians 3:17-19).
The most effective enemies are those of which we are unaware…the ones we fail to recognize as enemies. In our subconscious we probably already know some entities are not helping the cause of Christ; that they are, indeed, major hindrances. They are hindering enemies especially because we have become familiar and comfortable with them. It is much like making a pet of a tiger. We pet them, feed them, love them…and then one day, they have us by the throat. They are attitudes, actions and situations that divert us from truly following Christ. The world notices and these same diversions become hindrances to unbelievers and ammunition for anti-Christian activists. And here is the kicker: so often, we shoot ourselves in the foot (pun intended). This is a post that hopefully will challenge us to do some thinking about who and what our enemies are. As usual, your comments, pro and con, are welcomed.
Striving for Acceptance
It’s not easy being different. And yet, being different is part of our Christian walk. We are different from the world not because we try to be but because following Christ separates us from those who aren’t. Sadly, many who claim to be Christians lie, cheat and steal just like their worldly counterparts. But the similarities don’t end there. Too often our values and ambitions are the same as those outside of Christ. To place our hope in riches, to ignore injustice, to place comfort above compassion and status above service proves we are still of the world. Here’s the truth: the way of Christ runs counter to the ways of the world. Never forget it.
Acceptance is good if it can be accomplished within the context of imitating Christ. Outside this context, it becomes our enemy. Inevitably, truly following Him eventually places us in opposition to our increasingly immoral and unethical culture. Every day it becomes more obvious we will suffer persecution for our stand on marriage, sexuality, civility and salvation. I am not suggesting an Amish or monastic sort of separation from the world but we must never forget we have been called out from it (2 Corinthians 6:16-18). We are in it, not of it (John 17:15-16). The world will not see the Christian difference unless we embrace being different.
Inclusion and Exclusion
We have proven over and over that we are a reactionary people. We bounce between two extremes. Some Christians exclude and dismiss everyone “not in our camp.” Others include and embrace those who are teaching obvious error. As in most dichotomies, the best path is somewhere between the extremes. Dialogue between those with different viewpoints is essential in the quest for unity. On the other hand, blind accommodation and acceptance is harmful to the whole process. We must humbly keep in mind that truth is not our special and exclusive possession. And yet, that which was not truth before, whether “ours” or “theirs”, is still not truth now. Should we be friends with those who disagree with us? Absolutely. Should we overlook or downplay our differences for the sake of that friendship? Absolutely not.
As error is the enemy of truth and vice-versa, the real sin is allowing the darkness of error to remain undisturbed by the lamp of truth. So how do we address differences in a way that proves we can disagree and still love one another? Is it possible to speak the truth in love? Apparently (Ephesians 4:14-16). Is it possible to correct and be corrected with gentleness and respect? So it seems (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:25). Anything less than love, gentleness and respect simply provides one more reason for outsiders to dismiss anything we say or do. The world sees our division, chuckles softly in derision, and logically refuses to believe there is a God who sent His son into the world (John 17:20,21). Unloving exclusion or reckless inclusion will become our enemy, turn on us and run us through with our own sword.
The Edifice Complex and the Elevation of Assembly
I have been accused of being “anti-building.” I, of course, disagree. The saints need to assemble and need a place to do it. If a public hall or other place of assembly cannot be found (in good weather you might just assemble in a park or public square and let people actually see what’s going on) then the church needs to, if possible, construct something. Just don’t call it a “church building.” Only the very courageous non-Christian ventures into a “church building” without an invitation or unaccompanied by a friend. In that sense, our edifices, far from being an aid to evangelism become a hindrance. My suggestion (it would be a command if I had the authority) is, if building a place of assembly is absolutely necessary, build a “community hall.” Make it a neutral place where the scouts, support groups, clubs, and others could meet. Reserve it for the church on the two days a week churches usually assemble and let others use it the rest of the time. As a result, it might actually become an asset instead of a liability.
Buildings have become the albatross around the necks of so many churches. The resources expended on their construction and maintenance is hard to justify in the tear-stained face of a needy, lost world. Far from being an aid to our work in the world, too frequently their walls separate us from the very people we were sent to reach with the gospel.
Assembly is a very important part of our lives as Christians. Essential things are accomplished there. Ideally, saints are edified and encouraged as we worship together and renew the ties that bind us. Christ is proclaimed in the Lord’s Supper and the reading of Scripture. Brothers and sisters are taught, admonished and rejuvenated as we sing to one another. But we have made “going to church” the most important part of our lives as Christians. We have made it an end instead of a means to an end often to the exclusion of other, equally important aspects.
Think a minute…what do we disagree, fight and divide over? Almost all of our internal skirmishes have to do with what is done or not done in our assemblies…in our buildings. Because church buildings and assemblies are elevated to a position alien to the Scriptures, we either ignore or sadly neglect the lost souls living in the homes surrounding our structures. I am sure Jesus is saddened and angered by our willful disregard of his command to make disciples in favor of making buildings. To make one aspect of our Christian walk our major focus also makes it our enemy.
I think Satan loves it when we ignore his work. Most of his evil statements and deeds are allowed to stand unopposed by the very people who ought simply to say, “This is wrong and here’s why.” I always think of John the Baptist preaching to and about Herod. I think of Jesus speaking clearly regarding religious error. I think of Paul boldly exposing evil and its eternal results. But today, with the exception of a few brave souls, Christians are strangely silent about the evil taking place all around us. Just take a look at the evening news: child abuse, greed, lies, pornography, injustice, abortion, homosexuality, substance abuse, political and corporate corruption, violence…you name it. Will opposing these things make us popular? If you speak of those who love the darkness, no. If you speak of those seeking the light, yes.
Christians also seem to be turning a blind eye to religious error. Some outrageous comment is made by some religious pundit, and we just ignore it. Some televangelist rakes in the dough by preaching a “prosperity gospel,” and we just let it ride. Some cult makes a weird statement and we pretend they didn’t. Some performer knocks down a sick person and pronounces him “healed,” and we just change the channel. If we don’t tell the truth, who will?
We don’t even have to shout, wave placards or be unkind to oppose these errors…we just need to quietly, gently and consistently preach the truth in love. Sadly and tragically, if we preach at all about error, we preach to ourselves…in our assemblies…in our buildings. If we sold our unneeded buildings and spent the money on getting truth into the marketplace, we might make some headway for the kingdom and message of Christ. As it is, our silence becomes our enemy.
Why do we believe in a Creator? Why do we believe this Creator loves us and sent His Son to live among us? What is our purpose in this life…in this world? Is the Bible the Word of God? Why do we believe that? Was Jesus really a historical person? How did life begin? Is evolution true, partly true or false? If there is a God, why does He allow suffering and evil to go unchecked? Do we have even the beginnings of answers to any of these questions?
The day is coming and now is when we will need to have thoughtful answers for these questions. Do the names Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris sound familiar to you? If they are not now, they will be. They are some of the leading lights of the “New Atheists,” and they are on the warpath. They make the mistake of clumping all religions together into one convenient target and aiming for the bull’s-eye…if they could just find it. They are not out to prove faith in God wrong, they are out to obliterate it. They believe religion, any religion, is harmful and should disappear. These new strident, militant atheists are using science and scientific speculation (“Scientism”) as a weapon. Ignorance of scientific discoveries and advances and the ways they are used against us is inexcusable and dangerous. We need to be aware that science and religion are not mutually exclusive; plenty of eminent scientists are believers. I would suggest frequent visits to the website of John Clayton, perhaps the best of the ordinary person’s apologists of which I am aware.
The answers most Christians use when confronted with these questions are usually poorly thought-out and, hence, pretty lame. It seems many who have faith have not thought much about why they do. Some have made a decision to believe in God but can’t really give good reasons why. This is not to say an unbeliever would accept any reason we give…they usually have their minds made up. But when people want to know why we believe, why we live the way we do, the reason for our hope of eternal life and abundant life now; we should be able to answer in ways making it obvious we have at least thought about it (1 Peter 3:14-16).
The advantage of a good soldier is his or her training. Training provides a strategy for dealing with all possible situations encountered on a battlefield. The worst enemy of any soldier is a lack of preparedness. We Christian soldiers have enough enemies without adding thoughtless faith to the list. Speaking of soldiers, do we know what our mission is?
Ignorance and Neglect of our Mission
One of Satan’s greatest ploys is to distract us from our mission. From all appearances, he’s very successful. And yet, our mission is very simple: follow Christ. What does that mean? It means to do what He did. It means to continue His work on earth as the Body of Christ. His work becomes our work. It is our job and ours exclusively. Jesus not only stated our mission but modeled it. It seems, however, we have done everything else but what He told us to do. Very little of the average church’s resources and energy are spent in seeking, saving and serving.
This does not go unnoticed by observers in the world. What do they think as they watch us go to our assemblies, have lunch and go home? What impact does our expression of Christianity have on our communities? Is the good news of Christ proclaimed, the naked clothed, the exposed sheltered, the hungry fed, the suffering comforted, the hopeless given hope? The answer will be found in the budget and official programs of our local church. Where is the effort expended and the money spent? This will tell us where our church (and, subsequently we) has placed the emphasis.
Very few churches have any concrete plan or strategy to bring the good news of Christ to those living in their communities. Those that do are so notable they end up in The Christian Chronicle (insert your own denomination’s newspaper here) center spread. Missionaries will testify that gaining the support of churches to do what Jesus said to do is their greatest challenge. The ignorance and neglect of our mission is one of our worst enemies.
The Conclusion of the Matter
There are so many understated enemies we could address: the failure to exercise church discipline, the movement away from the priesthood of all believers in favor of professionalism, involvement in party politics, mistaking autonomy as isolation, the appointment of unqualified leaders and the lack of Biblical knowledge in our leaders, teachers and preachers to name a few.
Anything blocking the pursuit of our mission of following Christ and continuing His work is our enemy. The trick is making a positive identification of these clandestine interlopers. These enemies can be disarmed when they become obvious. They become obvious when we are alerted to their intrusion. What keeps us from being Christ in this world? These are the enemies.