The mood of our time is massively positive. Every one wants to affirm everyone else. And a society built on these values must have tremendous strength. Cynicism, scepticism, criticism, opposition—all these are destructive forces.
Yet the Christian gospel is not built on saying ‘Yes’ to everything and ‘No’ to nothing. Christianity affirms truths which, by their very nature, require that other ideas be negated. If Jesus rose from the dead, then his body is not in the grave. If Jesus is God’s own Son, then Muhammed was wrong. If there is no other name given by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12) then Buddhism is not the way.
A loving, affirming, caring world where no-one passes judgment on anyone else, is a wonderful world for sinners to live in. I am left as the god of me—the one who makes the rules, fulfils them when it pleases me, and changes them when I need to. And your responsibility to me is to keep telling me that I am right; and I will do the same for you.
It is the sinner’s dream, and the sinner’s nightmare. For as I destroy myself with stupid decisions, immoral values and poisonous substances, you are still to affirm that I am right, as I affirm that you are right.
The Christian gospel must put us out of step with our society, not simply because of the truths we teach, but because we teach truth at all. To teach truth is to imply the existence of falsehood; and to expose falsehood is to teach truth.
It is an awesome responsibility to be a teacher, for the teacher is always judged with greater strictness. The devil has distorted the word of God ever since Genesis 3, and deceit, denial and distortion remain his chief weapons. Thus, the teacher of God’s word must not only be faithful to what God has said, but willing and able to expose the errors of the False One. In his new Bible Speaks Today commentary on Acts, John Stott has this to say:
So the shepherds of Christ’s flock have a double duty: to feed the sheep (by teaching the truth) and to protect them from wolves (by warning of error). As Paul put it to Titus, elders must hold firm the sure word according to the apostolic teaching, so that they would be able both “to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). This emphasis is unpopular today. We are frequently told always to be positive in our teaching, and never negative. But those who say this have either not read the New Testament or, having read it, they disagree with it. For the Lord Jesus and his apostles refuted error themselves and urged us to do the same. One wonders if it is the neglect of this obligation which is a major cause of today’s theological confusion. If, when false teaching arises, Christian leaders sit idly by and do nothing, or turn tail and flee, they will earn the terrible epithet ‘hirelings’ who care nothing for Christ’s flock (Jn 10:12ff). Then too it will be said of believers, as it was of Israel, that “they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and…they became food for all the wild animals” (Ezek 34:5).
This task of contending for the truth takes place in a society where everyone wants everything to be true. It is not made easier by Christians whose grasp of the truth is so tenuous that they doubt their power or responsibility to negate false opinions.
So far in 1990, we have had to battle against those who taught about signs and wonders in ways that are contrary to God’s word. We have also been attacked from outside by the ABC’s Religious Affairs Department with a re-construction of Christianity dredged up from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Our main article in this issue of The Briefing is another dreadfully negative piece, for it questions our growing association with Roman Catholicism. Protestantism itself appears to be a wholly negative force. Is it time to give up the name (and idea) of Protestantism and go with the flow of positive affirmation of each other’s beliefs? Or do we have to be the odd man out, saying ‘No’ while the world cries ‘Yes’?
Let us continue to pray for our leaders, that they continue to exercise their ministry with wisdom, with faithfulness to God’s word, and with strength and resolve to do that which is right.