There are several themes that have become apparent on this blog. And, at least to me, it has been interesting watching them develop. But one that has been more recent is my growing frustration with how the current generation, and below, dishonors the previous generation of Reformed leaders. And I mean specifically in our reformed camp.* But more than this is the propensity to be bitchy. And I don’t use that word lightly, however I am at a loss for another word to describe what I am seeing.
I have to give the credit for this to Joe and Jimmy from Doctrine and Devotion. They had a very good episode of their podcast 604. Trolling a Seminary. In it they discuss a photograph taken of the faculty of Grace Bible Seminary that was aping the style of the famous Westminster Theological Seminary when Machen was teaching. It was a charming homage or tribute and then the criticism came down from on internet high. Most of it excoriating the school for posting a photo with so many white people.
The problem is that these were outrage denunciations largely from people who claim to be Christian. Some were truly awful comments and it leaves me right back in the place of wondering about the virtue of charity. Specifically, whatever happened to it, especially among Christians. I raise the issue because it is one of those fruits of the spirit that seems to have been forgotten to exist. Or, at least, its modern definition has skewed the correct understanding of it.
“‘Charity’ now means simply what used to be called ‘alms’ – that is, giving to the poor. Originally it had a much wider meaning… Charity means “Love, in the Christian sense.” But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people… I pointed out in the chapter on Forgiveness that our love for ourselves does not mean that we like ourselves. It means that we wish our own good. In the same way Christian Love (or Charity) for our neighbors is quite a different thing from liking or affection” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Dr. Samuel Johnson, in his dictionary, defines Charity three fold as 1.Tenderness; kindness; love. 2. Goodwill; benevolence; disposition to think well of others. 3. The theological virtue of universal love. This matters on its most base level because fruits of the spirit are to be shown or lived out by all Christians, in all places, at all times, if not especially those in the environs of the internet. Fruits of the Spirit are not like spiritual gifts where selected gifts are given to specific people and not to others. They are to be obvious in the lives of every christian with out fail. This distinct lack of this fruit (along with self-control) continues to make me think that our churches are indeed filled with non believers who are deceiving themselves.
Obvious Practical Application
Stunningly, most Christians seem to be at a loss as to how applying this should look. Typically legalism takes over and one of two extremes are embraced. Soft Cowardice, the refusal to call out any wrong and use mealy mouthed words. Or Hard Cowardice, which hides behind harsh words and tones and legalistically denounces everything that does not fit into its narrow theology or world view. The obvious third path is to cling to Scripture and learn discernment. But for many Christians they differ to the secular prophet John Stewart, “That sounds like a lot of work…”
So was the Grace Bible Seminary picture really one that needed to be condemned in the harshest terms. Clearly not. Harsh Cowards who were to Biblically illiterate to realize that they had fallen into the idolatry of Critical Race Theory lost their little legalistic minds in the attempt to please their forever unsatisfied gods and soft cowards would not bring themselves to rally a defense, much less a good one.
Charity would look like the harsh side keeping its mouth shut, and if they didn’t the other standing up to point out the obvious, the photo was inoffensive. Basically what Joe and Jimmy did on their podcast, and good for them.
Let Some Things Go
Not everything is a first order offense.
“In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” – Rupertus Meldenius
A good first step to learn what Scripture says when it comes to evaluating other Christians and/or Christian leaders.
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. – 1 Thessalonians 12-22
Two quick things should jump out that are frequently ignored. 1 “Respect those who labor among you… esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” 2. “Be patient with them all.” Returning to the photo and the resulting outrage. How was that respecting, or esteeming very highly those who labor? Or to look at the second point. I have personal theological disagreements with some of the me in the picture, but A. they know more than me. And B. Flaming them online is clear as crystal not being patient with them. I don’t mean to harp on this one faculty picture but the example does bring the problem into very specific relief.
The average Christian with a twitter account should know better, they should be displaying the Fruits of the Spirit. Yet again, I must point out that the idea of the Christian virtue of charity has fallen on hard times and it would appear to be because it is not preached on. There is a lot of preaching comforting weary and hurting people. But very little admonishing, exhorting, or correcting (Unless it was about voting for the “wrong” political candidate) specifically on this virtue.
I hear from pastors all the time that they feel as if they are sitting on a powder keg. And they are not wrong. But part of the solution is not to sooth those agitating and edgy souls with soft words of assurance. It is rather to confront the sin. My belief is that left in their sins they are like Saul, having been frustrated in his debates and cheating against Stephen was “Breathing threats and violence against the church.” The most loving thing for these people would be to smack them off their high horse, and for their own good. Christians are known by their fruit. Right now the harvest is rancid, and unless the disease in the orchard is corrected it will only get worse.
“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible” – C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity
*If I am honest I have my own sanctification issues with those outside of our group who are preaching what George Bluth might call “light heresy.” And anyone is welcome to take a crack, with my full support at someone like Kenneth Copeland and his ilk. And just for kicks and giggles, I am starting to think that Stephen “I am God!” Furtick may actually be Satan. And I mean that literally. He deceives many people, he is not omnipresent, and were I the devil and wanted the most bang for my buck… You could do worse than starting Elevation Church.