Stop arguing; have a conversation instead

12
353
editorial opinion2

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” — Colossians 3:12-14

God’s chosen people are certainly not exempt from the increasing stress of this present generation. While it would be redundant to revisit the many issues that are currently causing dissension and division among those who consider themselves Christians, suffice it to say that these are difficult times for nearly everybody.

It should be obvious that western civilization has become radically secular in the last few decades and the rapid evolution of “this worldliness” is having a profound negative impact on the Church.

The Bible, God’s Word and our final authority for Christian doctrine and practice, is under attack not only from outside forces, but also from within elements of the Church itself. That is a tragic fact that should not surprise anyone who knows Scriptures.

As Paul warns Timothy: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4: 3-4).

The unfortunate result of this is a new generation of believers who have been swept up in the powerful current of secularism that is taking them away from the firm foundations upon which the hope for salvation rests.

In a quest for freedom and self-determination many people have gradually drifted into a state of ungodliness, deceived (as always) by Satan into believing that obedience to the Lord is oppressive and unnecessary. Their lifestyle becomes undistinguishable from that of those who openly profess their rejection of the Bible as any sort of authority for their behavior.

Their deception is complicated by an unscriptural perspective of God’s grace and the salvation he offers through the Blood of Jesus. God loves us so much that it doesn’t matter what we do is a very attractive alternative to the discipline of obedience that is clearly presented in the Bible.

The natural reaction to this development from the older and more conservative generation of Christians usually fluctuates between frustration and condemnation. We are confused and even outraged that our offspring and theirs would so blatantly reject sound doctrine and choose to live what we would consider a life of sin.

The tendency is either to quietly and sadly watch the moral self-destruction unfold, or to confront it with passionate disapproval. Neither response, however, produces a positive outcome and the relational breech continues to widen. Everything and anything we have to say will most likely be taken as legalistic Bible thumping that further retards any productive dialogue.

Who are we to judge? Are any of us without sin? Those responses have scriptural validity. It is true that we are all at war with our own sinful nature and struggle to die to ourselves so that we can live by grace. At what point, then, do we become like the hypocrites who are harshly judged by the Lord? How do we find a place of peace amid these conflicts? How do we even begin a constructive dialogue?

To have an honest conversation we all must learn to listen and make every effort to speak the truth in love to each other. A real conversation, rather than an argument, usually starts with divergent ideas that are expressed as rationally and as respectfully as possible.

The point cannot be about proving who is right, it must be about finding common ground upon which to stand together. If that happens, eventually the divergence converges into mutual understanding, even if there remains some disagreement.

Much like how the Allegheny and Monongahela merge to form the Ohio River at Pittsburgh, a constructive conversation brings people together in a natural and productive way instead of tearing them further apart. Once again, Paul warns us: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. and the Lord’s servant must not quarrel” (2 Timothy 2:23-24.)

Most arguments are foolish and stupid, producing no solutions to problems nor providing opportunities to empathize. The Lord has commanded that we love and respect one another. Quarrels tend to isolate us and make that mandate virtually impossible.

Sincere believers must strive to bear with each other. Putting up with one another’s personality quirks, political viewpoints, likes and dislikes, habits, tastes in dress and deportment, etc., requires intention and effort. It takes even more than that; it takes God’s grace and mercy.

We cannot love (agape) others out of the energy of own flesh; we desperately need the Holy Spirit. Only Christ in us can love others like we love ourselves and forgive others as he forgives us. If we can submit ourselves to the transformation process that is at work within our hearts and minds, we will find that Christ’s love is the natural product. Everything in our lives should be working to conform us to the pattern and image of our Lord. Quarreling only exposes how short we have come and how far we have missed the mark.

Furthermore, we are not at war with flesh and blood, although that is exactly what Satan, the deceiver, tries to promote and provoke. Our argument is not really with other people, but against the powers of darkness that are at war with God and those who call on his Name. As it is written: “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

Remembering this fact will help us to deal gently with those whose doctrines and standards of behavior differ from our own. They are not our enemies, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ who desperately need the grace, love, and understanding we must humbly offer to them. May God help us to be better messengers and ministers of his reconciliation.

[LeRoy Curtis is a pastor and Bible teacher with training ministries in Africa and Central America. He and Judy live in Peachtree City. Email him at leroy.judy@gmail.com.]

12 COMMENTS

  1. I find it amusingly ironic that the two of you are using “a heartfelt concern for a lack of communication….” as the focus of your not listening to each other.

    Secularism vs religion……. Hmmmm. Looking back at history and how many wars, pogroms, purges and riots have been exacted in the name of various religions, I have to wonder if the overall benefit is worth it.

    Let’s not fool ourselves. Religion has always been about influence and control.

    • We agree on that issue. Religion (of every sort) has all too often been misused by misguided men who think they do God a favor by hurting other people or use his name to impose their own will. On the other hand, is influence a bad thing if it is used to actually make people’s lives better? Is some sort of moral compass not needed for a society to hold itself together? All I have done is to ask the Christian Community (whatever that now is) to be patient and tolerant with others who profess Christ as their Lord and Savior, but who may differ in their interpretation or application of Church doctrine and practice. My post was not intended to be an attempt to win non-Christians over to the Faith by quoting biblical instruction addressed specifically to believers. Nor was it intended to scold anybody. Somehow that got lost on some of the readers. Sorry that I didn’t make that clearer.

      • Good point, I think a societal moral compass is essential and without it the society fails. I think the thrust of my point is that, over the course of history, we have used religion as an excuse for judging and, in some cases, forcing change on others rather than accepting them as they are. There’s no small amount of hypocrisy there.

    • The notion that wars are started because of religion is banal, but persistant.

      Do you imagine that the world would be without war if there were no religion? Hardly… the absolute worst atrocities of war were done in the moral vacuum created by the rejection of religion. The blood-soaked 20th century, in which secular idologies like Communism and Nazism killed nearly 200 million people, was preceeded by Nietzche’s declaration that “God is dead (and we have killed him).”

      Warfare is a basal part of our nature. It’s been more than 7 million years since our species split off from a common ancestor to the chimpanzee, yet we still act every bit of a chimp when it comes to leveraging violence, murder, rape, and cruelty towards our fellow humans in the quest to control resources needed for our survival. Jane Goodall’s oft-overlooked notes on the Gombe Chimpanzee war are a chilling reminder that human beings aren’t much better than apes in clothes.

      Religion emerged as the restraining moral force which justifies not going to war. Without the prescribed manner of conduct that is at the core of every world religion, there is no restraint against malevolence. The divine is all that protects humanity as it stands on the dividing line between the animus of our biology and the cold logical mechanism of our intellect. When we turn away from God, we turn towards evil. It’s as simple as that.

      “Does Chimp Warfare Explain Our Sense of Good and Evil?” – The Atlantic
      https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/06/does-chimp-warfare-explain-our-sense-of-good-and-evil/58643/

  2. I hardly know where to begin at addressing your flippant response to my heartfelt concern for the lack of communication between those who have a strong Christian faith and those who are beginning to reject or ignore it in favor of what they perceive to be freedom from oppressive religion. Does a nation need a moral compass in the first place? If so, would it be void of any sort of religion?
    The historical sins of the organized Church are easy targets for those who are eager to point out its failings. I could add much to your list. Condemning Evangelical Christians for preferring a sinner whose policies they perceive to be more biblical than the alternative sinner’s policies is not a productive conversation starter, albeit being front and center for your criticism. Thank you for your kind attention to my concerns for the future of the Church and our culture.

    • I may have just witnessed a unicorn – Rev. Curtis, a self-described evangelical clergyman, responding to a criticism without rancor.

      He misses the point about young adult Christians. They are ultrasensitive to hypocrisy, and the conservative Christian church’s embrace of Donald Trump doesn’t constitute a mere lesser of two evils, but rather a hypocritical cherry-picking of sins to condone or condemn. They are unimpressed with dogma that contradicts science. Indeed, witness the swiftness in which they abandoned their elders in embracing homosexuality. It is a nonissue to anyone under 30, Christian or otherwise.

      Yet I appreciate a conservative willing to have a conversation rather than to quote a 2,000 year old book or to burn a witch. For what meager merit it is worth, he obtains my respect.

  3. I hardly know where to begin at addressing your flippant response to my heartfelt concern for the lack of communication between those who have a strong Christian faith and those who are beginning to reject or ignore it in favor of what they perceive to be freedom from oppressive religion. Does a nation need a moral compass in the first place? If so, would it be void of any sort of religion?
    The historical sins of the organized Church are easy targets for those who are eager to point out its failings. I could add much to your list. Condemning Evangelical Christians for preferring a sinner whose policies they perceive to be more biblical than the alternative sinner’s policies is not a productive conversation starter, albeit being front and center for your criticism. Thank you for your kind attention to my concerns for the future of the Church and our culture.

  4. This was a bit of an odd column to read in a secular, general purpose newspaper. That aside, I would challenge the authors’ premise that the increasing secularization of our society is a bad thing.

    Compare Rates of homicide, STD’s, teen pregnancy, substance abuse in the US with those of western Europe and we don’t look too well. Western Europe is far more secular than we are in the US.

    In my lifetime I’ve seen vigorous opposition to gender equality, LGBTQ rights, reproductive choice, and the teaching of basic science, that is based in dogmatic religion. Georgia just passed a draconian bill to restrict reproductive freedom that would never have been taken seriously in Europe, Canada, or the less religion dominated US states.

    But the biggest negative consequence of conservative religiosity is that a very large minority of our populace questions the validity of climate science. This means that the nation with the world’s largest economy, the country that should be taking the lead in addressing climate change, has withdrawn from global efforts to deal with the most critical issue of our time. That is very sad…and very scary.

    Since its their future..and the future of their children that’s at stake, maybe that’s why younger people are leaving religion in droves.

    • Perhaps you don’t fully realize that The Citizen is not a totally religion-free newspaper. Columns that are written by clergy or others with a scriptural worldview appear regularly. That aside, it sounds like you really would rather condemn conservative “religiosity” outright, rather than to have a constructive conversation about how to bridge the (mis) understanding gap. Your religion seems to be centered around individual rights and the dogma you hold dearest is climate change. We could have a conversation about all that, but I sense that you’d prefer to slam dunk me with your argument that conservative churches are not good for our nation. Too bad.

      • Although I don’t usually refer to it as a “religion” I do believe pretty strongly in human rights and dignity and while I respect the right of everyone to follow their beliefs, when those beliefs become harmful to others they must be criticized. Other groups i.e. white nationalists, KKK, who spew vile hatred are justifiably condemned, so when religious groups condemn LGBTQ people or others, they must be criticized as well. I don’t believe in the privileging of religion.

        As for having a productive conversation about climate change..well..climate change is not a “dogma”. Webster defines dogma as “a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds” and “a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church”

        There is a global consensus in academia and the scientific community about the basic reality of climate change and that it is human made. I wouldn’t debate it for the same reason that I wouldn’t debate basic evolutionary theory. That ship has sailed. To debate it is to pretend that it is still in the realm of subjects upon which reasonable minds may disagree. It isn’t. It is established science.

        And the ones who would deny it are principally the ones who would also deny evolution.

  5. Churches nowadays are more like clubs for families to entertain their children with preachers ignoring the evils of our time by managing to preach silly stuff. White evangelicals are the most racist, backwards Christians that exist today, these churches exclude anybody that is not “like them”. Shame on today’s churches in America, that is why millennials are “believing” with their feet and fleeing the blatant hypocrisy. The original Church of Christ did not have money, buildings or political power, but those true Christians changed the world. Does that provide a hint?

  6. Straining at gnats and swallowing camels – Rev. Curtis’ call for Christian comity ignores the obvious. Conservative Christendom is hardly threatened by secularism any more now than it has ever been – the 16th century church denounced Copernicus’ truth, and the 19th century church defended slavery, only to later repent of their foolishness.

    The older white Christians whom he describes as fretting over younger believers’ failure to toe the line should look squarely in the mirror. The Pew research poll reports that 75% of Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians strongly endorse a President who has never seen a biblical commandment that he didn’t rush to violate. These older, white Christians reason that it is worth selling their birthright for a few Supreme Court Justices (a very small price for abandoning the core principles of one’s faith). Younger people reared in these churches clearly see this hypocrisy and turn to truth in more reliable disciplines, especially the hard and social sciences.

    If Rev. Curtis truly desires an honest dialogue within conservative Christendom, he would be wiser to consider plank removal than speck extraction.