A Subtle Sabotage
I recently came across a sermon clip online from a well-known pastor in our area. He gave a very impassioned account of a story from the scripture. There was a sense of immediacy and gravity to what he was saying. He would paraphrase a few words of the story, then add a few words for flavor, explanation, or commentary.
It was very compelling. I felt myself being drawn along in the current of what he was trying to communicate. I started to notice, though, every few minutes he would say something that set off a tiny alarm in the back of my head. It was like ordering a hamburger without pickles and about three bites in, you taste something...pickly. About halfway through the sermon clip, I started putting the pieces together and realized that there were, in fact, pickles on this hamburger. Even though the majority of the message, apart from the little bits of error was fine, those little bits pointed the whole thing in a direction that was not ultimately Biblical.
A Pervasive Problem
There is a pitfall that we Christians need to be aware of, and the Bible addresses it in a number of ways and places. Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven...” Peter says “...there will be false teachers among you.” Paul cautions Timothy that people will “...accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions...” John warns us that “...many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
While we are typically wary of the influence of blatant sinfulness, Christians have an inclination to see anything that “looks Christian” and immediately approve it and begin to allow it to shape their thoughts and feelings. As an extension of that, we defend things that “look Christian” against criticism. This is how, even in the church, we adopt some patently unbiblical ideas.
It is unfortunate but true that there is an abundance of humanism, materialism, and outright idolatry masquerading as Christianity in our culture today. Ranging from subtle to blatant, we are surrounded by all manner of media, and even churches who put on a very Christian-looking façade, but whose message is in opposition to the Bible and undermines the Gospel.
Prosperity gospel, liberal theology, works-salvation, there are as many flavors of false Christianity as there are types of sin. We must learn to be wise, discerning, and sensitive to the Holy Spirit. If the frequency of warnings in Scripture is any indication, this is an issue that deserves careful attention.
The Soap-Boxer and the Cynic
We are right to oppose those who would distort the Gospel and defame the Name we hold above all others. The shape that opposition takes, however, is critical. There are a number of wrong ways. These two are the ones I see most often, both of which I have been guilty of:
The Soap Box/Megaphone Method
It can be tempting to respond to things we disagree with by being as loud as possible about it.
In fact, it is very fashionable in the Christian subculture to ‘take stands’ against things. We rant, we boycott, we blog, we nag. The soap-boxer never misses an opportunity to tell someone about something he disapproves of. Everyone around knows what companies he’s boycotting and which churches, pastors, or denominations he disagrees with.
The biggest problem with this method is that it can make us appear divisive, petty, and grumpy. When we become argumentative and preachy, we lose a lot of influence. We should avoid giving outsiders the excuse of disunity among Christians to dismiss our true message. There are times when this method is appropriate, but I think it’s rare.
2. The Cynical Critic Method
It’s very easy to become jaded and cynical in our modern world. Looking around, it appears that everything is broken and there is little hope of redemption, in Christian culture or anywhere. The cynic assumes that everyone and everything is at least a little bit wrong, no one has pure motives and nothing is worth investing himself in. He ceases trying to find the good and disengages entirely from Christian culture.
The biggest problem with this method is that it’s not based in truth. God is at work extending grace, restoring His creation, and bringing His Kingdom to fruition. He’s doing this through the people who preach His gospel accurately, and with right motives, as well as through people who don’t.
A Right Response
What should we do then? Like nearly everything, deciding how to respond to counterfeit Christianity should be undertaken with a great deal of care. When you hear or see something, whether it’s a post on Facebook, an idea expressed by a fellow Christian, a book or movie making the rounds, or anything else in the Christian subculture, here are a few ideas of things to take into account when considering how to respond.
James 1:19 - ‘Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;’ This is some of the most intensely practical and applicable verses in the whole Bible. Start here.
Read.‘...they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.’ Be like the Bereans. They were quick to listen, but made sure that anything they would accept and incorporate lined up with the Scriptures. This means you need to know your Bible.
Pray.‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.’ Choosing a response is a matter of wisdom, and God wants you to have it.
Get counsel.‘The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.’ What does your pastor think about it? How about the Christian community you are involved in? Try to get some outside perspective and input on how to proceed.
Be helpful. This one is a little less straightforward and depends a lot on context, but we have to be conscious of the effect our opposition might have on the situation. Consider your platform. Is the way you are presenting your opposition likely to help effect a change? Will the relationship you are speaking into bear the weight of your criticism? Someone you know very well is more likely to receive direct criticism from you than someone you hardly know.
I have found that in most cases, the best response is to observe, consider, and take action for yourself and the people in your care. Don’t read the book, don’t see the movie, don’t attend the church, whatever it is, just don’t be a part of it. If your conscience and your God-given wisdom seem to be pointing you in the direction of a more substantial opposition, please consider the above suggestions. Above all, do everything for the glory of God.