Rules for Rejoinder – Part 1
Ok…let’s just settle down for a moment and take a deep breath. Find a comfortable chair to sit in. Close your eyes for a moment. Breath in…hold it…breath out. Repeat. And repeat again until you can feel the blood pressure drop and the angst melt away. Maybe for some this will require sitting in the chair all day, but either way, we all need to just settle down for a moment so we can reset our thinking a bit.
Clearly in our modern age, just as in times past since the day in which Adam and Eve ate the proverbial apple, chaos is the order of the day. Things are out of whack. No matter what church denomination you worship with, political group you belong to, educational institue you learn from, occupational labor you invest in, may we all agree on this one point…things with the world are just simply not right.
While it is tempting to make my point by walking through some specific examples of what is not right, that would distract many reading this away from its intended purpose by sending them back to the easy chair for more deep breathing exercises. Although for some, that may be the best medicine a doctor could prescribe as they find themselves chronically caught in cycles of frustrating, epipleptic fits (and no, that is not a mispelling but is intentional…look it up, you may need to reference a Septuagint lexicon for accuracy), it is my intention to hopefully move some beyond the fits and tantrums to a more meaningfully effective human existence.
Woe Because of the Rocks
“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” Matthew 18:7 (NASB95)
Jesus pointed out so wisely that our world is a place where there are many tempting rocks which may cause us to lose our grip on the pavement at any given point in time, none of which point to a very pleasant experience. Who in their right mind enjoys walking through the daily routines of life, sensing a growing confidence in life, only to find themselves tripped up in the late afternoon by an unforeseen stone? Jesus stated that this was a woeful yet inevitable experience in our fallen world, which merely adds to the aforementioned chaos we wade through daily. While we wonder at times how these offensive stones came to be in our path in the first place, what is more perplexing is the woeful phenomenon by which we add to the difficult terrain by adding our own pebbles to the journey of others. Ever attempt to walk uphill on a path of loose pea-gravel before?
Maybe the most popular type of pea-gravel lain in the chaotic, modern era of hill climbing, is the terribly horrendous way in which we engage in discussion and debate with those we disagree with. While absolute truth needs to be held with the highest honor, the temptation is that destruction becomes the order of the day as emotions run high, words without end are employed, individuals are vilified, and no clear winner is declared. The bulldog-like tenacity to destroy any and all who hold to levels of belief other than what we currently cling to is astounding! Even more incredible, the actual reality of whether one’s perspective is right or not often becomes secondary as the focus morphs from a “I’m right, you’re wrong” assertion to, “I hate you because you oppose me” dysphoria. Not to mention the fact that most trending, hot-topic debates that are deemed fit to be elevated to the status of life-and-death today (proven clearly by the mere consumption of time that is invested in them), will no doubt find themselves tomorrow crated up and stored away, à la Raiders of the Lost Ark, in a vast unknown warehouse somewhere so as to make room for the more relevantly trending trends that are sure to capture our emotions. Therefore, at the end of a long day of trudging uphill in the loose gravel, we find ourselves sliding back down the hill having accomplished nothing other than showing the depths of our sinful nature. Woe is us, for sure!
I most certainly believe that having a discerning mind and a judging heart are necessary qualities in the quest for truth. Even more importantly, the Bible teaches that they are necessary. Being able to judge, discern, and calculate is very much needed in a fallen world to avoid the pitfalls of deception and winds of doctrine that float around like so many Portuguese Men-of-War (I have written much on this, yet much more needs to be said. See Who Are You to Judge? – Part 1, Part 2). But this in no way opens the door for arrogance, hatred, and disrespect (of which also I have written Unity, Liberty, and Charity). At the end of the day, while debates and discussions are certainly not sinful, what is sinfully tragic and worthy of woe is the heart bent on the ruination of the conscience of the individual for whom Christ died.
“For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” 1 Corinthians 8:11–12 (NASB95)
The Modern Hiccup: Pride
At the core of the modern temperament of shunning and snubbing those who see things in the world differently than us, (or stated in harmony with a Christian worldview, those who see things in less light than us) is pride. Only pride can be blamed for the condition we currently find ourselves in with the multi-faceted culture wars we weakly fight through strong opinion; and it is not commendable. Only pride twists us into positions whereby the temptation to ruin another individual outshines the path of engagement for the sake of bringing enlightenment. Instead of pursuing the benefit of bringing about understanding, far too often the aim is to see ourselves standing on top of the wreckage of mutilated beliefs and mangled consciences, shouting, “Ha! I am right you are wrong!” What can be more prideful than that?
And just in case we have all forgotten, as we regather our composure through deep breathing exercises in our easy chairs, pride comes before the fall. If this statement from God is true, it would seem our culture, Christian and non-Christian, is destined for a great fall. This is true not necessarily because there are so many false presuppositions and errors that need to be addressed, but simply because our attitude of pride in addressing them stinks to high heaven. It would seem this cataclysmic fall is inevitable, unless that is, by the grace of God, we are able to recompose ourselves in humility and find once again the straight and narrow path of life.
I am not saying that debates, discussions, and arguments should be avoided. In fact, I think they are essential. What I am saying though is that the pride that pervades ninety-nine percent of those debates, discussions, and arguments (the actual percentage maybe higher) needs to be killed. Not pampered; not coddled; not secretly indulged and mislabeled as something else, but mortified in the deepest sense of the meaning of the word. Probably the most effective motivation for engaging in the subjugation of a prideful, me-against-everybody-else-because-they-are-wrong heart is a fresh revelation of the glory of God. Truly, when our lives are viewed through the lens of the majestic radiance of a holy yet gracious God, we will without fail find ourselves scrambling with fresh energetic fervor to toss our pride out the window. And this is desperately needed today.
The Adjustment of Joshua
On the eve of battle for the Israelites as they were about to engage Jericho, Joshua found himself overlooking the city. No doubt, he was preparing himself for the imminent scene of carnage that would come. No doubt, he was gathering his thoughts as any wise general would do. But unexpectedly, he found himself face to face with a stranger. To this stranger, as any wise general in the Lord’s army would do, he quickly cut to the chase to learn whether he was friend or foe.
“Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand, and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”” Joshua 5:13 (NASB95)
Essentially, what Joshua wanted to know from this man with drawn sword was, “Who’s side are you on? Tomorrow there will be a great battle. We are expecting a great victory because we perceive that God is on our side. Therefore, who are you fighting for, us or them?” I can imagine, being the warrior that he was, Joshua was at the ready to strike down the man if he answered poorly. Ironically, isn’t this similar to the attitude of factious debating which pervades modern culture. We quickly want to know, do you believe like we do? If not, prepare to be cut down.
But the stranger’s reply threw Joshua a curve ball of epic proportions:
“He said, ‘No’……” Joshua 5:14a (NASB95)
No??? But it wasn’t a yes or no question. Who does this guy think he is? Doesn’t he understand the rules of engagement when picking a side to indentify with? Doesn’t he understand that in war, being neutral is a sign of weakness and defeat? This person must not be from around these parts…
“……rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” The captain of the Lord’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.” Joshua 5:14b–15 (NASB95)
Once the identity of the man with the drawn sword was revealed, Joshua responded accordingly with a face plant. Furthermore, instead of giving instruction to the man, Joshua humbly submitted himself to be the recipient of instruction. And the first thing instructed? Remove your sandals, Joshua…you are on holy ground!
The lesson is simply this…sure, as Christians we are most certainly, most confidently on the winning team, just as Joshua was destined to lead the Israelites in victory over Jericho. History will prove this. But the bigger question on the eve of our victory is this… in what way will we impact the society around us until the Day dawns and the Church’s faith becomes sight? The privilege to engage our culture for Christ must be seen as something by which we are standing on holy ground because it is the captain of the Lord’s host who has called us and is leading us in the battle. For far too many in the Church, prideful hearts have given way to an us-verses-them mentality; opening ourselves further to manipulation by the devil. Far too often we waste precious time and energy debating trendy, secondary issues because we have forgotten the urgency of the hour that only the gospel can address. I pray the Lord turns the ship around before it is too late.
“Are you for us or for them?” No. I am in the Lord’s army, with the Lord’s agenda, and am being humbly yet confidently championed by Jesus Christ into eternal victory. Would you like to hear more about it?
“but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence”
1 Peter 3:15 (NASB95)
(Part 2 will discuss healthy Rules of Engagement through which an appeal for sanity will be further championed)