Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wise as Serpents, and Harmless as Doves

By Robin G. Jordan

In the debate over homosexuality in The Episcopal Church the liberals frequently accused of conservative evangelicals like myself of hating gays and lesbians because we held to a Biblical standard of morality and were not open to the normalization of homosexuality in the Church. They refuse to believe that we were motivated by a desire to uphold and maintain the teaching of the Bible. We were told that we were bigoted, hateful, and prejudiced. It was suggested that we suffered from a deep-seated hatred of homosexuals or irrational fears of homosexuality. Liberals were, of course, unwilling to admit that our motivations might not be as sinister as they sought to portray them. They would have to acknowledge the possibility among other things that we might be right and they might be wrong. It was preferable to cast us as villains than to admit that we sincerely believed what we understood the Bible to teach. What impelled us to not only defend our beliefs but also to advance them was a desire to honor God and to obey him. We believed with equal sincerity that we were doing what God would want us to do.

To support their view of our motives liberals would distort and twist what we said and read things into it what we had not said. They took advantage of anything that might allow them to put their spin on what we said and to misrepresent our position. When the debate became heated, any heat on our side was treated as prima facie evidence of our bigotry, hatred, and prejudice toward homosexuals. On other hand, liberals felt free to engage in derision, invective, and ridicule and to otherwise express their negative thoughts and feelings toward us. They were quick to pounce upon anyone who was not a liberal and who did what they did. It was very evident that there was a double standard in operation. The liberals saw nothing wrong with it and anyone, even a fellow liberal, who draw attention to it, met with hostile denial.

In the debate over the shortcomings and weaknesses of the Anglican Church in North America, I have observed that more often not those who have a stake in the AC-NA or who are sympathetic to the AC-NA are acting in the same way, as did the liberals in the homosexuality debate. Conservative evangelicals like myself are accused of harboring ill will and animosity toward the AC-NA. Our character is impugned and our motives are questioned. We are deliberately baited and provoked.

In some ways they are reacting like the purchaser of a new used car. He welcomes the comments of friends who compliment him on his purchase. But woe to the real friend who draws attention to the leaking transmission and the other problems of his new purchase.

The Anglican Church in North America has a lot of shortcomings and weaknesses. A number of these problems are as serious as those of The Episcopal Church. Some may be worse. The thing with problems is that the people who are a part of a system that has a problem—a family, a corporation, or in the case of the AC-NA a church—are often the last ones to recognize its existence, its seriousness, its causes, and its long-term effects. They, like the purchaser of the new used car, are likely to regard those drawing attention to any problems as “the problem”. We, however, are constrained to “speak every man truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25 KJV).

At the same time we should also be mindful of the words of the apostle James.

“…the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing” (James 3:5-10 KJV).

One of the drawbacks of the Internet is that is easy to say things that we might not say in a face-to-face conversation. It encourages speaking without first carefully thinking through what we are going to say. Someone writes something and we dash off a response. Those communicating via the Internet are also not as civil or guarded in what they say as they might be if the person to whom they are speaking was standing or sitting in front of them. They also do not have to use their real names and can conceal their identity. Consequently, they are emboldened to say things that they might in a face-to-face conversation think twice about saying. The impulsive are prone to be moved or prompted even more by impulse. The Internet is an environment in which the untamed tongue can do its worst, inflicting much hurt, not only to others but also to ourselves.

Conservative evangelicals posting comments in response to the articles on this web log, when they do not choose their words well, use strong language, and sink to name-calling and the like, play into the hands of those who wish to discredit them and anything that they have to say. Their comments not only can be exploited to deny them credibility, but they also can be used to bring disrepute upon this web log and conservative evangelicals in general. They need to remember the words of our Lord when he sent out the twelve. “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 KJV) We are likely to win more people to the cause of Biblical Anglicanism with wisdom and gentleness.

We all do well to meditate on the words of the apostle Paul. “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col 3:12-14 KJV).

As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Whether or not we have been ordained, we are all God’s ministers, his servants. We must, as much as lies in us, be wholesome examples and patterns for unbelievers as well as our fellow Christians to follow. We have put on the new man (Ephesians 4:24). We are to “cease from anger and forsake wrath” (Psalm 37.8 KJV; see also Ephesians 4:26-27). We need to keep these words of Paul at the forefronts of our minds.

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:29-32 KJV).

This is no easy task. We may be sorely tempted and our patience greatly tried. Yet if we earnestly ask him, God will give us strength and power to do it.

Those reading the articles on this web log and the comments posted in response to the articles need to know that behind the comments of each poster is an untold story. If the story was known, it might shed light on why the poster said what he did. Things are not always what they seem at first glance. Behind anger may be pain and hurt, frustration and disappointment. We should not be too quick to judge each other. The Episcopal Church is not the only North American Anglican body that moved, leaving its conservative members behind. Conservative members of the Reformed Episcopal Church remained faithful to its long-held principles while its leaders did not, abandoning these principles in the name of progress. Principles that they cherish, that they share with their fellow evangelicals outside of North America, are now dismissed as out of date, behind the times, not mainstream.

God has put all sorts of people into my life through whom he has taught me what Paul calls ”the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23). I cannot say that I am a quick pupil. I am still learning. The folks whose paths cross ours or join ours are God’s gift to us. In some cases we may be hard put to think of them as a gift. But a gift they are nonetheless. Through them God accomplishes the work that he has begun in us. Rather than recoiling at someone’s anger and their sharp words, let us see them for what they are—an injured soul that God has put into our path that we might show him compassion as the Samaritan showed the long-standing enemy of his people, the Jew beaten by robbers and left for dead (Luke 10:33).

Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians devotes an entire section of the letter to the subject of charity, or Christian love (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). Without charity we are nothing, he tells the church at Corinth. Whatever we do, if we do not have charity, it does not profit us. Paul goes on to write:

“Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Of all things, he writes, charity never fails. Of faith, hope, and charity, the greatest of the three is charity.

Paul returns to the theme of charity, Christian love, at the conclusion of the letter. “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).

May God grant that we do all things with charity.

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