All the reports over the past week are thousands of miles away.
A Christian missionary is kidnapped in Nigeria by those angry with what she represents. Christians in Libya are attacked and decapitated for world-wide viewing. Dozens of Christians are captured in Syria by ISIS.
Sobering as the events may be, there is a part of me that wonders about the claim behind the label. Not everyone who claims to be Christian actually lives in line with Scripture, and the Bible separates true worshipers from false. Judging faith is not the job of any of us, and yet God expects us to make assessments sufficient to determine whether or not we are allowed to maintain fellowship with others who claim the same faith.
I want to care, but I want to do so in right submission to Scripture. So what ought we think about in light of the recent trials inflicted on those who claim the name of Christ?
I don’t know much about the missionary herself, except that she was reported to have been commissioned through the Methodist denomination. Although many would not agree, it is my observation that the unfortunate missionary represented a denomination that has slid off the moral bench in favor of social justice. I don’t reject that group, but I do have several serious concerns that stand in my way of embracing fellowship with them. I am left with an echo of the Lord’s commending words: “You have one thing in your favor, you hate the practices of those I hate”. Strong language about what Jesus expects about our views of others who claim to be Christian, but I am not the Lord, and his words must direct my choices if I am to remain submissive to his kingdom.
The Coptic Christians in Libya have an ancient tradition towards the eastern orthodox side of Christianity, but after living for a year in the Mideast, I witnessed first hand the significant bent toward repeating formal traditions and the surprising tendency to favor religious tradition over scriptural authority. This is not just a casual observation; that is actually part of their historic theology, which views Scripture as a back up to tradition, but it is tradition that establishes what is right. I have a big problem with that, since Jesus himself stated at one point: “You have a fine way of upholding your tradition over the word of God”. I respect Coptic Christians and their heritage, but I do struggle with how to rightly accept their claim of faith. God has a lot to say about those well-meaning believers who tolerate the recognizable abuses against Scripture by those around them.
Admittedly, I know even less about the claims of Christ coming from those recently captured by ISIS in Syria. They resided in the old Assyrian empire where ancient Israel (northern kingdom) was scattered. History records that Christians in that area were dominated by the theological tradition of Arianism, which had some serious problems with their view of Christ’s divinity. We are told in Scripture, that anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus as both God and man, is part of the antichrist. Judgment is not necessary here, just an assessment, in order to make a decision for which the Bible says I will be held accountable for what I know.
Just the near constant news about Muslims against Christians in other countries, or about secular science dismissing the validity of science conducted by Christians, or about how our government seems intent on promoting an affirmative action plan to demote Christian influence on American soil in favor of promoting any other religion. The attacks are reminiscent of air-raid bombardments that eventually numb our senses as we wonder about in hopes of eventual relief.
And so I struggle. I want to bear with the burdens of my brothers and sisters in faith. However, I don’t want to dishonor God by embracing and accepting what he has revealed belongs to the disobedient.
Love hangs in the balance. The globe is heating up. Love is at risk of growing cold.
“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”
Nothing of what I assume above prevents me from allowing my heart to go out to those in such pain. But it definitely has an impact on how I am allowed to fellowship, be that in person, or in the above cases, in prayerful spirit.
There is, however, something else worth considering.
“The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
Although I may have to adjust my approach a bit if my assumptions are valid, I can still pour out my heart toward them, because all three stories above involve those who in varying ways are preaching Christ. It is less a matter of what I think of others, and far more important that I demonstrate support of the name of my Lord. I am not compelled to embrace what I assume are errors, but I am encouraged to express love.
Again, in terms of how to rightly interact with other Christians who may be living contrary to what I understand of Scripture, the Holy Spirit gives several guidelines. We are told that we will be held accountable for judging others. In context, the Bible states: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” The point being, that yes, you are commanded to review the repeated choices of those around you who claim to be Christian.
That assessment may result in a separating of fellowship and open support, for that very same passage also says: “You must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is [living in sin]”. And in a companion verse, we are instructed: “Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”
Where does all this bring us?
I may have some real concerns about the claim of Christ represented by others, such as those noted recently in the news, however, just because I am compelled to separate from associating with those who live contrary to the word of God, I am not restricted from assuming that they may still be brothers-in-Christ!
For one thing, my assessments could still be wrong, even though I am bound to uphold what I understand at the moment. Also, they profess Jesus, and for that I should rejoice, and lend my voice along side theirs in honoring the name of our Lord. The Bible says to view those who claim to be Christian as if they are brothers with me, even if their behaviors or some of their beliefs restrict my participating with them. And finally, because the God that Christians worship is a God of love, he allows me to still express my heart, my concern, my prayer, my efforts to help, my willingness to support their needs.
A form of global warming is turning abusive against all who call on the name of Christ. We may be different. We may have some beliefs and practices that concern each other. However, we have the one and same enemy: Satan. And, we claim the same Savior: Jesus.
Let’s not allow the onslaught of news to chill our hearts. Let’s not allow our differences to stand in the way of loving each other in a way that gives our resources and lives to help our brothers in need. May God grant his protection and grace to that wonderful missionary in Nigeria during her desperate time of need. May the Lord comfort those who lost their loved ones in Libya and may he strengthen that church in his name. In Jesus name, may the lion be crushed that has taken children of Christ in Syria. And, may my heart remain open and warm and compassionate for all God’s people–those who claim him, and those who will eventually believe in him.
The best way to keep our hearts alive and warm is to exercise them for the benefit of others. Let’s not allow the signs-of-the-times, and spiritual storms, to turn our hearts away from those in trouble. Let’s increase our efforts to “do good to all men, but especially those of the household of faith”.