Preparing for the Refugee Column

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A couple of posts ago, I made a joke about “lesbyterians,” which resulted in some objections and ongoing discussion. I have made a particular distinction on this topic before, but I really should mention it again. You could look here, or put apostle and refugee in the search bar and see what happens. My rhetorical deployments are not accidental, and these things are not happening because I can’t help it. This is, believe it or not, rule-guided behavior.

First, the distinction again — I believe that everyone involved in evangelism, apologetics, and any form of cultural engagement needs to have a fixed distinction in his mind such that he can tell the difference between apostles of the world and refugees from the world.

For many compromised Christians, the uber-value is that we must be “nice.” This is assumed to be a universal value, but because an antithesis is necessarily pervasive in and through all things, some things must be rejected. So whenever someone on the “side of history” gets really nasty, he must cover for himself by posing as a victim — he reacted this way because somebody else wasn’t very nice to him. The baker wouldn’t bake him a cake with a swastika, Confederate flag, crossed AK-47s, two grooms on it. So the sin of not being nice is located with the perpetrator of the hate crime, and everybody downstream from that ostensible sin gets to be vicious.

So Christians must not be nice, as though that were some kind of stand-alone value. Politeness is not what we are called to — Jesus was frequently quite impolite. He made a whip to clear the Temple. In Matthew 23, He gave the Pharisees the dressing down of a lifetime. He upset synagogue rulers for healing people on the Sabbath instead of doing something suitably religious. The Son of God came to live among us, and did so in such a way as to get crucified by all the respectable people. Was Jesus nice?

The greatest commandment is love, not niceness. And as C.S. Lewis pointed out somewhere, anger is what love bleeds when you cut it. You cannot love without hating, and if you do not hate, you know nothing of love. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Prov. 8:13). To love the wolves is to hate the sheep, and vice versa. Love the termites, hate the house. Hate the man, love the cancer. This is not a difficult principle.

The difficulty is in the application. Sometimes it is hard to deal with the tares without harming the wheat. When that is the case, you have to let the tares go. Chemo will frequently make the healthy parts of the body sick in order to make the cancer sicker. Sometimes refugees, who are hurting refugees, have been misled and taught badly by the apostles, and they might be repeating some of the lies they have heard. Sometimes they might take it hard because you hurt what is hurting them. There are difficulties here, and wisdom is required.

Now when I take a crack at the lesbyterians, I am attacking false teachers who prance in the chancel like they belonged there or something. They are the sleek apostles of the world. They are like a bilge full of sea water. They are a terrible threat, and should be treated like one.

But people who are mangled by the false teachers are in another category entirely. Jesus said we were to disciple the nations of the world, which is not the same thing as hiding from the nations of the world. There is no way to bring unconverted sinners to Christ without making a mess. Oftentimes, the first people to come are the ones who were worked over by the world in the worst possible ways. They come into the church, and thanks to God, but they track things in also.

So there are two ways to muddle the distinction between apostles and refugees. One is to embrace the secular form of the nice imperative, and to make friendly with the apostles and refugees together, all in the name of constructive dialog. The other approach is that taken by a reactionary form of the niceness imperative — what might be called the ghetto-ization of nice. Cleaned up and respectable Christians retreat to their enclaves, and all refugees are treated like apostles — and therefore shut out. Here we are in our own little cozy spot, everybody’s nice, nobody has a tattoo, and so let’s keep it that way.

We are called to hate folly. Sometimes we don’t even answer a fool because we don’t ever want to become like him (Prov. 26:4). Other times we take the fool down a couple of notches because he was starting to think that sexual dyslexia was a lawful form of xes (Prov. 26:5). Sometimes we strike a fool because we want the simple to learn wisdom (Prov. 19:25). Is this because we are proud and full of ourselves? Not a bit of it — that would be folly. Lady Wisdom sets the table, opens the door, and leaves the light on. Please come in (Prov. 9:4-6). Refugees are welcome. A refugee column would be welcome.

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David
David
7 years ago

I love this blog

Jim-N-NC
Jim-N-NC
7 years ago

Ditto.

timothy
timothy
7 years ago

nice.

Will G.
Will G.
7 years ago

As a refugee I have tracked some things in.  Thank you for helping me to sort things out. 

Sara
Sara
7 years ago

“There are difficulties here, and wisdom is required.” — bingo!

Tim Mullet
Tim Mullet
7 years ago

Sara out of curiosity, what is your reaction to this clarification? :)

BJ
BJ
7 years ago

As a former refugee who brought in nore than his fair share of world on his boots, I honestly only came in to the church because it did not have a puddle of worldiness in it. If it had been there, I never wiuld have entered. Honestly if all the church had to offer was more of world with a picture of Jesus, no thank you. 

bethyada
7 years ago

Other times we take the fool down a couple of notches because he was starting to think that sexual dyslexia was a lawful form of xes.  Sexual dyslexia = doesn’t understand the difference between legitimate and illegitimate sexual behaviour?  xes = xxx? A fool equates the 2? Someone help me out here.

Jane Dunsworth
Jane Dunsworth
7 years ago

bethyada, xes is sex backwards, i.e. sex with dyslexia. I think sexual dyslexia is not being able to tell the sexes apart, sexually.

timothy
timothy
7 years ago

bethyada–dyslexics often spell words backwards. Have you seen the bumper sticker

 
Dyslexics of the world!  UNTIE!

 
Well a sexual dyslexic engages in xes, not sex.

bethyada
7 years ago

Of course. Ironically, had I been dyslexic it would obvious.

Matt
Matt
7 years ago

Was Jesus nice? Ok, but two things, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t much care about what offensive language you use.  One, whenever you do this kind of thing, whatever is supposed to happen doesn’t seem to happen.  Instead, it offends or annoys people, who then proceed to object, and then the entire topic is derailed and instead revolves around this big discussion of what words everyone is supposed to use.  In other words, I can appreciate that you don’t want to be neutered-polite, but isn’t it possible that you are being impolite in a hopelessly counterproductive way? Two, isn’t… Read more »

Matt H
Matt H
7 years ago

Matt said:  Two, isn’t it at least plausible that Jesus, being the Son of God and all, is allowed to take certain liberties and engage in certain behaviors that we might be best advised to avoid on account of being simply mundane mortals? Two problems with this: if that’s the case, you’d have to argue that one of the points of the incarnation was God teaching us not to be like His son. “I’m going to have my Son take on human flesh and…show you what not to do.” The other problem is you still have to account for Ezekiel,… Read more »

Matt H
Matt H
7 years ago

Also, I give up on trying to format comments. We need a WordPress surgeon, stat.

Andrew Lohr
7 years ago

“Is God nice?  I doubt it.”–Whittaker Chambers (in letter to William F. Buckley?)   (Chambers was a Quaker, and I think he was referring to the awful things that Providence allows in history, e.g. the USSR; but it’s a well-pointed line, loosely relevant.)

David R
David R
7 years ago

And speaking of nice, let us not forget Elisha’s response to some mouthy youth.

2 Kings 2:23-25 Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!”  When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number.

RFB
RFB
7 years ago

And that, David, is quite a commentary regarding youth groups. ;)

Kimberley
Kimberley
7 years ago

What a fantastic message! I have been dealing with so many “nice” Christians I feel like tearing my hair out. When we call sin out for what it is, against God, we are called mean. Told we’re pushing sinners away. It makes one so so weary. Thank you for this encouragement.

Melody
Melody
7 years ago

Keep it up Doug.  I too, am so sick of ‘nice’ phony Christians.  I think another term for them would be ‘lukewarm’. The old “Angel of Light” is shining brightly on them.

Ellen
Ellen
7 years ago

“Is God nice?  I doubt it.”–Whittaker Chambers

” …. but he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”– Mr. Beaver
 

timothy
timothy
7 years ago

Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number.
 

                                                                                                                                               
 
ahem.

Ben Bowman
7 years ago

Nice is a city in France. That is all we should need to know. 

Brian Watson
Brian Watson
7 years ago

“There is no way to bring unconverted sinners to Christ without making a mess.” And there’s no way to share the gospel without some conflict. Even when we do our best to defend the faith with gentleness and respect, we are confronting people with rebellious hearts and false worldviews. So, there will be some conflict and there will be some type of mess. We need not create undue conflicts and messes, but it’s good to realize there will be friction and some stuff tracked in, as Doug writes.

Barnabas
Barnabas
7 years ago

In the land of the libertine it is neither courageous nor helpful to go about bashing pharisees. This is just a technique for timid Christians to show soft allegence to the hedonistic spirit of the age.

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

Matt asks: “I can appreciate that you don’t want to be neutered-polite, but isn’t it possible that you are being impolite in a hopelessly counterproductive way?” Our culture celebrates being offended as if it were a civil right, and it revels in using false guilt to manipulate others and shut down discussion.  So their offense and their reaction is nearly irrelevant to how we should behave.  However, as Doug points out here (and in Serrated Edge), this doesn’t mean we are free to start firing offensive language in any direction without any standard.  We have to be extremely deliberate in… Read more »

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
7 years ago

My first concern is that naturally fallen people don’t need a lot of encouragement to avoid too much niceness.  If I were instructed on religious grounds and for religious motives to become less nice and more direct/more cutting/more deliberately offensive in my dealings with others (no matter how awful they may be), that instruction is appealing to the demon on my shoulder, not the angel.  I am assuming that we are not defining niceness as a refusal to describe sin as sin.  But I constantly need to remind myself that people are fragile, that I have no right to cause… Read more »

JDM
JDM
7 years ago

@Jill. Scripture commands us to be imitators of Christ. It does not say imitate these things that Christ did, but not these things. What scripture do you appeal to that exempts you from following his example re pharisees?

katecho
katecho
7 years ago

Jill Smith wrote: “For me, the language Jesus used to the Pharisees is something I can’t copy because I am not our Lord.  He could see into people’s minds and hearts; I can’t.  He knew how to call to repentance without producing hopelessness and despair; I don’t. … If this is true for me, it must be equally true for others.” Someone already addressed this gross fallacy earlier by pointing out that it wasn’t just Jesus who engaged in this warrior-like confrontational behavior.  They listed several other Scriptural examples.  However, I will grant to Jill the point that not all… Read more »

JDM
JDM
7 years ago

, I think you are right that each Christian has different responsibilities as members of the body. But in reading her post it seems like she is saying she is choosing to follow her own example rather than Christ’s. That seems like a problematic position to take no?

Dave Cooper
Dave Cooper
7 years ago

Thanks for this post Mr Wilson. It’s very helpful.

Melody
Melody
7 years ago

Air Force Academy Removes Bible Verse:
http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/03/11/air-force-academy-removes-bible-verse-from-cadet-whiteboard/
” For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”. Hebrews 4:12

Dan
Dan
7 years ago

Katecho, well said: “Our culture celebrates being offended as if it were a civil right, and it revels in using false guilt to manipulate others and shut down discussion.”

Dan
Dan
7 years ago

I agree with Pastor Wilson: “To love the wolves is to hate the sheep, and vice versa.”  Mere politeness isn’t going to effectively minister to the sheep.  Nor is politeness going to effectively chase away the wolves (i.e. protect the flock).  Ideally, we need a pastor/shepherd who is able to do both well.  Yet pastors are flawed and imperfect, too.  Thus, if we have to error on the side of caution, I’d rather the shepherd protect his sheep from the wolves.  Let me put it this way.  The Church is the bride of Christ, and Christ lays down His life for the… Read more »

Katie
Katie
7 years ago

For what it’s worth, I’m a naturally fallen person who hates conflict. Being nice and trying to avoid conflict is an instinct that does not serve my marriage well, for instance. Someone in a shepherding role with this instinct would need a lot of reminding about the dangers of niceness, I would imagine.

Dan
Dan
7 years ago

Katie, well said, and very true.  Those who merely want to avoid conflict at all costs tend not to see the dangers down the road.  Thus, they become people-pleasers and enablers, which often results in those who are being enabled to further harm themselves and others.  As all adults should know, avoiding conflict doesn’t make it go away, it just resurfaces again at a later point; yet all the while it continues to build resentments and walls, which can lead to ruined relationships.  In marriage, if husbands and wives don’t learn how to resolve conflict, the marriage will be shallow and miserable.  In parenting, if parents… Read more »

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
7 years ago

Katecho, your use of ellipsis in quoting my post suggests that it is my inability to see into minds and hearts, or to call to repentance without producing despair, that I believe must be true for others as well as for myself.  If you reread my post, you will see that what I claimed to be true for others as well as myself is the power of love to melt opposition and open minds to the truth.  This is indeed a fallacy on my part, but it is quite different from claiming that because I cannot know minds or hearts,… Read more »

Dan
Dan
7 years ago

Jill, very thoughtful comments.  This was good: “When I debate Christian doctrine with an unbeliever, I am not certain how much my zeal is undermined by a pleasure in being right, in being persuasive, and in proving someone wrong.”  And this: “If God made me reasonably articulate and quick-witted, it was not so I could delight in bludgeoning my opponent with the perfect retort, the sarcastic phrase that is intended to wound, and the cheap cleverness that gets a laugh at someone else’s expense.”  Both statements very well written and very applicable.  It is wise to examine our motives regarding what… Read more »

Dave W
Dave W
7 years ago

Jill, I think the spirit of what you’re saying is excellent. But I want to hear what you think about this: The Bible calls Christians to a number of different actions/feelings/thoughts. We are responsible to do all of them the best we can, with the help of God’s Spirit. If I’m told to be humble, I am right to consider that on the far side of humility is the corresponding vice, say cowardice or something. And I suppose most things we’re commanded have this potential; we could mess any command up, almost. Now add this: The Bible tells us to… Read more »

timothy
timothy
7 years ago

Here is an example of Christian bravery, plain speaking–and a judicial win. http://legalinsurrection.com/2014/03/conservative-prof-wins-discrimination-lawsuit-against-unc-wilmington/
 
 

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
7 years ago

Dave, this is such an excellent question and I have been sitting here trying to figure out what I think. I think your first point is key: every virtue can’t exist in a vacuum but must be seen in relation to other virtues as well as to the vice that can result when one virtue is emphasized at the expense of every other. For example, kindness is good but not when it results in unkindness to someone who is not the immediate object of my concern. Mercy is good (and feels good) but can result in injustice to the innocent.… Read more »

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
7 years ago

Dave, I got messed up in the cutting and pasting.  Let me try again so that this makes sense!//   Dave, this is such an excellent question and I have been sitting here trying to figure out what I think. I think your first point is key: every virtue can’t exist in a vacuum but must be seen in relation to other virtues as well as to the vice that can result when one virtue is emphasized at the expense of every other. For example, kindness is good but not when it results in unkindness to someone who is not… Read more »