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.