Nice Christians

I was intrigued to have come across an article that was pointed out by one of my Facebook friends, with the title “Biblical Christians are winning the war; here’s why“, along with “friends” comments. The article was written by David Robertson, a leading Christian mover and shaker (even though I haven’t heard of him) in response to another article posted by his friend, Martin Saunders, another Christian mover and shaker I have not heard of, which had the title “Conservative Christians are losing the argument: here’s why“.

As is apparent from the titles, the men see things differently, although I found reading both articles  worthwhile and helpful, noting similarities in all our “spiritual” journeys. My first thought was to do with defining terms, e.g. biblical, war, conservative, argument, which will mean different things to different people, but decided this was not what I should be doing and neither should I be coming down on any particular side, at least as far as this more public offering goes. As one particularly keen to participate in the current culture wars and engage with a sometimes antagonistic culture, the differing views got me thinking. Given my own sense of calling to help shepherd the flock in a day when there is much confusion and  many different voices, I felt it right to respond.

One phrase I picked up in my reading was “nice Christian” and the implication that some of those who take a more conservative (note with a small ‘c’ to distinguish this from any political affiliation) approach to their Christianity are not always as nice as they should be. Sometimes I get the impression that those who think this, rightly or wrongly, see such Christians as majoring on the minor and with a lack of grace when doing so. I sense though that even though the tide of secularism and antipathy to dogma is rising, our political leaders and cultural movers and shakers like the idea of having “nice” as opposed to “not nice” Christians around, given what they do to help address an increase in acute social issues while at the same time we are seeing a diminishing public pot of money to help deal with the problems. Few would argue if you take out what Christians do to help, much of which is done freely, this country will be in one mighty mess. When I start managing my homeless night shelter in a couple of weeks times, this will be just one small piece in the giant jigsaw of meeting otherwise unmet human need. Problems may arise, however, when Christians challenge the status quo and fail to meet expectations. The nice tag then has to be removed.

There are many things that some would claim would stop Christians being seen as nice people, besides the obvious one of them not being nice in the first place. Of the top of my head and over the years, I have come up with a growing list. They could talk about God or other taboo subjects like sin, salvation, temperance, judgement and hell. They could be intolerant of other religions by having the temerity to say theirs is the only way to God. They could appear to be negative and judgmental when it comes to behavior they see as being wrong, and what right have they anyway to say what is right or wrong since everything is relative? They may be seen as homophobic if they believe gay is not ok. They could criticize the government. They could even accept the people society rejects. And I could go on. What is sometimes missed though is if Christians stopped doing these things they stop being christian and little else can follow.

Notwithstanding, nice is not how I would describe myself. Grumpy old ??? maybe! Yet funnily enough, having found myself at the sharp end of community activism, while I have managed to upset a few along the way, especially when they represent a vested interest that feels threatened, there have been many, sometimes quite ambivalent to any form of Christianity, who have been approving and supportive, and just maybe they saw what I was doing as being nice. Also many of the Christians I have hooked up with to achieve my activist goals have NOT been Conservative Evangelicals as traditionally understood. What we all agree on is loving your neighbour is a very good thing and that it has major implications.

So how then do I get to what I see to be the crux of the matter? On one hand it matters not if we lose the argument as the only opinion that truly matters is God’s. It also matters little if we lose battles for what matters is winning the war, and the Bible is quite clear Christians, or rather Jesus, will win it. As for dealing with heresy, to coin an old fashioned term, how do we define it and how do we deal with it? It is quite clear, even in New Testament times, false teaching abounded and was dealt with robustly, even harshly, and that has happened ever since, even by those we put on a pedestal as being saints or heros of the faith. But there are ways and ways and, like my liberal friends, I sometimes recoil at some “fundamentalists” who choose the wrong battles to fight and appear unchristian in doing so.

But I need to nail my own colours to the mast. Without wanting to sound sanctimonious, God has not called me to be nice but he has called me to be holy and, while there may be an element of niceness in it, it is more about being god-like in my being and in my dealings. When it comes to issues, what matters most is what God thinks and as far as the current culture is going and the way Christians are coming to terms with that culture, it may be he doesn’t think approvingly about much that is happening or how His people responds. While we should try to nice when faced with conflict, we must also speak the truth, albeit in love. Whether St. Augustine coined the phrase: “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I know not, but it is a good start – although I’m not sure, great man that he was, if he always got it right either, but at least the gauntlet has been laid down.

I was exhorted at a young age to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” Jude 1:3, and that is what I try to do and, if being accused of being not nice or upsetting the political and cultural elite, and dare I say it the religious leaders of our day, as I do so, then so be it. I also recall being told it is better to be faithful than popular. The stakes are high and all this matters. I doubt whether preaching a sermon along the lines “Sinners in the hands of an angry God“, as did eighteenth century preacher Jonathan Edwards, with tremendous results, would go down well today or even be appropriate, yet the message is clear and it is all about finding out and doing what God thinks and what God wants that truly matters, with all other considerations secondary.

The love and grace of God, as my liberal friends remind me, are wonderful doctrines, but I would take issue if they were to be placed before that of truth and righteousness. Besides the vital matter of being God’s “unprofitable servant”, I consider being a preacher of the gospel (as discussed in this website) to be more important than being a community activist. I see following the right way, which according to the words of Jesus and from observation often fails to happen, as also being important, as well as a revival in authentic Christianity, and is why I felt constrained to pitch in on this matter.

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One thought on “Nice Christians

  1. John,

    Surely a strong Christian faith should result not only in ‘niceness’ but also much ‘joy’ and a life thus lived as an example to others over and above mere words struggling with huge, humanly incomprehensible, concepts or it ain’t working … the nitty-gritty of life notwitstanding?

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