Thursday, May 23, 2013

Guard the Deposit Entrusted to You

Christians are constantly presented with scenarios concerning unbelievers wherein the former must decide the best course of action based on their knowledge and understanding of scripture.  We bear the name of Christ and have no desire for the Lord's reputation to be sullied by our conduct.  Questions are asked: how do Christians converse and interact with the world in a way that will glorify God and testify of Christ's work on the cross?  And how do we interact with the world concerning festivals and solemn occasions of other religious bodies or the world in general?  Care is required because there is the real danger of affirming the false god believed by the person or group with whom we are engaged and can unwittingly affirm their idolatrous beliefs.

Tertullian stated that idolatry, by his reckoning, is "the main crime of the human race, the highest guilt on the world, the whole cause of judgment," since by immersing oneself in the conduct, the idolater is equated to a murderer of the worst kind as he strikes spiritually mortal blows—of grievous offenses against God—on himself as victim (On Idolatry, 1).  And if that did not suffice, the nature of idolatry promotes debauchery and falsehood, and above both, it is an act of fraud bringing the greatest insult.
The essence of fraud is, I think, if anyone will seize what is another's or deny his due; and of course fraud toward man is admitted to be a label of greatest crime. But idolatry does fraud to God by denying him, and conferring on others, his honor: fraud brings an insult.
By removing the glory due God and placing it elsewhere, anyone might be an idolater, heaping upon himself guilt and condemnation that justifiably could be held against him had the actions been toward a fellow human.  How much more so for bringing such an insult against the Almighty.

This is not to say that Christians overtly divert or diminish what is God's alone.  In some measure those intent on serving him properly seek to find scriptural bases for their actions, but the means cause more harm than good.  Tertullian reminds his readers (On Idolatry, 13) that while we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” (Rom 12:15) there is the offsetting “what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14): we do not have permission to associate with any frivolity or solemnity unbecoming to or forbidden by the Lord.  By associating with such an event, believers give tacit affirmation to the proceedings and what they represent.  Attending a function without being known as Christian damages the conscience, but if the believer's position is known, this damages the conscience of others and shames God.

Churchgoers with what they perceive to be average or better command of scripture will read the above, give themselves a quick self-assessment, and think that this is rather preposterous.  What Bible-toting, amen-shouting believer would willing place themselves in a spiritually harmful way?  They have "purer" motives for reaching the lost and dying world and seek out ways to do so.  Some much so that, seeing the divide between the church and the world with inherent tensions, avail themselves of the world's events in order to foster discussion between worldviews and remove the stigma of Christian exclusivity.  They view dogma as some type of blasphemy on the name of Christ, which must be expunged so that people might be wooed by the love of God as demonstrated through the tolerance and openness of his people.  Rather than drawing the lost to Christ, this tactic works havoc because the one attempting it becomes the cause of blasphemy rather than the cure.  Tertullian noticed the same as he penned:
Now the blasphemy which must quite be shunned by us in every way is, I take it, this: If any of us lead a heathen into blasphemy with good cause, either by fraud, or by injury, or insultingly, or any other matter of worthy complaint, in which "the Name" is accordingly criticized, so that the Lord, too, is deservedly angry.  (On Idolatry, 14)
The desire to enter into the world's realm in order to befriend their worldview and customs for the sake of the gospel is not what the apostle Paul intended when he said "I become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some" (1 Cor 9:22).  Rather Tertullian points to something quite different in his biting sarcasm:
No doubt he used to please them by celebrating the Saturnalia and New-year’s day! or was it by moderation and patience? by gravity, by kindness, by integrity?  In like manner, when he is saying, "I have become all things to all, that I may gain all," does he mean "to idolaters an idolater?" "to heathens a heathen?" "to the worldly worldly?"  (On Idolatry, 14)
The apologist makes plain that Paul did not join with the frivolities of the pagan holidays or worship but related to them as a man no different than they: deserving judgment but instead receiving grace through the work of a merciful God and Savior.

Lastly, not just our deeds can be compromised, but our speech as well.  Consider not just the above mentioned intercourse of ideas being promulgated by the postmodern and emergent movements but also in withholding a necessary verdict.  Too often we do not wish to engage a wrong idea but allow the other person to verbally bind us and
by remaining quiet, affirm their majesty, by reason of which majesty you will seem to be bound. … At all events, whoever the petitioner is, he binds you to himself either in friendly or unfriendly union.  If in unfriendly, you are now challenged unto battle, and know that you must fight.  If in friendly, with how far greater security will you transfer your engagement unto the Lord, that you may dissolve the obligation of him through whose means the Evil One was seeking to appropriate you….  (On Idolatry, 21)
Whether in friendly or hostile debate with the world, believers are not at liberty to refuse engagement.  The enemy is always seeking whom he may devour.  But neither are believers to respond in a sinful way.  Rather when confronted the proper response is to be
according to the precept [Matt 5:44, 1 Pet 3:9, etc.], not to return a curse in the name of God even, but dearly to bless in the name of God, that you may both demolish idols and preach God, and fulfill discipline.  (On Idolatry, 21)
The disciple of Christ should therefore, as both a privilege and duty, be always learning from God's word, so that he might rightly handle it, take every thought obedient to Christ, and be ready to give an answer to his hope.


Glenn E. Chatfield said...


Steve Bricker said...

I was delighted to finally get some time in my busy schedule to work on this.