We’ve all heard it. Most of us have probably said it. I’ve personally said it, then said it again about the opposite position ten years later. It feels good to be sure, to make a stand for our faith in confidence. But is this phrase more dangerous than it sounds?
This week has been…strange. I’ve had friends write blogs about wildly different hot topics in the church, from widely different perspectives. Church yesterday blew everyone’s mind to one degree or another (podcast available here for anybody interested). And then a popular blogger posted an article about millennials in the church that was posted on facebook by pretty much everyone I know. (Also I don’t think I’ve ever been labeled a millennial outside of these surveys and studies… It’s an odd word and spell-check agrees.)
All of these combined have prompted a flurry of conversations, both online and face-to-face, unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. And believe it or not, almost all of them have been… refreshing. A group of us at our house last night covered pretty much every “forbidden” topic of conversation within a couple of hours: war, pacifism, celibacy, charismatic churches, homosexuality, slavery, evolution, and even slavery in the bible. We touched on all of these in one way or another and we all parted ways as friends. I didn’t kick anybody out of my house for intolerance and nobody threatened to excommunicate me for heresy. We didn’t solve all the world’s problems. I don’t think we reached a consensus on a single topic (except slavery- it was our anti-human trafficking group after all) and I think that is okay.
But unfortunately, according to my experience, this is far from commonplace. One of the blogs mentioned above prompted a facebook discussion that displayed this all too well. By the time the dust cleared there had been personal attacks, CAPITAL LETTERS, bible verses about swords, claims of persecution, contrived hypothetical questions, and of course Hitler made an appearance.
What was the difference between these two conversations? They were both with mostly real-life friends who I know love Jesus. The people in both conversations care about each other and want people to agree with them. I believe the difference is the presence of the phrase, “The Bible clearly says…” I don’t remember anybody saying that last night, but it was present on both “sides” of the facebook debate.
Now don’t get me wrong- I think there are moral absolutes and some doctrines are essential to the Christian faith. Sometimes the bible does say things clearly. But normally when this phrase is brought up it is on a topic that is far from clear- thus the debate. The blog partially focused on the assertion that “Jesus is clearly this thing” (an assertion I personally agree with); while most of the comments centered on the argument that “Jesus is clearly not that thing” which I summarily do not agree with. If it was truly clear wouldn’t there be some level of agreement? What seems clear to me may not be clear to another christian, even if they are just as committed to and/or educated about following Jesus. (Oftentimes even more so.)
But the problem isn’t the truth of the phrase, it’s that it is a dismissal. It kills discussion instead of inviting it. (Bringing up Hitler doesn’t help either…) We have to be honest that while there are some things that are not negotiable, a lot of our most heated discussions focus on non-essentials and sometimes people we love will disagree with us. I’m more interested in disagreeing well than converting people to my “side.” Well, at least that’s what I tell myself…
But just because the non-essentials aren’t, well, essential- that doesn’t mean they are not important. As RHE’s article shows, these discussions are having an effect on the church and our witness. I would say that it is not so much the conclusions we reach that drive people away, but the way that we discuss these topics. When our conversations show a lack of humility and grace, and an overabundance of confidence and judgment- we are doing it wrong.
Consider cutting this phrase out of your vocabulary, if it seems right to the holy spirit and you.