Friday, July 18, 2014

Christian Tone Police

Just how important is tone? Is tone more important than actual words? Is using a proper tone the most important aspect of communication? How do we determine what the proper tone is? Who determines it? What is it based on?

A few weeks back a group of habitual Christian tone violators had a discussion and I'm going to piggy back off that here.

Tone has become of chief importance in this hyper-sensitive culture of ours. The internet is constantly patrolled by the Tone Police. The Tone Police are self-appointed judges of the internal motivations and intended tones of inaudible voices on the web. These tone experts are not just effeminate liberals or junior high girls but they are also adult Christians. Tone has been elevated above the truth. People, as evidenced by the popularity of false teachers like Joel Osteen and Steven Furtick, love to be lied to and manipulated by men who speak with a nice, gentle tone while simultaneously they despise any man or woman who speaks truth in a tone they have arbitrarily deemed unloving or “not very nice.”
And it truly is arbitrary. There’s no real way to measure tone, especially online. What is good tone for one person is hateful for someone else. Tone is a flavor. It can be described and distinguished but it can generate a multitude of different responses. None of the responses make the flavor wrong by any objective standard. What we should be judging instead of tone are words and whether or not they are true. Don’t get hung up on tone. And really don’t associate a warm and gentle tone with Christ when it comes to how He interacted with false teachers.

This is where Christianity gets real uncomfortable and messy for those who believe tone is the highest calling for a believer. I don’t mean to say that glibly but for people to suggest (not argue of course) that tone is more important than truth or that truth should not be shared if written with the wrong tone are placing tone above truth even in dealing with false teaching:
Jeremiah 2: 2-5
“Lift up your eyes to the bare heights and see;
Where have you not been violated?
By the roads you have sat for them
Like an Arab in the desert,
And you have polluted a land
With your harlotry and with your wickedness.
“Therefore the showers have been withheld,
And there has been no spring rain.
Yet you had a harlot’s forehead;
You refused to be ashamed.
“Have you not just now called to Me,
‘My Father, You are the friend of my youth?
Will He be angry forever?
Will He be indignant to the end?’
Behold, you have spoken
And have done evil things, And you have had your way.”

But Tim, that’s Old Testament. It doesn’t count. God isn’t mean like that anymore. It’s all about grace and peace and love and flowers and bunnies and rainbows. False teachers aren’t really around anymore and if they are around, they announce themselves plainly! That’s how God dealt with false teachers. Jesus was totally different. He just loved them and hugged them and spoke nicely to them until they changed their ways! He was all like, “Hey Mr. Not Exactly Perfect Theology have you ever considered, I don’t know, maybe trying things a different way? Like maybe seeing what the Bible says and then acting accordingly? I don’t know, just thought I’d throw it out there. You can take it or leave it. Hug?”

Sure that seems like something American Jesus, whom we have emasculated and sensitized beyond recognition, might say but what did actual Jesus say and how did He say it?

Matthew 23“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous.  And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’  So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.  Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
Surely that’s a misprint, right? Jesus couldn’t have possibly spoken to someone in such a discordant tone!!! How very un-Christlike of Jesus to use such an unloving and abrasive tone with some poor innocent false teachers!
That’s just a snippet. That entire chapter is brutal and despotic. It’s as if Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords has a right to do what He did.  A HUGE portion of His divinely appointed and perfectly carried out ministry was devoted to debunking myths, publicly humiliating false teachers, pointing out specifics and protecting His Father’s holy name. Did God in the Old Testament give specific prophecies foretelling the coming of Messiah but was unable to see that His Son would disagree with Him? Do you know what pitting Jesus against God does to the Trinity? Do you know how fundamental to the faith the Trinity is?
Alright Tim but that’s because He was Jesus. He was allowed to do that. We aren’t allowed to talk about false teachers using any tone that is not perfectly nice. It’s better to let rampant error run completely wild than to confront a false teacher with a tone that has been deemed unloving by some mercurial judge. None of John’s letters are mean-spirited and he certainly never demands people to reject false teaching at any cost! John was the Apostle of love after all.
2John 7-11For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.
Whaaat??? Even John talks like that? Oh man! So you’re saying maybe tone is in reality not the highest calling for a Christian? Like maybe because tone is so completely arbitrary that we should really focus on evaluating people’s words? Woah! So like when Joel Osteen says stuff in a super nice way, he could be lying? And like when some other guy doesn’t sound real happy about something, he could just be legitimately upset and be telling the truth? Or maybe sometimes sarcasm is a useful tool in helping people recognize error?
Is this a call by me to just mock and ridicule everyone who speaks error? No. Influential leaders in the Christian community who publicly teach false things, should be publicly rebuked and the tone a Christian uses to expose the false teaching is wholly irrelevant. You can be as nice as you want or as condescending as you want. This is an area where the Holy Spirit tends to override your initial actions, however. There have been times when I set out to say things sternly and bluntly but was guided by the Holy Spirit to take a more kind spirit. In the end your words are more important than how you say them. That’s the truth.
If I’m talking to a new Christian, I am going to interact with him or her in a completely different manner than I would with an older Christian. In the same way we deal with kids, we deal with new Believers. It’s unrealistic to expect kids to behave like mature adults. It is also unacceptable to permit mature Christians to behave like infant Christians. And a Christian in a leadership position (pastor, teacher) with incredible influence doesn’t deserve to be graciously spoken with in private while their damning error remains easily accessible and widely spread.
And obviously I’m not going around screaming at people. I’m not saying, “Hey ya big ugly fatty!” to people. Exposing error, correcting false teaching, naming names and all that messy stuff has an inherently unfriendly tone to it. That’s how it is. It’s divisive. That doesn’t mean it’s sinful.

Take for instance the man healed of blindness in John 9. Carefully note the tone he takes with the false teachers. See for yourself if he’s being sarcastic and mocking:
So a second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner.” He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” So they said to him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?”  He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen; why do you want to hear it again? You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?”  They reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where He is from.” The man answered and said to them, “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him. Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” So they put him out.
And here’s the really kooky thing about the whole tone police phenomenon; it’s so subjective and visceral that it can never be clearly defined to anyone else. It (the tone that offends them) is sooo deep inside these people that they are incapable of articulating just what is so darn offensive. Isn’t that just like flavor? I can’t describe why I like Crunch bars or pizza, I just know that I do.  Again, I’m just talking about how we, Christians and by necessity also lovers of truth, engage with heresy and especially heretics and false teachers. This isn’t about how I talk to my wife about my day or how I engage my neighbor. This is about whether or not we have to be “nice” when dealing with error. I don’t go around saying “Pizza is Christian” or “shepherd’s pie is evil.” Those are just preferences and the way I feel about them doesn’t prove their goodness. Just as how someone who “feels that that man’s tone is too aggressive or unkind” is permitted to feel that way and it’s fine that they do but it doesn’t mean the man in question is wrong. You need to prove from Scripture that the man should not be saying what he’s saying or saying what he’s saying how he is saying it.

Allow me to issue a few disclaimers postscript. There are probably different ways people define sarcasm. Some look at it in more of the satirical sense. I associate satire with a narrative of some kind so i don’t think the words are always interchangeable. Sarcasm can undoubtedly have a negative connotation. I’m not talking about this kind of sarcasm:
“Tim, how did the Indians do last night?”
“Oh they did awesome! They lost 12-2.”
Perhaps ironic is the right word? I’m not sure. Alanis Morissette has so obfuscated the meaning of the word ironic that I’m not sure anyone knows what it means. She thinks irony is just bad luck. One could actually illustrate irony by looking at how Alanis defines ironic. That’s probably the greatest irony of all. Sometimes I do use irony and that offends people. Sometimes I’m just being sarcastic. Regardless, I recognize that sarcasm can be a sin but it can also be useful. The intent of my sarcasm isn’t to just be a jerk. The intent is to move people out of complacent thinking. Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins said, “People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy...”

Look at that I just made 2 pop culture references in 1 paragraph! That qualifies me to be an Acts 29 pastor, doesn’t it? I’m kidding I’m kidding. Everyone relax. All 4 of you people who are reading this can just chill out.

One final passage to consider and I’m not so much focused on the context of Paul publicly rebuking Peter but more about Paul’s careful selection of words:

Galatians 2:14But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

Paul takes issue with fluctuation. That Peter (Cephas) was not straightforward was the issue. Peter failed to be upright with the truth of the gospel. He is not commended for compromising to appease the Judaizers. He is rebuked for refusing to be honest with the people.

Do we aim to please men or please God? Is the commandment to love God of higher importance than loving men? People are always going to be offended by the truth regardless of how nicely you say it. Let’s just be certain we say what is true and in accordance with God’s revealed word lest we offend the only One we absolutely must not offend.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Christian Perspective on Capital Punishment

What I want to discuss is the Christian perspective on capital punishment. What does the Bible say about administering the death penalty and more so why a murderer is deserving of such a punishment? I don’t wish to get into the “is capital punishment right or wrong debate” because the Bible is so explicit on the issue that I would be guilty of lacking faith in the infallibility and sufficiency of scripture by entertaining the idea without provocation. In other words, if you think the death penalty is wrong and you’re a Christian, take that up with God. I don’t see any way around it without hermeneutical gymnastics being employed and given that I’m 6’6” and can barely touch my shins, I’m in no position to join you.

Genesis 9:6Whoever sheds man’s blood,By man his blood shall be shed,For in the image of God He made man.
Numbers 35:30If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the evidence of two witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness.

The protesting Christian must now prove to me that those verses don’t mean what they say. See how easy that was?
But the point isn't to prove that capital punishment is perfectly within the Christian parameters, the point is to investigate why it is.

Doesn't the taking of a life as a response to murder seem hypocritical? How can I say murder is wrong when I fully support men being killed as punishment for their crimes? Because the person being put to death is a convicted murderer. That’s why I fully support it. You get it? They killed someone intentionally. They are not innocent of murder, they are guilty of murder. For the life of me I will never ever understand how people can decry capital punishment as an injustice. Capital punishment, as carried out by the government, sees a man tried for his crime and brought before a jury of his peers while evidence is weighed and arguments are delivered. He has a professional arguer and expert on law as his advocate. Additionally, a murderer in the USA knows that he can be put to death for killing a person. The choice to be executed by the state is a choice he makes when he chooses to kill.

The tragedy in these situations is not that a man guilty of killing a person is put to death it’s that he is put to death and then, most likely, sent straight to hell for all of eternity. And the tragedy isn’t that hell exists, it’s that he, by rejecting Christ for his entire life, chose to go there.
So shouldn’t we abandon the death penalty so men can have a longer time on Earth to be saved? No. Because of my high view of the sovereignty of God and a high view of Scripture I have to take the stance that justice must be swift and fully trust that God will save that man before he’s executed if it is God’s will to do so.

What then is the point of the death penalty? Prisoners for less heinous crimes are hopefully rehabilitated and end up as better men after their time served but those whom are executed aren’t released back into the public, so rehabilitation is not the purpose of the death penalty. Is the purpose to deter future men from committing murder? That might be a secondary effect and something that is ostensibly true but my understanding of the texts dealing with this topic don’t seem to indicate that as a prevailing motivation. Why the death penalty then? If it’s not intended to rehabilitate or deter, then why? Justice. It is because our God is just.

God says a man who sheds another man’s blood will have his blood shed by man as a due punishment for his crimes. Is that unfair? Not at all. It’s not unfair because: A-God said it and B-it makes perfect sense.

A quick survey of the Old Testament reveals to us that God did, however, show mercy on men deserving of death. God is merciful. God is just. He can withhold his wrath as He sees fit. Look at this passage and I think it will help you understand the way God views us, as humans in His image.

Exodus 21: 28,29If an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall go unpunished. If, however, an ox was previously in the habit of goring and its owner has been warned, yet he does not confine it and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned and its owner also shall be put to death.

An ox, a dumb beast of an animal, kills a person and the ox is put to death. Why? The ox doesn’t know any better. It’s just a stupid animal. This doesn’t train other oxen to not kill humans. This is simply about justice and preserving the sanctity of human life.

Man is created in God’s image. That is why He takes it so seriously when we make light of that fact. Murder is a reproach on God’s holy name and a defilement of what He intended. Capital punishment is entirely just because God explicitly said so.