Thursday, November 30, 2006

Of Proselytizers and Moralists

I want to take this post to air my heart about something that I have found particularly troubling the last several weeks, nearly a month. If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I am a conservative Christian. I believe the Bible. I attempt to temper my knowledge of the Scriptures with humility, a little philosophy and logic, and a keen eye on historic Christianity. This is why I have began to become more than a little disenfranchised with the so-called religious right.

Conservatives have found themselves being very vocal on highly moral issues. Take for instance the consistent vitriol spewed by James Dobson and Richard Land against the homosexual community. Not to mention abortion, though I am adamantly against it, one must remember the fallen world we live in and that we can work to reduce the number of abortions but it will never be abolished altogether. Though I would desperately love to see that happen, this is not a perfect world and I think it would bode much better for the evangelical church to accept that sober fact.

If that were the case, the church could concentrate more on issues of compassion, things that I am convinced consumed much of Jesus’ time while he was here on this earth, rather than issues of morality. Though the church should be concerned with issues of morality, that is not all we should be concerned about. The reason why has been stated eloquently by John Stott in his book Christ the Controversialist. In the seventh chapter, Stott raises an important question about Christians’ responsibility in society, and he draws an applicable conclusion I think the “religious right” and all Christians need to think about.
“But proselytism and evangelism are not the same things. To proselytize is to convert somebody else to our opinions and culture, and to squeeze him into our mould; to evangelize is to proclaim God’s good news about Jesus Christ to the end that people will believe in Him, find life in Him and ultimately be conformed to His image, not ours. The motive behind proselytism is concern for the spread of our own little empire; the concern for evangelism is concern for the true welfare of men and thereby for the name, kingdom, will, and glory of God” [emphasis mine].
The church, the “religious right,” all have gone the way of the moralist, of the proselytizer. Too many Christians think like moralists, that a person should be good, or rather that they should conform to our image, an image that does not offend us nor cause us to expend any energy on them. Because if we did expend any energy, then that might actually make us true disciples, then wouldn’t it?

Jesus said, and you can correct me if I’m getting my Bible wrong, “Go therefore and make disciples.” Honestly, I don’t think the church is in the disciple making business anymore; we are in the moralist making business. You may think I am making a pretty hefty claim. Take this for instance.

Our little Podunk newspaper will occasionally print an AP news item, to confirm that they really are a big-league paper of sorts, and after reading the Wednesday edition, I was throttled; President-Elect of Christian Coalition Declines the Job. The reason he declined the position is telling.
"I wanted to expand the issues from only moral ones—such as opposing abortion and redefining marriage—to include compassion issues such as poverty, justice, and creation care," Hunter said in a statement. "We need to care as much for the vulnerable outside the womb as inside the womb." Hunter went on to say, “These are issues Jesus would want us to care about.”
This organization that carries the name Christian would not allow Dr. Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, FL, to expand its agenda beyond opposing abortion and gay marriage. Dr. Hunter then stated that the Coalition’s board decided that his view on these things were fine, but that is not who we are. Obviously then, they are just merely political, not that they were not anyway, and are more concerned with promoting their own little empire than the welfare of men.

I made a comment to a guest on my blog a couple of days ago, and I think it bears repeating.
“I guess my point would be that churches have a reputation just like individual people do. Churches sometimes resemble, at least to me, a bunch of teenagers congregating in the hallways at school, each one trying to impress the other, wearing similar clothes, talking in the same vernacular.

When a young person is different, or even odd perhaps, then he is shunned. When you have a true, radical follower of Christ, someone who loves like He loves, sacrifices like He sacrifices, gives like He gives, then that one is shunned. Why? Because he is different from the rest. We say we love like He loves, give, share, sacrifice, etc. But the fact is we don't. And it is rare to find a church, or individual believer that isn't so self-absorbed that these things really matter.

But when you can denounce and decry every going immoral behavior, then you're on to something. You got your popularity to back you up and several other "believers" behind you who "believe" the same way you do. Easily quantifiable and a popularity booster. Do we ever really ask why Christ was so popular? It was not for the same reasons.

Church is more like being like everyone else than being like Jesus. Jesus was certainly a free thinker, a deep thinker; one unafraid to counter the culture, even at the expense of destroying His own popularity.”
Dr. Hunter is different, cut from a different mold. He is a Christian that actually cares about his fellow man and not the promotion of his own agenda. Do I think that the church should decry immoral behavior? Call sin, sin? Absolutely. But as they do I think it is absolutely devoid of the love of Christ. They have gone the way of the moralist, the proselytizer.

What irritates me about this is that there are no other voices out there speaking up for those who cannot defend themselves, and then when somebody does, they are castigated like they have done something wrong and for not conforming to the popular image of righteous Christianity. Is it not at all revealing that Dr. Hunter chose to step down? Perhaps he saw it as a fight not worth fighting.

Why are all the “official” talking heads of Christianity not speaking out on the tough issues, issues that matter for human survival? Another recent AP report stated that last year four out of ten babies are born out of wedlock. What an enormous opportunity to show the love and grace of Christ to someone who desperately needs to know it, yet the church cannot get up off its sanctimonious posterior and stop finger-wagging long enough to notice that a young girl down the street desperately needs to know that someone loves her.

The Associated Press concluded the story about Dr. Hunter’s resignation as a “set back” for the once-powerful group. You will forgive me a little chuckle on that one; the poetic justice there is just too ironic.

The church I serve is involved each year in a joint Thanksgiving service. We join with two other Baptist churches, a Methodist, and a Presbyterian. Two years ago I was invited to preach and it was the Methodist church’s turn to be the host church. As Brother Don and I made plans for the service, he decided that we would simply worship and in lieu of enjoying refreshments after the service, we would receive an offering for world hunger. I told him I was fine with his decision though a little trepidacious because I anticipated the outcry that we wouldn’t “fellowship.” I prepared an appropriate message from 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, “Putting the Giving Back into Thanksgiving.” The core verse was verse fifteen, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

The next year, at the same annual service, it was at one of the Baptist churches. We received an offering for the local cancer society; we had refreshments after the service (at one of the Baptist churches, mind you). This year, the same happened. This question is not rhetorical; are we missing the point?


Links: CNN, The Roanoke Times


Les Puryear said...


What a fabulous post! I have the same concerns as you about whether Christians are just moralists or are about being like Christ.

A person can be a moral person without knowing Christ as Savior. I think that's why many folks say about a non-Christian who recently died, "He was such a good man." The implication is that because he was such a moral person, surely God will save him.

A Christian will be a moral person, however, being a moral person does not mean one is a Christian. There are vast differences between the two.



Tony said...

Thank you, Les.

Like you I have preached many funerals where the best I get out of the family is "He was such a good man."

Moralists are a dime a dozen. They will tithe their whole paycheck and still miss the point.

Thanks for stopping by.


Tim A. said...

Wouldn't the word Pharisee fit in with the attitudes of the moralist? I do have to say that I have been guilty of that myself, but I am endeavoring on being more compassionate, while yet pointing out sin; for the purpose of redemption, of course.
God bless you.

Tony said...

Tim. A.,

That is a good word; the Pharisees were able proselytizers and moralists. Lack of compasson is a root problem for many Baptist churches; I pray we all strive to have the same attitue you describe.

Blessings and encouragment,