My church gets the UCB Word for Today  and I’ve found some very helpful stuff in there in the past. The latest edition for February, March and April 2013 came in, I flicked through it and there were two that caught my eye. The one for February 11th was titled “Confront them – in love!” and it gave 3 questions to bear in mind, and offers examples, when deciding whether to confront someone;
- Is it important? It if involves a destructive habit, an abusive behaviour, a major doctrinal error, or a situation that could hurt them, it’s important – get involved
- Is it chronic? If you observe the same thing happening over and over, it doesn’t have to be big to get your love in gear
- Have you earned the right to speak? If a causal acquaintance does something unwise, it’s probably none of your business.
The other one was for February 19th and was titled “Prayer, not pressure, changes people”. This got me thinking about how we approach people, both Christians and non-Christians, to talk about God and discuss places where we disagree. Looking at the 3 questions above, I think question 3 should be the first question that is asked because if you answer No to it, it doesn’t really matter what the issue is, it’s probably very unwise to speak up and is likely to cause more problems than it solves.
There is no doubt that we are called to share the Gospel, indeed we are to be prepared to give a defence of our faith (1 Peter 3:15). But there is a time and a place to do it. There’s a passage in Matthew where Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is. Peter announces confidently “you are the Messiah” Jesus commends him on it, confirms that he is the Messiah and then says they are to tell……..no one!  This wasn’t a one off occurrence. Jesus healed a man with leprosy then told him to tell no one but go to the priest and offer a sacrifice (Matthew 8:1-4) But at the end he tells his disciples to go and make more disciples (also known as The Great Commission)
So what are to make of Jesus’s actions? In nearly all occasions when Jesus talked about God, it was in response to a question. In other words, they came to him. That doesn’t mean we have to wait for a specific theological question to talk about him but we don’t have to bring him in into every single answer either. When I was having lunch with a friend (who’s not a Christian), she commented that last time I seemed to be reaching to bring God into every single answer. This was not an un-deserved comment; looking back I was trying too hard. So I’ve had to learn how to balance the conversation. She wasn’t against talking about it, she just felt pressured. I won’t hide the fact that I would love my friend to come to know Christ, I’d love for the whole world to know him but my approach in that situation was never going to work, it just puts people off. As a commenter on the bluefish.org website put it; “Don’t come slinging the Bible like a shiny Zorro blade and then try to convert the people you sliced to pieces” . It’s like pushy salesmen. Nobody likes pushy salesmen and it almost always results in them losing the sale.
It wasn’t until I heard a talk by Michael Green that I came to realise that friendships are a great way of spreading the gospel (but it can also go horribly wrong). In his talk, Green recalled a story about 2 girls and one said to the other; you built a strong bridge of friendship to me and in due course, Jesus walked across that bridge . It was a bit of a light bulb moment for me on many levels when I heard that. First off, I can’t convert anyone. I’m not able to, it’s not my job to and secondly, it’s really not about me. It is all about God and him using me not me using my own ability and charm to win people over (keep the laughter down to a minimum on that one please)
But the second point I think is more important. On my Facebook wall I see a steady stream of pictures and statuses along the lines of “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best” and “A friend who understands your tears is much more valuable than a lot of friends who only know your smile” We’re friends with people because of who they are. Yes they annoy us sometimes and do things that make absolutely no sense to us, but the best friendships are the ones that see past that. Love doesn’t keep any record of wrongs and isn’t self-seeking. (1 Corinthians 13:4-5) It’s exactly the same with God. He doesn’t love who he wants us to be, he loves who we are now. He will inevitably want to mould us and teach us and make changes, but he doesn’t do that before entering into relationship with us. We don’t hand people a list of things they have to be like before we enter into a relationship with them (friendly or romantically) so why would God? We need the freedom to be who we are now. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to make changes or aspire to be better, but nobody appreciates being given the message that they must change in order to be loved and accepted.
I think it was Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury who said “One of the greatest temptations of religious living is the urge to intrude between God and people” (I say think because I can’t find where I got that from) Whilst the above is very true of what I’ve gone into above regarding Christians interacting with non-Christians, I think it is equally applicable to Christians interacting with other Christians.
There are many different theological viewpoints and interpretations of passages, that it can be a bit of a nightmare trying to sort out which are the right ones. I see it less about trying to work out which is right and more working out what works for the specific relationship someone has with God. As the first 2 questions put at the beginning highlight, some things really don’t matter that much. How you interpret Genesis (for example, was Adam an actual historical figure or not) has no bearing on someone’s salvation. But trying to force an interpretation on someone certainly can as they may walk away from the Christian faith. Paul in his letter to the Romans seemed to be pretty clear what it was all about; a relationship with Christ. We are to accept those with differing views because everything we do is for Christ and each relationship is unique. Though I think his ending gets to the heart of it all;
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. (Romans 14:13)
If what you’re telling someone is causing their faith to crumble; just stop. Let them build up a relationship with Christ; let him strengthen their faith then re-visit it if the opportunity comes up. If it doesn’t, that’s fine, leave it where it is. It’s not about you; it’s about the relationship with Christ. We give our own accounts to God; we worship God in our own way. God knows us better than anyone and often gives the same passage to different people for different ends. Sometimes we try to get in the way and tidy people up before we allow them to present themselves to God but as Brian Doersken sings; “Come, just as you are to worship. Come, just as you are before your God” 
I’ve been involved in a lot of theological discussions and I wish I could say they were all played out with decorum and respect, but they simply aren’t. They got heated and statements about disrespecting God, not treating the Bible seriously, being a wolf in sheep’s clothing and heresy are frequently brought out. Unfortunately the “my stance is right and you will have to justify yours to God” line rears its ugly head regularly. Genuine questions are met with hostility and contempt and more than once I’ve thought “what’s the point?” Michael Green, in the same talk referenced above, sums up the attitudes well; Some Christians really do give the impression that they have arrived and that all the rest of us are just struggling in the dark. The question that never enters anyone’s mind is “what if I’m wrong? What if I’m the one in the dark?” Didn’t Jesus have something to say on that along the lines of sawdust in other people’s eyes when you have as plank in your own? (Matthew 7:3) We all believe we are right, we wouldn’t believe something we thought to be wrong, that would just be insanity. We all place different levels of importance on the same thing which makes answering those first 2 questions hard. As I alluded to earlier, I personally don’t think whether Genesis is historical is that vital because it doesn’t affect salvation in Christ, but to some, it forms the base of their faith. The only person who really knows the full truth is God, the rest of us have to do the best we can. But all this arguing is completely drawing attention away from the reason we’re here; to show Christ’s love to others, as Peter Enns touches on;
To live in a near constant state of theological vigilance, ready to strike down a brother or sister for (perceived) theological failings seemed not only a colossal waste of the one life God has given us, but at odds with what the Bible makes a big deal of. 
A lot of the discussions I’ve been involved in have been on internet forums (which aren’t exactly known for their moderation) and mostly with people I don’t know much about. I don’t know their past, I don’t know how they came to Christ and there’s not much I can learn about someone simply from reading what they post. This is where question 3 comes in and has really been the general theme of the thread. Only confront someone if you know them, if you’ve actually earned the right to do so. Being a Christian does not automatically entitle you to confront and judge, even if you’re dealing with another Christian. I’m not suggesting Christians shouldn’t disagree or shouldn’t have healthy discussion about these issues, but a little reflection on whether we are right, whether it matters and whether we know them well enough before confronting them is needed. We may just learn something off the person we are trying to correct.
Looking back at the discussions I’ve been involved in and the articles I’ve read, it makes me wonder how we ever got into this situation. On the Home page, I’ve commented that it is increasingly difficult to have and express a religious faith. It reminded me of a scene in the movie The Book of Eli . Towards the end, there’s a wonderful exchange between the characters Eli and Solara:
Solara: I didn’t think you’d ever give up the book, I thought it was too important to you
Eli: It was, I was carrying and reading it every day, got so caught up in protecting it, I forgot to live by what I’d learnt from it
Solara: And what’s that?
Eli: To do more for others than you do for yourself 
Perhaps that’s where we are at the moment. We’re so busy trying to protect the Bible that we’ve forgotten what we’re supposed to do with it.
 The Word for Today, February 19th 2013. www.ucb.co.uk, Free Issues of daily devotional available for the UK and Republic of Ireland.
 Http://www.redletterchristians.org/dont-tell-anyone-jesus-warning-a… (last accessed 20/02/2013
 Http://thebluefish.org/2005/02/preach-gospel-and-if-necessary-use.html (last accessed 19/02/2013)
 Http://www.rzim.eu/faith-or-fantasy-reasons-for-the-hope (last access 20/02/2013)
 Come, Now is the Time Worship (1998) Brian Doersken. Distributed by Vineyard Music
 Http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/02/the-most-frightening… (last accessed 20/02/2013)
 Book Eli (2010) Alcon Entertainment Silver Pictures. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures (United States) Summit Entertainment (International)
 Http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1037705/quotes?qt=qt1158745 (last accessed 20/02/2013)
This was originally published on February 20th 2013