There are some verses that have lingered with me either at different periods in my life or in some cases for most of my Christian life. One such verse that I have tried to use as a guiding principle is Romans 12:18: If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (ESV) That Christians should, as much as possible, seek peace is a repeated theme in the Scripture. Jesus is the Prince of Peace and peace is a fruit of the Spirit.
Of course this verse applies to our relationships with other believers, but I think it also applies to our relationship to the unbelieving world. In the summer long discussion over SBC resolution #5 much of the debate has focused on whether or not Christians are forbidden to use alcohol as a beverage by the Scriptures. But, as a few other astute observers have pointed out, that is not the most troubling aspect of the resolution. It is the emphasized point of the following: RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 13-14, 2006, express our total opposition to the manufacturing, advertising, distributing, and consuming of alcoholic beverages;
This, it seems to me, violates the intent of Romans 12:18. It does so by assuming a stance of opposition to those, many or most of whom would be outside the church, who are involved in these activities. Some will respond that we have to stand-up for what is right. They will note that the resolution lists the negative impacts alcohol abuse has had on our society, and that the church should be involved in redeeming the culture. I do not disagree with this sentiment. After all, Jesus was frequently moved with compassion when He saw the physical needs of the masses. But there is a problem here with the resolution beyond the assumption that alcohol consumption equals alcohol abuse.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10 ESV)
What Paul is saying here is that we should associate with the sexually immoral, the greedy and swindlers, the idolaters, if they are not professing Christians. This does not mean we join in on their sinful activities, but we eat with them, commerce with them, work with them. We do this without passing judgment on their activities (the context is the need to pass judgment on a sinning brother in Christ).
I think this attitude is further supported by our doctrine of soul competency:
We affirm soul competency, the accountability of each person before God. Your family cannot save you. Neither can your church. It comes down to you and God. Authorities can't force belief or unbelief. They shouldn't try.
Against this backdrop of religious freedom, it's important for us Baptists to set forth our convictions. By stating them in a forthright manner, we provide nonbelievers with a clear choice.According to the second paragraph, we need to set forth our convictions. Here's the more difficult question - which convictions are those? If each person is accountable before God, should not those convictions be primarily that which would make a person right before God, that is, the Gospel? Yet we have passed a resolution that is focused on a morality issue.
Over at Centuri0n's blog he makes note of a comment from Tim Keller (from one of the videos promoting the upcoming Desiring God 2006 National Conference). The point that Keller makes and Frank picks up on is that if we are not careful with how we address the lost, they will assume we are inviting them into a works based religion. Salvation by being more moral or, to use our term, holy. But that is not the gospel. That is the opposite of the gospel.
Well Thought of
Of course, there is a fine line to be walked. If we live just like the rest of the world, the rest of the world will ask why should they become believers. We are called to be different. Again, we associate sinners without becoming involved in the sin.
The passage of Scripture that I think speaks directly to this is 1 Timothy 3:7, where Paul says that elders are required to meet the following.
Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (ESV)
What does it take for a believer to be well thought of by outsiders? I think it requires consistent living. That means first of all that we practice what we preach. If we are preaching the gospel, this means at least three things:
- First, the gospel says we are sinners saved by grace, which means there is no room for an air of superiority. We are not above the lost; we are just as dependent on God's mercy as they are.
- Two, the gospel says we have died with Christ, which means we should not live like "he who dies with the most toys wins." If we profess that Jesus is Lord, but then run our lives by the world's priorities, the name of God will be blasphemed on our account. This is how we live, but not how we require others to live.
- Three, the gospel says that we have a hope beyond this world, which means we should express a Biblical joy. The trials and temptations of this life are nothing compared to what awaits us. In the introduction to Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes:
Believing as I do that the greatest need of the hour is a revived and joyful Church the subject dealt with in these sermons is to me of the greatest possible importance. Unhappy Christians are, to say the least, a poor recommendation for the Christian Faith; and there can be little doubt but that the exuberant joy of the early Christians was one of the most potent factors in the spread of Christianity.
What I want you to hear is that this is of so much greater importance than a moralistic stance on alcohol, that I ache over this debate. Those who have supported this ammendment have mentioned that the SBC stance on this has not changed in over a hundred years. I want to ask if those are a hundred years you want to see repeated in the church in America?
If the church is to impact society it will not be because we have passed a resolution. It will not be that have opposed social sins. It will be because we have preached and lived the gospel. That means we strive for peace in all our relationships; we do not expect the lost to live like they are saved; and we have a winsome witness. The gospel will turn many people away. But let us endeavour to be sure it is the gospel, and not Christians, from which they are turning away.