For it is by grace you have been saved...

Monday, January 17, 2011

What the World Sees in Us

The circus finally came to town; well, almost. For years we’ve been hearing about Fred Phelps and the folks from what is unfortunately called Westboro “Baptist Church.” Those who know anything about this man and his followers know that they certainly don’t represent the majority of Baptists, or even Churches for that matter. While many in the Church will agree with their condemnation of homosexuality, their hate-filled actions bring embarrassment to the cause of Christ on so many levels.

Yesterday, they were scheduled to be in a nearby town to “protest” at the funeral of a brave soldier who gave his life in service to his country. I never have understood how terrifying and demeaning a grieving family can help promote the cause of Christ, but this is their chosen means of getting their “message” out. Fortunately, word got out and a multitude of folks from the area came together to protest the protest; simply standing in honor of the soldier and “blocking” the family from those who would make this difficult day even harder. Eventually, I understand that no one from the Phelps group showed.

Still, the whole thing has started a conversation about this group and folks like them (which I’m sure is part of their plan). My first response has always been, “I wish they’d change their name.” As a Christian and a Baptist, it bothers me that people will take those names and drag them though the dirt like this. I want to stand up and shout: “These people do not represent me!”

Of course, the mainstream media, in spite of their drive to be “fair” and “unbiased” has never done anything to explain in their coverage of this group that they are a fringe group and in no way represent Baptists or Christians as a whole. And so we are left with the image in the mind of many in the world that these folks are what Christianity is all about. Like our job isn’t hard enough already.

However, the more I thought about it, the more this thought came to mind. As distasteful as groups like this are, are we so confident in the lives we live each and every day that we would hold ourselves up as the representation of Christ and His Church? I know we like to play the comparative game; well hey, we’re a lot better than those folks. But is that what Christ really demands of His people, just to be better than the next guy? Or is the standard a bit higher than that?

We are called to be a holy people. Holiness is the standard. Thomas Brooks wrote in his wonderful exposition of holiness called The Crown of Christianity that, "It is not armies, nor navies, nor walled cities, nor fortified castles, nor golden mines, nor solemn counsels which will secure a nation, if once the people of God's holiness be cast by as broken pitchers. It is their piety and prayers which keeps off sweeping judgments from a nation, and that brings down variety of mercies upon a nation." It is our holiness that the world needs.

I know that we are not now, nor will we ever be this side of eternity, perfect people. I know that we are sinners saved by grace, who struggle daily with the “old man,” the flesh. But is that an excuse? When we take on the name “Christian,” we take on an identity in this world as Christ’s ambassadors, and we are called to live in such a way that is worthy of that calling.

So, is that what the world sees in us? Do they see it in our lives, in our churches? Are we the kind of ambassadors for Christ that we were called to be, or are their times when Jesus looks at us and says: “I wish they’d change their name. These people do not represent me.” It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?


Gregg Metcalf said...

I actual thank God for them. First, I don't think they are even believers. I think they are apart of the easy believism, decisional regeneration, Finney-type Arminians who have prayed a prayer but God does not seem to have ever transformed them.

But, lest you fall over and injure yourself, rendering yourself unable to preach Sunday, necessitating me to fly out there this coming Sunday, let say why I thank God for them. I think for two reasons:

1) Paul told the Corinthian believers that there had to be heresies among the Corinthian church so that those who are approved in the church would be made known or manifest. Heretics like these demonstrate the true men of God.

2) They open the door for sincere, Christlike ministry. The opportunity to give comfort and explanation is opened by these heretical fools. We can give an explanation we might not have been able to give earlier.

God can squash Phelps like a bug when He wants to, God just keeps Him around to use Him as a means of revealing His true character and nature.

At the same time I would like to put him in a locked room with a half dozen or so of the Father's of some of these soldiers for 10 minutes.

Maggie said...

I heard about all of this here at school, and we were praying about it. Glad to hear it all worked out ok in the long run.
Amen to all the above and especially that last bit on the comment above.

Anonymous said...

Scott, I really appreciate and agree with what you said. It is a shame that people such as Phelps and that "church?" wear the name Christian, and then behave as they do.
You are correct about us all needing to be aware of our own actions, and pray we do not shame the name of Christ.
Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a great analogy from the poor representation the Phelps are to Christendom to what a poor representation true believers so often are to our good Shepherd, Christ. I am so often that poor representation.

What do you think about all the talk radio show hosts who got the Phelps to sign a contract for airtime in exchange for not boycotting the Tucson shooting funerals? I thought it was actually good, in the interest of protecting the innocent, they offered a distraction for the Phelps family.

I wouldn't go so far as to call the Phelps heretics as, if you actually listen to their doctrine, they are basically Calvinistic, but it's the fact that they chop the gospel off after "The wages of sin is death..." and their method of presenting Christ is all judgment, no grace. OK, so maybe those approaches do make them heretical. I always associate the term heretic with wrong doctrine.

Scott said...

As to its simplest terms, heresy is simply a deviation from established truth/belief. They may have a lot of things right, but if the deviation in one area is strong enough, it qualifies as heresy. For example, (getting myself in deep here) the Catholic Church does get many things right. But what they get wrong make them, I think, heretical. Same for Phelps. I don't know their belief statement, but from their outward actions, their hatred and cruelty, it's obvious that their belief system is highly flawed and deviates from the norm of Christianity, thus making them heretical.
Someone once said that if you get Christ wrong, it doesn't matter what you get right. Their lack of love and grace in presenting the gospel show them to have Christ definitely wrong. In my humble opinion.