Mike has questioned the point of my last post (Christians and Chick-fil-a), about when and how christians should speak out in the public arena, and when and how we shouldn’t. So I thought I would clarify in a new post.
Some New Testament principles about speaking
- We note that Jesus almost always spoke tenderly to the down-hearted and down-trodden, and reserved his strong comments for the religious teachers who he thought should have known better. He said we needed to be careful before we judge others (Matthew 7:1-5).
- Paul made it clear that we should speak to unbelievers in a positive and constructive way:
- give an answer to everyone who asks…. but do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)
- to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone (Titus 3:2)
- Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders …. let your conversation be always full of grace (Colossians 4:5-6)
- clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12)
- And several more.)
So we have some clear teaching on how we should speak to non-believers. I don’t regard these as rules, for we live in “the new covenant, which consists not of a written law, but of the Spirit. The written law brings death, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6). So I regard these teachings as guides or principles, but we should take them seriously.
- We live in pluralist societies in most countries in the world, especially the English-speaking countries where readers of this blog most likely live. We expect to be able to exercise our democratic freedoms, and we should allow others to do the same. We have a right to express our views, same as everyone else, but we have no right to impose our views any more than everyone else has that right.
- Christianity is a religion of grace, and we are called to follow Jesus in expressing grace to others, including non-believers. The mission we have been given is to tell the good news, make disciples, and only then to teach them to obey Jesus’ teachings (Matthew 28:19-20). If we teach condemnation, unbelievers will likely miss seeing God’s grace, and so may see our message as bad news instead of the good news it really is. We need to focus on the main game, and back up our words with actions and good attitude.
- Paul warns us to be wary of using the world’s weapons (2 Corinthians 10:3). Sometimes we may be tempted to respond to harsh criticism and opposition in kind, but that is generally both contrary to New Testament teaching and counter-productive. Insensitive responses can turn people away, but a soft answer can turn away anger.
- These issues become particularly important if we live in a culture where christianity is dominant, or seen to be dominant – such as in most parts of the US. A position of dominance can encourage christians to be uncaring, triumphalist, intolerant and arrogant, all of which are very unattractive and sometimes even scary.
So how should we behave?
- We have a responsibility to try to apply the New Testament principles we are given, to be humble, sensitive and loving in attitude and word.
- We need to be very careful of making accusations, particularly ones which are a response merely to someone disagreeing with us. Just today on a blog, I saw an apparent christian said to another: “You are either being deceitful or have not understood the Gospel message.” No matter how strongly we feel, it is surely better to avoid such statements.
- We should be praying that the Spirit will guide us in what we say and don’t say, how we say it and when – whether we are speaking personally or publicly.
- We should be careful to respect the rights of others.
- We should be careful of joining large-scale movement or protests, to avoid identifying ourselves with causes, organisations and spokespeople who we have no control over and who may say things we cannot support.
- And we should consider whether a particular issue, and what we want to say about it, is core to the good news we are supposed to be spreading, or peripheral, or even counter-productive. Sometimes speaking a truth may not be helpful.
This won’t resolve every question, and we are sure to find ourselves in disagreement with other christians at times. But if we follow these principles, in discussing with christians just as much as in speaking to non-believers, the discussion will be courteous and maybe even productive.
Let us not give up the practice of doing good!