I was asked an important question this week in the context of a gathering of future evangelical leaders: What one thing would bring about renewal and revival in America?
Who could claim to know the answer? But I do know what first entered my mind.
If there is going to be real renewal, real revival –at least in America – there will have to be widespread repentance for how we have failed to answer Jesus’ plea for demonstrable unity and shared grace among those who follow Christ.
I doubt I have to remind many readers of the Update about the famed passage in John 13 and John 17 where Jesus prayed for unity among those who claim His name. This, as Francis Schaeffer pointed out, is the “mark of the Christian.”
But Schaeffer went further and reminded us of its inherent challenge:
“Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon his authority he gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians.
“That’s pretty frightening. Jesus turns to the world and says, ‘I’ve something to say to you. On the basis of my authority, I give you a right: you may judge whether or not an individual is a Christian on the basis of the love he shows to all Christians.’”
At no other time would such love stand out more sharply against the cultural landscape. The lack of civility in our world is pandemic, and widely noted by mainstream media. Consider the recent USA Today article titled “Rudeness, threats make the Web a cruel world,” or The New York Times article on Wikipedia’s “Impolite” side. Peter Wood, in his book A Bee in the Mouth, speaks of this in terms of “anger in America.”
Schaeffer was right when he went on and maintained that the world cares little for doctrine. One thing, and one thing only, will arrest the attention of a world that has disavowed the very idea of truth: “The love that true Christians show for each other and not just for their own party.” This is, Schaeffer concluded, the final apologetic. Unloving attitudes and words cause a “stench that the world can smell…Our sharp tongues, the lack of love between us…these are what properly trouble the world.”
Sadly, Schaeffer saw an increasing belligerence. “We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down…we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight,” Schaeffer assesses.” The word “love,” he argues, “should not be just a banner. ..We must not say, ‘I love you,’ and then – bang, bang, bang!”
Our situation has not improved.
A recent editorial in Christianity Today discussed how no attribute of civilized life seems more under attack than civility. The author, David Aikman, notes the extent to which Christians have turned themselves into the “self appointed attack dogs of Christendom. They seem determined to savage not only opponents of Christianity, but also fellow believers of whose doctrinal positions they disapprove. A troll through the Internet reveals websites so drenched in sarcasm and animosity that an agnostic, or a follower of another faith tradition interested in what it means to become a Christian, might be permanently disillusioned.”
Will we repent? I do not know. There are two categories of sin – those of the flesh, and those of the spirit. We have tended to pinpoint the glutton, drunkard, and adulterer far more quickly than we have the prideful, arrogant, and mean-spirited. Even more, we have turned a blind eye to – if not celebrated - caustic, mean-spirited words, actions and attitudes as if they are not reprehensible before heaven.
The irony is staggering: we spew venom in the name of defending our sense of orthodoxy and in so doing destroy the vibrancy of our faith and our witness to the world more than a thousand heresies.
This I know: until we do repent, and condemn that which truly needs condemning among our own, the world will not be listening.
And Jesus has given them permission.
James Emery White
Francis A. Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1976), reprinted as an appendix in Schaeffer’s The Great Evangelical Disaster (Crossway Books), and in Volume IV of The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer (Crossway Books).
“Attack Dogs of Christendom,” David Aikman, Christianity Today, August 2007, p. 52.
“Rudeness, threats make the Web a cruel world,” Janet Kornblum, USA Today, Tuesday, July 31, 2007, p. 1A and 2A.
“Defending Wikipedia’s Impolite Side,” Noam Cohen, The New York Times, Monday, August 20, 2007, p. C3.
Peter Wood, A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now (New York: Encounter Books, 2006).
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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