Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley opened a recent commentary with these words: "Watching the news in the last few weeks, I couldn't help but wonder: Who let the dogs out? And who decided to sic them on Christians?" Those legitimate questions were raised in response to a recent series of attacks on Christ that included obscene cartoons of the Lord published in the University of Virginia's school paper, Rosie O'Donnell's comparison of radical Christianity with radical Islam, NBC's editing of all biblical references out of VeggieTales each Saturday morning, Madonna mocking Christ as she sings suspended from a crucifix, and of course the squelching of Prison Fellowship's InnerChange Freedom Initiative. Indeed, attacks on Christ are coming fast and furious nowadays.
No doubt the sentiment against Christ serves to prove the veracity of Scripture as our Lord Himself declared to us, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you...I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you...If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you...But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me (Jn. 15:18-21)." These things should not surprise us. Rather, they should actually bolster our faith.
Of course, we Christians have a wonderful opportunity in the aftermath of such things to put Christ on display and demonstrate the stark contrast between Christ and the world, and indeed Christ and the world as reflected in false religion. For example, when the Pope delivered a speech on faith and reason in a university setting, noting that the propagation of religion through violence is unreasonable because it goes against the nature of God, and at one point citing a medieval reference to the spread of Islam through violent means, it cannot be lost on anyone but Muslims that their response to the Pope's comments was murderous violence. That is the way of Islam, but it is not the way of Christ.
Consider Rosie O'Donnell’s comments. She asserted that American Christians are as much of a threat to free people as the Jihadists who slammed jetliners into the Twin Towers. In her words, "Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America where we have separation of church and state...And as a result of the attack and the killing of nearly 3,000 innocent people we invaded two countries and killed innocent people." O'Donnell implies that Christians influenced the American State to kill innocents in other countries. The further implication with her reference to the separation of church and state is that Christians seek to advance their cause by way of force and violence and that no one is safe if Christians truly gain control including American citizens.
Let it be said without hesitation that Christ did not kill to advance His cause. On the contrary, He died to save guilty sinners from every people group and religion including Islam. Further, because Christians follow Christ, they do not kill for the advance of the gospel, they die for it. Well attested to is the historical record of martyrs for the faith once for all delivered to the saints and that sacred roll is being added to daily all over the globe.
Of course, it is Christians who championed the separation of church and state in this country. Not all Christians of all times have done so, but, the reality is that freedom of religion is grounded in New Testament principles and coercion or force in terms of religion is abhorrent to thinking believers and antithetic to the gospel. The gospel advances through persuasion, not coercion. As Dr. John Piper aptly admonished, we should "Seek to win others to saving faith in Jesus by persuading with words, not imposing with force. This was the way the gospel spread among many religions in the early centuries of the Christian church. The earliest teachers said, 'Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others (2 Corinthians 5:11).' When the New Testament speaks of the 'sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17)' or 'the weapons of our warfare (2 Corinthians 10:4),' it clearly means the word of God and power of spiritual persuasion."
It must be pointed out that a number of Christian organizations are calling for O'Donnell to be reprimanded or removed from her position on ABC’s "The View." Many are demanding her apology. If the cause of Christ is to be advanced on gospel principles, not only must Christians avoid force and violence, but they must also avoid all responses that characterize pagans and not Christ. It is unbiblical and unbecoming of Christ to whine and demand things from the world. Remember, Christians will suffer marginalization and malignity. Further, when mocked and crucified, Christ opened not His mouth (Isa. 53:7).
Everyday Christians must learn to think, and think biblically. As they do so, they will be effective witnesses for Christ as they engage the culture. A young woman in the church I serve sent this note to a Christian group that is demanding apologies: "I just received an email from your organization which urges Christians to demand an apology from ABC in regards to the comments recently made by Rosie O'Donnell on one of their programs. I am a Christian and completely disagree with the comments made by Ms. O'Donnell. But, how are we any different from non-Christians (pagans) when we demand apologies from those who offend us? We as Christians should use this as an opportunity to 'love our enemies and do good to those who hate us' as Christ commanded in Luke 6:27. Ms. O'Donnell's comments are not really an attack on us as individuals, but on Christ. We should pray that God would have mercy on her soul and others who hold her views, just as He has had mercy on ours." She gets it. And, that is the stark contrast between Christ and all others.
Dr. Piper expressed the same sentiment. "In response to this constant defamation of Jesus Christ, there are no public threats or demands for apologies. This is not because we do not love Jesus above all things, or because we have no zeal for the glory of his name. It is because he told us to expect this (Matt. 10:25; Jn. 15:20) and then modeled for us how to react: 'When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23).'"
Many are quick to point out that not all Muslims are war mongers or violent. True. Others point out that Christians have been violent on occasion. Also true. However, as Kevin Boling, co-host of "Calling for Truth" pointed out, the silence of the Muslim moderates is deafening. Where are the cries against Jihad from that group? Where is the distancing of the moderates from the radicals? On the other hand, all evangelical leaders and most Christians loudly distance themselves from the Crusades or those who bomb abortion clinics. Even here we have called upon brothers who demand apologies to reconsider their position in light of Scripture. There the contrast is brightly illumined. We worry when our brothers ask for an apology while the Muslim world remains silent in the wake of bloodshed and death. This line of thought is not a self-promoting pat on the back. Rather, it is a simple observation and gentle challenge. It is the truth and we must ensure that it remains the truth.
Hear Mark Earley again: "We should remember that the Church was born into a hostile environment. Throughout history, the Church has always made its most profound witness when it was under attack. Why? Because then, more than at any other time, we have the opportunity to demonstrate the unmerited love, patience, mercy, and grace of God." I could not have said it better myself.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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