Wednesday, August 22, 2012

When A Failure To Confront Is A Failure To Love

One disturbing evangelical trend of the last century finds little or no basis in historic Christianity. There are a lot of Christian teachers, who are excellent in their handling of God’s Word, people from whom I have learnt so much from, and yet err on the side of civility when it comes to responding to false teaching that happens in their own backyard. I cannot get over how many times I have seen or experienced this.

Of course, we can easily maintain our favorite punching bags without becoming controversial. Criticizing Barack Obama, renouncing those responsible for mass shootings, and protesting against those who protest against Chick Fil A, certainly are actions that lend credence to our card carrying membership of conservative evangelicalism. But what about the more pressing biblical mandate to confront professing Christians when they are in sin (Proverbs 27:6, Matthew 18:15-16), practice church discipline (Matthew 18:17-20, 1 Corinthians 5), and mark false teachers as enemies of the Christian Gospel (Romans 16:17, Galatians 1:8-9). Our reluctance to confront is often done out of “love” for these people, all the while being the most unloving thing we could do to them and the body of Christ.

I am currently reading Paul Tripp’s book “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands” and he had some fascinating comments about how the practice of confrontation is deeply rooted in Jesus’ two great Commands to love God and love our neighbor (pages 200-202). Tripp says that:

Confrontation is rooted in a submission to the First Great Command. This command calls us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Twice the Leviticus passage says, “I am the Lord.” God intends confrontation to be an expression of our submission to Him in our relationships with others. From God’s perspective, the only reason we confront one another is that we love the Lord and want to obey him. Our failure to confront one another biblically must be seen for what it is: something rooted in our tendency to run after god –replacements. We confront unbiblically (or not at all) because we love something else more than God. Perhaps we love our relationship with this person so much that we don’t want to risk it. Perhaps we prefer to avoid the personal sacrifice and complications that confrontation may involve. Perhaps we love peace, respect, and appreciation more than we should. Here is the principle: To the degree that we give the love of our hearts to someone or something else, to that degree we lose our primary motive to confront. But if we love God above all else, confrontation is an extension and expression of that love.

Tripp then continues on discussing the relationship between biblical confrontation and Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves:

Confrontation is rooted in the Second Great Command, which calls us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Isn’t it interesting that the Old Testament call to love your neighbor as yourself is tied to this call to frank rebuke? A rebuke free of unrighteous anger is a clear sign of biblical love, but I am afraid we have replaced love in our relationship with being “nice”. Being nice and acting out love are not the same thing. Our culture puts a high premium on being tolerant and polite. We seek to avoid uncomfortable moments, so we see, but do not speak. We go so far as to convince ourselves that we are not speaking because we love the other person, when in reality we fail to speak because we lack love.

Please don’t misunderstand. True love is not offensively intrusive or rude. But the Bible repudiates covering sin with a fa├žade of silence. It teaches that those who love will speak, even if it creates tense, upsetting moments. If we love people and want God’s best for them, how can we stand by as they wander away? How can we let them deceive themselves with excuses, blame, and rationalizations? How can we watch them get more and more enslaved by the fleeting pleasures of sin? How can we let a sufferer add to his suffering by the way he responds to his own experience? True love is neither idle nor timid. It is other centered and active.


Anonymous said...

"But what about the more pressing biblical mandate to confront professing Christians when they are in sin"

I am glad for this post Cameron.

The lady who took me to church where I heard the gospel and became a disciple is the same lady who left her husband and children and moved in with my father.

I have never confronted her about her adultery because she is volatile, aggressive and unreasonable.

I ask seriously here: How do I confront as your blog suggests?

My father is not a Christian and this lady is a professing Christian who goes along to church, says lots of God words and plays the part.

I just don't know what to say to her.

Please provide your advice, thank you.


Larry said...

Try to confront with love and see what happens to you - maybe the reason for reluctance.

Cameron Buettel said...

Larry and Regs, another thing I failed to mention in this post is that godly confrontation is something that usually reveals the authenticity of a person's conversion. True Christians have a tenderness to sin and a willingness to repent. The confrontation Tripp talks about concerns Christians who are stumbling in sin. Regs, I am sorry to hear about your difficult situation. If the woman you are talking about is an unrepentant adulterer then she is probably a false convert (see 1 John 3:4-10, the sin talked about there is an ongoing unrepentant sin) and needs to be subject to church discipline as laid out in Matthew 18:15-20. If the elders of your church are unwilling to practice proper church discipline then you need to find yourself a real church. Sorry that I can't offer a quick fix, but if this is done right God will derive glory from this situation and a lost sinner might even be won to Christ. What is unacceptable, however, is for things to stay the same as you have mentioned. Since your father is an unbeliever this should be a matter between you, the woman, and the elders of your church. Please keep me posted and have a surf around this blog for articles on church discipline - you will find some good material.

Rahchell Cornish said...

Thanks for the post, Cameron.

It is funny how we can stumble across something that can be so relevant to/for a recent encounter.

There are times where I feel the need to address sin/issues with fellow Christian, church-attenders is unwelcome, more often than not because church environments (at large, though I realise I am generalising) have become void of reproof (I mean, "criticism"). It is one thing for the sin to go unnoticed and/or for it to occur behind closed doors. It is another thing (and somewhat disturbing) when the church leadership is aware of it.