I recently came across an article published by The Babylon Bee which writes Christian satire. It’s like The Onion for church people. The article was entitled “Man Unsure If He’s Persecuted Because He’sa Christian or Because He’s a Massive Jerk.” After a brief chuckle, I was immediately reminded of the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 which essentially says, if our Christian witness is done without love, we are a noisy gong or clanging cymbal.
Unfortunately, there are many Christians who forget that God in Christ calls us first, not to right belief, but to right relationship with each other. Right belief always follows right relationship – a relationship perfected through Christ.
This does not mean, however, that right belief is not important. Right belief is critical to the Christian identity. But we must never forget where right belief comes from – a loving relationship with God and our neighbor made available through Jesus Christ.
Theologian and scholar, Stanley Hauerwas comments on orthodoxy (right belief) saying, “When orthodoxy becomes defensive rather than a form of love and proclamation it denies its own reality…Rather, orthodoxy is displayed as an act of love that takes the form of careful speech.” In other words, don’t be a jerk about your Christian faith.
As I reflect on my own struggles to believe the tenants of our faith, I have learned that careful speech comes from listening and asking a lot of questions. I heard it said that faith and doubt are like dance partners. If handled with prayer, our doubts can lead us to a deeper faith.
I don’t believe God expects a thinking and inquisitive people to blindly accept truth claims that are handed down from on high. If he did, then why send his only Son to die so that we might know ultimate truth?
Instead, I believe in a God who wants us to grapple with these lofty truths as a way of drawing closer to God and each other. God sent Jesus into the world so that humanity might grow in relationship with the One who holds the truth.
Think about a student and teacher relationship. What does a student learn if their teacher gives them all the right answers to a test? They might gain knowledge of the answers, but they gain little opportunity to develop a relationship with the subject matter.
Conversely, what does a student learn if their teacher gives them the resources to search for the answers? Hopefully, the student will learn how to ask good questions. The student will learn how to think analytically. Most of all, the student will develop a relationship with the subject matter.
In the Episcopal Church, we believe God has given us three primary tools by which to grow in relationship with God’s self. These tools form what are commonly called the three-legged stool – scripture, tradition (church teachings), and reason (intellect). Basically, these three resources are what help Christians grow in relationship with our subject – God Almighty, and hopefully “careful speech” will follow.
In the end, I hope our search for the truth of God revealed most clearly through Jesus Christ will lead us to a place where we speak truth with both conviction and compassion, with both passion and gentleness, with both firmness and kindness. As the book of Revelation alludes, God’s truth is a likened to the power of a lion and made known through the gentleness of the lamb who was slain.