This is the final post on being “interrupted by fundamentalism.” Should you say anything? I boil it all down to three question.
1.) Is the gospel being threatened? Paul got up in Peter’s grill and said, “I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned (Gal 2:11).” If the gospel is being added to or subtracted (as was the case with Peter refusing Gentile fellowship), then it does warrant a response. The plate on the bible was no doubt a symptom of a greater disease, but the request-or rather command-itself didn’t necessarily show me that she was trusting in her works instead of the grace of Jesus. That’s what some people call Pharisaism (adding little rules), as opposed to Legalism-working for your salvation. Of course Pharisees did both, and both are commonly found dwelling in the same persons today.
2.) Can you do it truthfully and graciously? Perhaps there are times for righteous indignation, as with Jesus and the money changers in the Temple (Matt 21:12), but we should always remember that most of our anger is not of this variety. And we don’t know exactly what Paul’s and Peter’s exchange looked like. Clearly there was confrontation, but how “heated” Paul got is something we can’t know for sure.
3.) Will it do any good? What affect will it have? This last question is perhaps the last question we should consider in deciding whether or not we should go on the offensive. First of all, I don’t think the question is necessarily a bad question to ask. It is wise to be silent at times, and sometimes anticipating what response you might receive, will allow you to “lose the battle” but “win the war.” So the “will it do any good” question can sometimes be valid, provided you’re not just backing out of necessary gospel-driven confrontation.
But I’d now like to turn to the question “will it do any good?” itself, and explain how it can be an illegitimate question.
A. Who knows? None of us know for a fact what a gospel-centered response could elicit. We can make educated guesses, but how much do we really know? Even when God has declared through a prophet there will be death and destruction, some folks offered up prayers, saying, “Who knows (Jonah 4)?” For Nineveh it “worked,” for David, it didn’t. Who knows? Perhaps a seed was planted, and it might give folks something to think about. Just as coming to faith for many takes a plethora of gospel conversations, so might this exodus from the slavery of man-made rules take some time.
B. How can we expect folks to change? If folks are never challenged to think gospel centered thoughts, they will no doubt continue “policing” tables looking for plates on tops of bibles. People do leave fundamentalism behind. Sometimes it occurs when they simply grow up, and see that NetFlix can be a good thing. But if no one ever graciously challenges them, then we should probably not expect the gospel to make a big dent in their thinking.
C.) A little too much pragmatism. The main problem with the “will it do any good” question is that our presumed definition of success becomes the arbiter of whether or not we do something. And often our definition of success is not necessarily God’s definition of success. Think of the OT prophets. Most people did not listen to those guys. Not only that, Israel often killed those dudes. It definitely didn’t look like their message “did any good.” Maybe no one changes from your gospel-centered response, but that might just be what God dialed up. Some things just have to be said because they honor God, regardless of whether or not, those words are actually heard, received, and pondered. The “will it do any good” question, sometimes finds more common ground with pragmatism than faithfulness.
D.) Worried about our own comfort. I think the question has yet another underlying question: is it worth it to enter into the unknown and perhaps the uncomfortable? It’s much easier (provided they go to another church) to let someone go on making up rules not found in the bible and trying to enforce them on others than to disagree and enter into conflict. Conflict, particularly when it doesn’t seem to do any good, is uncomfortable. We tend to not like that feeling, so sometimes I think we can hide behind the “what good will it do” question.
None of these questions are directed to anybody. The older I get, the more I’m beginning to see these questions behind the “will it do any good” question in my own heart.