Nobody’s talking about Duck Dynasty star, Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ anymore.

Which is why I thought this might finally be a good time to talk about a question that I kept thinking about during the uproar.

[To be clear, when the interview went viral and the temporary suspension from A&E ensued, there were several issues that were worth discussing. There were issues related to civil liberties, and I think Russell Moore and others did a good job addressing that. There were issues related to the complexities of how human sexuality works, and there were Christians who addressed that.]

But the question that kept nagging me as Facebook and Twitter exploded with opinion, was this:

What does it mean to take a stand for Jesus?

It became clear to me that many Christians believe that speaking out against gay marriage in particular or homosexuality in general is the equivalent of taking a stand for Jesus. The logic goes something like this, “If Christians are silent about the truth, then the lie will win. Therefore we must be bold and call sin, sin.”

Can we talk about this? Let’s consider a few things:

1. Jesus didn’t take a stand for himself.
There were many occasions when people tried to trap Jesus–usually religious leaders, mind you– that he gave a circuitous answer. He didn’t often give them the “black and white” response they were looking for. That is not to say, of course, that Jesus was what we would call “soft on sin.” Certainly not. It’s just that He didn’t pay much attention to answering their “hot button” issues in their terms. 

Many Christians want other Christians to give a stock answer to the issues of our day. But Jesus seems to not engage on the grand level of “issues”; He stoops low to the personal and the individual. He talks to the woman caught in the act of adultery; but when asked about when a man could divorce his wife and not be guilty of adultery, Jesus reframes the question. He’s not a puppet of our social agendas.

And when Pilate puts Jesus on trial– Pilate, the one who represents the systerms and structures of the world– Jesus remains silent. He simply won’t go there.

I keep wondering why.

2. When Peter tried to take a stand for Jesus, Jesus told him to put his sword away.
When they came to arrest Jesus, Peter knew this was his moment. Don’t be a coward, Peter. Stand up! Speak up! Do something! So he did. He drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant! We often think of Peter’s cowardly denial, but forget that moments earlier Peter had done an incredibly risky thing; this could have gotten him arrested or even killed.

It was brave. It was remarkable.

And it was wrong. Jesus picked up the severed ear, placed it back on the man’s face, healing the wound, and told Peter to put his sword away. No need to “take a stand Peter”.

Why?

3. Jesus knows that death and darkness don’t win.
It may seem like weakness, but it is really strength. It may sound like foolishness, but it is true wisdom. It may seem like we’re letting the enemy win and have his way, but God will have the Day.

We don’t have to live or act from a place of panic. We are not the Kingdom-bringers; Jesus is. And Jesus brough the Kingdom by laying down his life. The cross redefined power and wisdom at last. Now we know what Love looks like.

How would you live and speak and love if you knew that the Light wins?

—————————–

Am I saying that across the board, Christians should be silent? Nope. There are many issues– from abortion to trafficking to violence– that we can and ought to speak up and do something. And we have the privilege in America of engaging these “issues” through social and politlical action. This is a privilege not to be squandered.

What I am saying is that we need to think carefully about the why and the how.

Some things must be addressed in the public square for the good of the society— because the powerless will suffer unless we speak for them. Other things are trickier because in a pluralistic society, there may be little agreement on what the “good of the society” means. But even if you were convinced you were “speaking out” for the good of the city, it is not the same thing as “taking a stand for Christ”.

To preach Christ and Christ crucified– this is the Gospel. And the Gospel, as Leslie Newbigin argued, is “public truth”– it is for the whole world to hear and know.

From that public truth comes a set of implications– and yes, moral implications.

IF Christ is the crucified and risen Lord and Savior, then this is what we must now do: repent, put our faith in him, trust His Spirit for the power to live in a new way with a new community of Christians.

But we do not start by announcing morality to the world. We start by preaching Christ.

This is my reading of 1 Corinthians. Paul addresses “the church of God in Corinth”; Paul begins with “Christ crucified” and then goes on to the moral and ethical implications of this truth; Paul then concludes with “the risen Christ” who gives us power to become new. [For the podcast along with my sermon notes of this new series on 1 Corinthians, click HERE.]

I wonder if we would do better to stop trying to “take a stand for Christ” and to seek instead to embody Christ– His cruciform Way that appears weak and foolish to the world but is the power and the wisdom that triumphs in the end.

—————————–

For further reading: Last year around Good Friday, my pastor, Brady Boyd, wrote a blog on a similar theme, pointing us once again to our Savior. Read it HERE.

—————————–

ADDENDUM
Since not all readers will scroll through the comments, I’m going to add some notes I’ve written in the comments in response to some thoughtful questions:

What about John the Baptist confronting Herod, Jesus confronting the Pharisees, and Peter (later) confronting the Sanhedrin?

All these are examples of confrontations with Jewish leaders— Herod was a half-Jew who called himself “king of the Jews” and John the Baptist was exposing him as a fraud; Pharisees were Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus and trusted in their own obedience; the Sanhedrin were rulers of the Jewish synagogue who claimed to know what God was but yet rejected Jesus;

What’s my point? Jewish leaders in the early NT would be analogous to church leaders in our day– they are people who are “of the faith”, who claim to know and worship God, and who ought to know better. Paul says judgment begins in the church…Paul talks about sexuality in fairly clear language to Christians, in a letter to a church he knew well…and he does so in love. In a similar way, we can and should talk about it to our church, our faith community– in sermons, small group convos, personal convos and more!– not in a “megaphone” to “the world.”

For all the above reasons, I think the situation in Corinth is worthy of reflection because it was the first (and largest until Ephesus) pagan city in which the Gospel took root. And Paul’s modus operandi is to address, pastor, teach, correct the church, not the “culture at large.” Part of the challenge of accepting this as American Christians, is we still think we’re living in Jerusalem (a city of shared religious beliefs) and not in Corinth (a “secular” city of pluralistic beliefs).

What’s the point in preaching Christ (as Savior) if we do not make clear what they need saving from?

It is true that preaching Christ means proclaiming Him as Savior and Lord…which implies something to need saving from…So what concept of sin is needed?

I think of Paul in Romans saying the Gentiles have some sort of law written on their hearts. In our day, most outside faith don’t accept Christian sexual ethics or morality. But many have some place where they draw the line: they agree that injustice and exploitation is wrong, they agree that extreme selfishness is wrong, etc… Perhaps our approach is to find that desire and show how they don’t have the power to (fill in the blank): love like they want to, care like they should, etc. We can then point to Christ as the Savior and Lord. (This, I think, is what Timothy Keller does REALLY well in his sermons.)

Advertisements

22 thoughts on “What Does It Mean to “Take a Stand for Jesus”?

  1. While I get what your saying and agree to an extent, your leaving out the other side of Jesus that is mentioned in the gospels. John 2, when he drives merchants out of the temple with a whip! In Matthew 12, when confronting the Pharisees, Jesus points out specific sin, and calls them “evil” and a “brood of vipers” in a public setting. Then there is the whole Matthew 23 discourse. Dodging the question about homosexuality being a sin is not the way to go IMO. We should, however, as Christians be prepared to answer the question in love, with a proper explanation which includes the fact that it is one sin among many, and that we are all guilty of sin.

    Like

  2. We need to hear the Holy Spirit and do/say what is right for that moment. John lost his freedom and eventually his life because he told Herod it was not lawful for him to have his brother’s wife. John took a stand for what was right, for the truth. Paul went to Jerusalem even though his brothers were begging him to stay away from there. These men took a stand for what was right in the face of certain consequences. Even Peter, emboldened by the Holy Spirit, took a stand later in front of the Sanhedrin. Taking a stand isn’t wrong, but we should not attempt to take matters into our own hands and act according to our own counsel.

    Like

  3. Is there a difference between taking a stand and taking action? The first seems broad and general. Taking action seems more specific and individual. I see Jesus taking action more than taking a stand. People know where he stood as a result of his actions.
    Thanks for this post.

    Like

  4. Hi Jason…two things: not suggesting we dodge the question of homosexuality; I’m saying it is dealt with among Christians– sermons, and/or pastoral appointments…not in public declarations.
    Second, all the examples you gave– temple, pharisees, etc– are of Jesus rebuking Jews (read: people who claimed to worship worship YHWH. That is analogous to church leaders in our day, not political leaders, the general public, or GQ mag.

    Like

  5. Hi KJ, read my above response to Jason. The Sanhedrin was a Jewish council that ruled the Synagogue. And Peter’s “stand” (as you call it) is preaching Christ crucified. My point is we are most blunt and confrontative to those already believe– to those who claim to worship our God– not to the world. Peter didn’t challenge the Roman proconsuls in those same cities–he went to the jewish leaders (God’s people who should have known better).

    Like

  6. This is a question worth wrestling with. As I said in the post, there are things we can and should do in the public. Confronting “sin” in the public square has not the been the way to lead off, though.

    Like

  7. Thanks for the comments. A couple of thoughts to keep in mind:
    1. All the examples given of Jesus or Peter “confronting” were to Jewish leaders– Herod was a half-Jew who called himself “king of the Jews” and John the Baptist was exposing him as a fraud; the Sanhedrin were rulers of the Jewish synagogue who claimed to know what God was put to yet the rejected Jesus; Pharisees were Jewish leaders who opposed Jesus.
    2. What’s my point? Jewish leaders in the early NT is more analogous to church leaders in our day– they are people who are “of the faith”, who claim to know and worship God, and who ought to know better. Paul says judgment begins in the CHURCH…we don’t judge the world now.
    3. No where am I suggesting we dodge the question of homosexuality. I am saying that what matters is WHO and WHERE and HOW and WHY we talk about it. Paul talks about it TO Christians, in a letter to a church he knew well…and he does so in love. In a similar way, we talk about it to our church, our faith community– in sermons, small group convos, personal convos and more!– not in a “megaphone” to “the world.”
    4. For all the above reasons, I think the situation in Corinth is worthy of reflection because it was the first (and largest until Ephesus) pagan city in which the Gospel took root. And Paul’s MO is to address, pastor, teach, correct the CHURCH, not the “culture at large.”
    5. Part of the challenge of accepting this as American Christians, is we still think we’re living in Jerusalem (a city of shared religious beliefs) and not in Corinth (a “secular” city of pluralistic beliefs).

    Like

  8. I’m so grateful for this perspective Glenn. I think it clearly outlines and delineates many of the things we’re all feeling but don’t necessarily know how to communicate.
    One thing I would love your insight on is the role of the Law for non-Christians. You said:
    “IF Christ is the crucified and risen Lord and Savior, then this is what we must now do: repent, put our faith in him, trust His Spirit for the power to live in a new way with a new community of Christians. But we do not start by announcing morality to the world. We start by preaching Christ.”
    Does God’s Law have any role in driving people toward repentance? Can we fully understand our need for Christ without understanding how far away we are from His standards?
    Hope that makes sense.

    Like

  9. What do you say about John the Baptist getting killed for calling sin as sin against Herod Antipas when he stole his brothers wife and later married her? JTB didn’t stand for this act, so why should Christians not take stands on sin today?

    Like

  10. Erik, that is an EXCELLENT question…I’m not sure I’ve got a good answer…but I’m grappling with it. Initial thoughts:
    1. You’re right– that preaching Christ must be as Savior and Lord…which implies something to need saving from…so what concept of sin is needed?
    2. I think of Paul (in Romans?) saying the Gentiles have the law (or a law) written on their hearts…and we can show them how even by that “law”– never mind that it is not fully the Law– they have fallen short.
    3. So, in our day, most don’t accept Christian sexual ethics/morality…but many (all?) have some place they draw the line: they agree that injustice and exploitation is wrong…they agree that extreme selfishness is wrong, etc…Find that desire and show how they don’t have the power to (fill in the blank): love like they want to, care like they should, etc. Then point to Christ as the savior and lord.
    4. This, I think, is what Timothy Keller does REALLY well in his sermons.

    Like

  11. Love this! Thanks for articulating what many Christians, including myself, have trouble reconciling. Even if Pat’s depiction wasn’t crude enough to be distasteful/offensive…I feel many of those who “take a stand” with Phil Robertson are reacting to a real or perceived threat of the gay agenda/liberal media/etc, in one of the only ways they feel they can. While its true that in some ways we have neutered Christianity to the point of inaction, the real “action” of the Gospel is in preaching Christ and a God that would love us so so deeply to send His Son. The is a reckless and boundless love, and a not a love that is expressed to the world in “taking a stand” with Phil Robertson.

    Like

  12. Hi Tanner, read my comments above. Herod was a half-Jew who claimed to be “king of the Jews”…JTB called him out for failing as a Jew to be faithful to Jewish morality…and as being unfaithful to YHWH, a false representative. JTB didn’t call out the sins of the Roman prefects or proconsuls or soldiers…though you can sure their sins would have surpassed Herod’s. The issue is who we are “confronting”: the people of God, yes; the world, no….or not by beginning there.
    Some other great comments have been raised and I’ve responded as best as I can, so it may be helpful for you to read those as well.
    thanks!

    Like

  13. Often misunderstood, we are not the judge or the jury, and the message is simple, Christ died for us, for our sin separates us from God. Share that with those when the opportunity arises and the rest is up to God. The rest is more than anyone but Christ can carry.

    Like

  14. Glenn, I don’t think you’re telling us to be cautious with the truth, just considerate. Telling a sinner theyre a sinner only means something if you tell them there’s a Savior. Lets stop talking about homosexuals and start moving in the dynamic power the Holy Spirit. Then watch the gay community flock to the Church, fall on their faces and worship the Almighty like we do: as redeemed saints.

    Like

  15. I hear your idea here and the Romans 2 verse is a good point on the law being writ on the conscience, but that must be coupled with the idea of sinners suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
    Honestly Glen, I feel like we are heading towards a watered down limp-twisted unoffensive Gospel. Your blog seems like a veiled attempt to tell Christians not to be offensive with what we believe and preach. Can’t be done. It’s always been offensive and always will be. Titus is told by Paul that the Circumcision Party (which was an out of house group) “must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.” Actually all of Titus is a pep talk for Titus to defend the faith of Christ via strong words and actions.
    Peter was told not to defend Jesus by physical violence which might not seem to apply to today’s American Christianity, but we should ask the Crusaders if that spoke to their actions. We have to stand strong in the defense of the Gospel which includes declaring the preemptive bad news first when necessary, then followed by the Gospel. Wouldn’t you agree?

    Like

  16. Hi Paul,
    Kinda bums me out that this could give you the impression that I’m sliding to a watered-down gospel. I want nothing of the sort. If you could hear me preach to our congregation or speak one-on-one with folks as they follow Jesus, you would know I’m not about watering down any of it.
    The context of this post is the question of how to live in a secular/pluralistic world. We preach Christ– and the cross (again, I keep referring back to 1 Cor. 1) is plenty offensive! And, yes, to preach Christ means we are saying people need him…i.e. saying that such a thing as “sin” exists. I believe in all this. I’m simply saying that (a) our motive is not to “stand for Christ”; and (b) that we don’t begin with a specific morality that those outside Christ do not accept. Paul did not begin that way. Once again, your ref to the Circumcision Party is a ref to people who are already claiming to be of the faith. There is no example that I can think of where Paul begins by telling Greeks or Romans that they’re guilty of breaking Christian sexual ethics…He finds the place where they already sense a “falling a short” and then preaches Christ…which is offensive and foolish enough.
    Your point to the parallel of Peter’s sword is a fair one. I take the passage as applying to culture wars as a whole…since Paul’s method in non-Jewih cultures (or ones where the synagogue life was minimal) was to teach the church…not rebuke the culture. When we get in our “defend the faith”/”take a stand” mode, we end up just rebuking culture instead of preaching Christ.
    But again: once Christ is preached, the call to follow Him will include a whole way of living that will continue to offend and go against the grain of culture. I’m not unclear about that in my preaching or pastoral work, nor do I intend to be fuzzy. I fear you are mistaking me for something I’m not, and reading your own narrative into my blog. Not sure how much clearer I can make it.
    Cheers.

    Like

  17. Glenn, this is all excellent and thought-provoking. I must admit I’ve let the line between talking to believers and non-believers get blurry in my thinking (not that I do much of either!). Someone has observed that in response to questions, especially the “loaded” ones, Jesus would often either ask more questions or tell stories.
    Can we re-imagine what Phil Robertson might have said in response to GQ (I don’t even know what the interviewer asked him), if he were being as winsome as Christ would have been? What parable might he have told, or how might he have re-framed the question with new questions?
    Why is that issue important to you?
    What are you expecting me to say?
    ___________?
    I’m sitting at my computer drawing a blank on anything more, and this is in the safety and quiet of my own house! What about when we’re in the “hot seat” of someone probing us with angry and loaded questions? Maybe that’s why the Phil Robertsons come up with such clumsy answers, because it’s easy to blurt out something direct and forceful, and much more difficult to be open to the Spirit leading us into a winsome, gracious, uncompromising and yet loving response.

    Like

  18. My heart flutters when people quote Lesslie Newbigin. It’s a man crush I can’t deny. Thanks Glenn, for this exhortation to proclaim the risen Lord Jesus who saves from sin, and not just the sin from which we are all powerless to save ourselves. We are not called to be messengers of morality, we are sent as ministers of reconciliation. How then can we exhort people to be adherents of a morality that presumes dependence upon Holy Spirit unless we first urge people on Christ’s behalf, “be reconciled to God”?

    Like

  19. Oh, also what Newbigin Says about being a heretic in the eyes of the greater culture of pluralism, humanism and secularism is central to this conversation about taking a stand for Christ. Coming to be a witness will at some point mean a rejection of the divisions of public and private, fact and truth, religion and science. Faith is a legitimate epistemological category; as a Christian I believe this to be true without question. This, and not personal morality, is the challenge of Christian witness in the post-Christian west. What does it mean to take a stand for Jesus? Doesn’t it mean simply to confess, like the creeds confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord? It is interesting to observe (I think) that we confess “the holy catholic church” and “the communion of saints” before we get to “the forgiveness of sins.” Thanks again, Glenn. Good grist for the mill.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s