Per Fidem Intrepidus means "Fearless Through Faith". My courage isn't my own, it comes from the Holy Spirit, it's my faith in God and my personal savior Christ Jesus that calms my fears and allows me to move forward in this fallen world. Personally I'm afraid of a lot of stuff, but having the faith that Jesus adopted me as his little, sin filled, brother keeps me going.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

What About The Unbeliever?

Recently I was in the audience of a debate between two pastors who were discussing, in part, the topic of what to do with unbelievers. In that titanic theological battle two schools of thought emerged, Pastor Brimstone was of the "Shun the Unbeliever" opinion and believed it was best to remove the goat from the flock, while Pastor Lovejoy was of the "Love the Unbeliever" viewpoint and thought it was best to treat an unbeliever as a believer that doesn't realize they're a believer yet. The debate went on for quite a while, each pastor making salient, biblical points, and in the end the outcome was determined by who was least mercurial in their arguments. 

Both pastors were basing their arguments on Paul's writings, Pastor Brimstone quoting from 2 Corinthians and Pastor Lovejoy spoke from Colossians. Over time I have come to learn that Pastor Lovejoy has an awesome grasp on Paul (in fact I've begged him to take a few years of his time to beat Romans into my head) while Pastor Brimstone's strong suit is the writings of John Calvin and Charles Spurgeon. It was a fascinating battle of knowledge, articulation, and wills, but in the end the question remained in my mind, what does God really want us to do with unbelievers - love them until they can barely breath, or cast them out into the cold harsh night? As with everything in life, the answer lies somewhere in the middle

Pastor Brimstone's arguments were based on 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, here in part:
14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (2 Corinthian 6:14-15)
While Pastor Lovejoy's biblical weapon of choice was Colossians 4:5-6:
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

These do sound mutually exclusive at first but they're really not, and that's a point that Pastor Brimstone unfortunately missed. In 2 Corinthians 6 Paul is talking about close personal relationships with unbelievers. He uses words like "Partnership" and "Fellowship" and "Harmony" and "Agreement" and warns against them. And Paul is absolutely correct in his advice to the believers of Corinth, if you come too close to unbelievers, in his terms becoming yoked to them, they can draw you in to their  circle of lawlessness and darkness. He's not outlawing all relationships with unbelievers, but is warning against relationships which would compromise our faith. If you have friendships with unbelievers, such as the gang from work, that's fine but would you go bar hopping with them? and in 1 Corinthians 5:11 Paul specifically tells us to avoid immoral persons who call themselves believers, to the point where you wouldn't even share a meal with them.

On the other hand, in Colossians Paul tells us to treat the unbelievers with wisdom and grace. Why the big difference? Did he have a change of heart between visits to the churches of Corinth and Colossi? May it never be! In Corinthians Paul is telling us what not to do, and in Colossians he's telling us what we should do, he's telling us the proper way to conduct ourselves in the presence of an unbeliever.

First God tells us to conduct ourselves with wisdom, why? Because the world judges Christianity by what it sees in us, are we representing Christianity with kindness and love or are we hammering people over the head with the word of God in a way reminiscent of papist sins of the middle ages? Unfortunately the world judges Christianity by what it sees on TV and what it hears from the Obama administration and it chooses to ignore the truth. The dark corners of the world are doing everything they can to paint us as hate filled hypocrites, to counter this we are told to behave in a specific manner;
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9)
Be patient, considerate, and long suffering with the unbeliever, and make the most of the opportunity. When God said "Making the most of the opportunity" in Colossians 4:5, literally the Greek says "redeeming the time," or "buying up the opportunity." meaning "Go For It" this is your time to share The Word, to not become complacent about evangelism. And here is where the bone of contention lay with Pastors Brimstone and Lovejoy, while Pastor Brimstone took Paul's word to avoid unbelievers Pastor Lovejoy took Paul's word to draw close to them. To me Paul is saying 'draw close, but not too close'. Paul again tells us to make the most of an opportunity:
15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Ephesians 5:15-17)
There it is again "making the most of your time" or in the original Greek  "redeeming the time," or "buying up the opportunity." meaning to use that opportunity to its fullest extent and to understand what the will of the Lord is. This means to be prepared to answer their questions, maybe they're unbelievers because they don't understand what Christianity is all about, maybe they fell away because they were fed the wrong information in their youth. It's your job as a Christian to straighten out their confusion. If they don't want to hear it and tell you flat out they don't, fine - it's that whole 'pearls before swine' thing, but until then make the most of the opportunity. Paul hints at this but Peter comes straight out:
sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Peter 3:15)
Know the doctrine of the Trinity, be familiar with scripture, have faith that the Bible is the one truth that mankind. Realize that you're going to hear questions that start with "How can you believe in a God that allows xyz to happen?" and be ready to answer it. 

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