Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Brave and Discerning

I am listening to an amazing biography right now- Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxes.  I'll admit to being nerdly.  Nazi-era theologian and all that.  However, it has given me plenty of food for thought. 
I knew very little about the connection between the Third Reich and Christianity. It wasn't a big part of my high school history course. I certainly didn't realize that eventually a schism divided the German Protestant Church into a government sponsored church of the "Reich Church" and the "Confessing Church."  The Nazi's first religious demand was not that the Jewish religion be eliminated from society. Rather they wanted baptized Jewish believers, beginning with the clergy, to be removed from the church.  This was long before anyone guessed at concentration camps and holocausts. The church's response was to mull over if modern Germans could still accept Jews in the pew or the pulpit of their local church.  They also wondered if giving in to the government's requirements might help evangelism. 

Here is where Bonhoeffer saw the line in the sand. He was one of the leading voices in the Confessing Church, and from the beginning he resolutely stated that such a requirement flew in the face of the gospel and prevented the German church from being by definition a church! He wasn't shy about sharing his opinion in essays, speeches, sermons. In a letter he helped to draft, the churches abroad in England where he was ministering stated they would withdraw their confidence if the government insisted on this action.

Why do I bring this piece of history to your attention?  It got me thinking about disagreement.  I hate conflict. I am conciliatory to a fault.  I can imagine if I had been presented with the options step by step it would have been really hard to stand up to them before it was too late.  

I can think of a half-a-dozen Bible examples of bravely taking a stand but let's start with Jesus.  When the religious leaders were prancing about presenting him with "or else" scenarios -- "Either you make your disciples wash their hands before they eat or else!"  (Mark 7:5) and "You'll quit healing on the Sabbath or else!" (Matthew 12:10)" he was not easy to get along with.  He didn't murmur to himself that it might be better to work under their rules until he could gather more followers or in order to make evangelism easier.  He didn't ask himself if Jews of his day could accept these kind of counter-cultural ideas or not.  He spoke up, plainly, for God's Kingdom. He reinterpreted the law according to God's heart in both word and deed. 

Jesus was not foolhardy-brave to the point of idiocy.  He didn't march angrily into Jerusalem during his first week as Rabbi and make enemies of the sheep he meant to shepherd.  Rather than taking political sides he included in his array of apostles both a zealot and a tax collector.  (Think of locking Rush Limbaugh up with Hillary Clinton for 3 years worth of studying). Jesus knew who needed compassion and who needed condemnation. He protected the adulteress who was nearly stoned; he talked to the woman at the well who was a serial monogamist and he publicly embarrassed the Pharisees who sat self-righteously in their own filth.  Jesus had the clearest vision of all.

Discernment is the Biblical virtue of being able to figure out what's right and wrong. It's what prevents bravery from becoming foolhardiness.  It comes not only from a solid consumption of the word of God, but also from practice.  The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, "But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14).

In my opinion many of the things that divide Christians need to be put to the test of discernment.  Issues like women's role and divorce are at the forefront. First, we have to ask: Is it an issue of morality- basic right and wrong? Is there clear teaching in the Bible one way or another? Is there a principle we need to follow?  How does this interact with our culture? We also need to listen to those who are mature and who have years of practice in discernment.  Finally we need to pray.  James promises wisdom to the one who asks (James 1:5).

It's not enough to stridently proclaim a point.  We have understand the issues with clear vision.  Historically when the Nazis were coming to power the German church was neither discerning nor brave.  They failed to recognize the evil of their day and they failed to act in time to stop it. Jesus was fearless and clear sighted.  No matter how cliche it seems, I keep coming back to Jesus.  I need to borrow his eyes and his heart, then I'll know what to do and have the courage to do it. 

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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