How are we to respond when we hear tragic news or when we experience something devastating? Earlier this week I found out that the younger brother of a college student I know had passed away. The brother was nineteen years old. The natural, gut reaction to news like this is visceral. It is a mix of “Why?” and “This shouldn’t have happened!” But for many of us, myself included, theology often catches up to instinct and says “Yeah, but God is sovereign” as if this is more true than out first reaction. This theological realization stands in direct opposition to the emotional response. Are we sit back and think that all is ok, then?
Perhaps a substantial reason for the negative view of Christianity is the attitude and actions of Christians themselves. As a world religion, the stigma of dependence on something outside ourselves is already a built-in excuse to reject believers. In addition, Christians have a tendency to mistake their salvation as license to be self-righteous and judgmental, wondering why unbelievers are not intelligent enough to “figure it out.” Like the Pharisee in Luke 18, we often look at the people around us exclaiming, “Thank you God that I’m not like these tax collectors!” As the story goes, the Pharisee has much to learn from the tax collector whose only justification is in the mercy of God and not in his righteous (or unrighteous) works. I have encountered many non-Christians and de-churched Christians who use Christian hypocrisy as the chief reason for their unbelief. Often times there is a deeper issue at hand, but just as often this objection is simply as real to them as Jesus is to us.
My all-time favorite Christmas carol is Charles Wesley’s, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. I trust you will see why as we move through its stanzas and consider its message. While you may be used to the three-stanza version found in most hymnals (e.g., Psalter Hymnal#339; Trinity Hymnal #203), I will use a five-stanza version my congregation sings every Christmas Eve at our service of lessons and carols.
So here’s the deal. If at any point you as a leader allow for 3rd Tier issues to advance upward in the culture of the church, then members will become centered on something other than the gospel and factions will ensue. If passions drive preferences, and preferences are not2nd Tier issues, then church leaders must be clear that the passion to lead the church with a gospel-centered focus is greater than their passion to drive their preferences into the culture of the church. This is protecting the unity of the flock with a gracious spirit of saying, “That’s not going to happen among us. I’m sorry.”