0 Fighting About Jesus | Houghton Magazine

Fighting About Jesus | Houghton Magazine

July 10, 2019

Here’s the scenario: two groups of people are passionate about what they believe. They are convinced, perhaps rightly so, that the opposite ideology will lead their group into ruin and chaos. They are so convinced of this that they are willing to do anything to make sure that their side wins, that their opinion is preserved as the only right way.

Unfortunately, they are uncertain if their side will win. In fact, it’s beginning to look as though they might not win. Even though they provide sound arguments for why they are right, the tide isn’t turning. They are becoming desperate…because, after all, the stability, longevity and existence of this holy cause weighs in the balance.

Because the cause is so important and in such a perilous position, they feel freedom to engage in a strategy that is outside the boundaries of rational argument. They start a campaign to vilify their opponents, making personal attacks on their character and intelligence. They start rumors about the opposition’s motives. By innuendo and persuasive speech, they turn the decision from a discussion of the facts to a campaign of mudslinging and character assassination. Ultimately, the whole situation ends in a huge mess.

Sounds like a modern political campaign, doesn’t it? Actually, based on some of what Philip Jenkins writes in Jesus Wars, this scenario is rooted in an argument among Christians in the 3rd and 4th centuries concerning the nature of Christ.

Is a clear understanding about the nature of Christ important? Of course it is! Our salvation and our existence as Christians rests on it. But isn’t it ironic that, in an attempt to maintain the integrity of who Jesus is, Christians berate, defame, disparage and malign each other? That, in a discussion about the nature of Jesus, Christians excommunicate, exile, persecute, even murder each other?

We may not persecute and murder people who disagree with us, but we are tempted to vilify them, malign them, berate them, disparage them. We treat each other with contempt because our views of immigration or abortion are different. Then we wonder why the watching world doesn’t want to have anything to do with Jesus.

Christians are going to disagree. Nevertheless, as we hold firmly to our beliefs, we also realize that, in the name of Jesus, right theology should lead us to righteous living. We are Christians, not because we believe right, but because we follow Jesus. There is a place for discussion of ideas—even arguments about our differing opinions about those ideas—but in every discussion, we can disagree in a spirit of civility, we can argue respectfully, we can go our separate ways as brothers and sisters in Christ.

We have to decide our goal. Is it to win, or is it to be more like Christ? We may end up doing both, but I am convinced that, if we have any hope of achieving both, our primary goal must be to emulate Christ. I am continually amazed that, when God wants to win, his strategy is to love—to become vulnerable, to live a life of humility, to willingly surrender himself to a cross. It’s only out of all this that he wins.

I suspect this is something of what Paul means when he reminds the Philippians of the Christian hymn:

Though he was God,he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:6-11)

Paul introduces this hymn with these words: You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Crusaders often declare that the battle is too important, and the struggle is too great, to take the time to stop and think about moral niceties. But, of course, this implies that our strategy is better than God’s. Paul also reminds us that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control—not winning.

Too many Christians live defensively. We feel like we have to defend God and fight for God. As someone said to me recently, we live as if God is the smallest kid in the sandbox. Is it possible that our God is too small because we have created Him in our image, and because issues and agendas are more important to us than Jesus is?

When we know who Jesus is, we have confidence in the truth and in the way in which we communicate the truth. We look more and more like Jesus.

Rev. Wes Oden has served as the senior pastor of Houghton Wesleyan Church since 1996. He and his wife Cindy have two sons (John ’08 and Andrew ’11), a daughter-in-law (Heléna ’09), and two grandchildren