By this shall all man know that you are my disciples

Posted on 27 March 2008

Evangel 15:2 (Summer 1997)

By this shall all man know that you are my disciples

Evangel 15:2 (Summer 1997)

About twelve years ago (although wonderfully supported by my own congregation) I went through a particularly difficult time in my ministry. I experienced opposition with the resulting pain that this hostility brought with it. Physically my health seemed to suffer as a result. The interesting thing for me, however, was this; those who showed the greatest love and concern were evangelical believers who were not my ‘brand’; those whom my ‘tradition’ regarded as near-enemies to the ‘true faith’.

  During the last summer I was ill for a couple of months. A friend of mine is an oriental Orthodox priest and his congregation prayed for my restoration daily. Toward the end of my convalescence I visited his church and was introduced to a member of the congregation whom I had not met before. ‘How are you now?‘ was the immediate response. Clearly the congregation had taken my needs to their hearts.
 
  Now, of course, there are deep theological divides between oriental Orthodoxy and my evangelicalism. My Christology looks to Chalcedon and rejects the monophysitism of this brand of Orthodoxy. Moreover, I am deeply troubled by many Orthodox emphases; prayers for the dead, sacramentalism, the confusion between sanctification and justification in the doctrine of theosis or deification, the veneration of icons etc. Yet, here were others who call themselves Christian demonstrating the caring love for others which is the hallmark of genuine Christian ethical conduct.

More disturbing still is the fact that this is so often absent in reformed evangelicalism. Of course I am passionate for evangelical truth. I believe that, as evangelicals, we have a far clearer understanding of the Christian gospel than any other Christian tradition. I am unashamed to affirm such evangelicalism in a variety of contexts where I encounter those from other Christian groupings. But I am still disturbed! Too often in recent years I have witnessed in the evangelical world conduct that falls far short of the gospel. I have seen power-hungry, empire-building evangelicals at work, I have witnessed selfish disregard for the feelings and sensitivities of others, I have encountered situations where evangelicals have treated others in a way that fell short even of the standards of the surrounding unbelieving world and I have been acquainted with situations where actions not far short of the criminal have taken place.

Tragically, not only is this an incomplete list but all too many of us could come up with similar and attested stories as we reflect on the congregations and organizations of which we know.

The challenge for Reformed evangelicals is surely this: on the one hand we desperately need in a confused world to declare truth, the truth. On the other hand, it is vital that our passion for truth is at least equalled by our passion for a holy Christian love. Shame on us that we are sometimes (all too often) put in our place by those whose grasp of truth is (we humbly believe) defective in comparison to ours. We need to improve our own quality of Christian living for only then do we have a real claim to be heard.

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