I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning and clicked on an article a friend shared. It was about this pastor Rob Bell and the apparent backlash he endured when he, according to the article “asked some questions about reconciling eternal punishment with a loving God, and he examined matters of life and faith that had become foregone conclusions to most believers.” I haven’t read Love Wins so I can’t speak to what questions Bell asked within its pages.
While I was reading the article, I felt the Spirit of God stirring within me. Setting off red flags and sounding warning alarms. At first I shrugged off His warnings, assuming I just didn’t like the author’s voice. But as I continued to read I couldn’t ignore the warnings any longer and I had to admit that something was just off – theologically speaking.
I nodded in agreement with several sentiments, mainly those pointing out that Christians have the tendency to label and ostracize people they don’t agree with rather than having tough conversations. It’s so much easier to just write someone off than to wade into the uncomfortable. But it felt like the author, in a way, was doing the same thing with the Christians who “abandoned” Bell. He labeled them intolerant and went on to explain why Bell was a brave theologian asking the tough questions.
But never once did the author call out the elephant in the room. Bell wasn’t simply innocently asking questions. He was preaching universalism, which is the belief that everyone will be saved because of God’s unconditional love. Um, nope. I finished the article, taking away that God was reminding me of the importance of guarding my heart. I figured it was a teachable moment and that was that.
But God pressed deeper into my heart as I was preparing to shower. He does this on the regular. I’m fairly certain it’s because it’s one of the few opportunities for me to be free of distractions. As I was about to get into the shower He asked a seemingly random question, “Why did everyone commend Lysa Terkeurst’s strength and faith while so many of those same people commended Glennon Doyle Martin’s bravery for being true to herself?”
I hadn’t given much thought to either situations in quite some time, and certainly not that morning. If you’re not familiar with either of these women, Lysa is a Biblical teacher and speaker, and Glennon is a Christian mommy blogger and author. Lysa recently announced that she is leaving her husband because of his ongoing infidelity and refusal to put his vows before the desires of his flesh. Back in August of 2016 Glennon announced that she was leaving her husband of 14 years for her close friend – a female friend.
When God asked me that seemingly random question, I did what I often do with His questions that seem to come out of left field. I confessed my confusion. So He asked me, “Why would people grieve with someone who has suffered at the hands of an adulterer when they cheered on an adulterer just a few short months ago?” The only thing I could think of was that the people who spoke out in support of Glennon weren’t supporting the adultery, but her decision to live the “lifestyle” that honored her true self. God immediately pointed out that it’s not our call, especially not for those of us who wave the flag of Christianity. We don’t get to decide which adulterous act is acceptable and which is not. He drove His point home by telling me, “Anyone could have come to Art Terkeurst’s defense with the same statement – he was making a decision to honor his true self.” Ouch.
“God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?” – James 4:12 (NLT)
But here’s the truth God reminded me of – just as we are not to judge, we are also not to pardon either. The Judgement Seat isn’t ours to sit in. At. All.
So, if we are not called to judge others, what are we called to do? First, God calls us to love one another. And by “one another” He is saying that His followers must love one another. (John 13:34-35) We get into trouble when we love according to the world’s standard instead of God’s. In love, we will tell someone to follow his heart, to do what she thinks is best, to be true to himself. Unless we are simultaneously pointing people to the Truth, we are co-signing their self-indulgent ways. We are telling them it is okay to idolize self. God calls us to love people in truth, and to speak the truth over people in love. Tim Keller put it so succinctly I won’t bother trying to paraphrase his words.
“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthen us to see the truth about yourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace.”
Here’s the thing, you and I can’t do this with people we don’t know. I mean, we can try to on a superficial surface level kind of way. But that doesn’t do anyone any good. Unfortunately, all things social media invite us to start and join conversations that are meant to be had on a very personal level. It may be safer for us to “talk” to someone through a screen, but God doesn’t call us to safe.
He calls us to have authentic relationship with our fellow believers, even though relationships are messy and uncomfortable. But we are messy and broken people. We may be saved but we are still wrapped in flesh. And flesh rubbing against flesh is anything but comfortable.
Should people who walk away from the straight and narrow road be ostracized, or commended for being true to their true self? Neither. God encourages us to confront our brothers and sisters, first on a one-on-one level, then with another believer, and a group of believers if needed. Waving goodbye to someone or wishing them the best as they walk away from The Way is not what God calls us to do. (Matthew 18:15-17)