I know church members who would rather be called ‘conservative’ than Christian.
For some, their conservative stance in politics and religion is the very essence of who they are. Even to imply that they might be a liberal is to provoke their wrath and invite their hostility.
This is for those of us who count ourselves the conservatives in American life. Specifically, religious (Christian) conservatives.
Many of us have lost our way. We do not hold to Jesus-Christ principles so much as “someone-else-principles.” By “someone else,” I refer to the spokesmen for whatever brand of conservatism many among us are following with our hearts and souls. In politics, a few years back, it was Newt Gringrich and Rush Limbaugh. These days it’s Tea Party stuff. It’s Glenn Beck. It’s anti-Obama. Let him brush his teeth and some conservative pops up to harangue him about it. The disastrous oil flow in the Gulf is his fault. Whatever did we do for a whipping boy before he came along!
It’s an attitude. And it’s mainly ‘anti.’ It feeds off negativism and has a hard time when its own people are in the White House (or in the seats of power within the denomination). The fact is it’s much easier to criticize and harass and march in the streets than to govern. When you are protesting, the issues are clear and you have one task: oppose. But the one governing has to balance all his constituencies, listen to all sides, and seek a consensus.
Well, this is not about politics. It’s about bringing our conservatism into the church. And it’s about reminding ourselves what it means to be a Jesus-follwer.
“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate, and humble.
“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing because to this you were called to that you may inherit a blessing.” (I Peter 3:8-9)
Whatever else being a conservative Christian is supposed to mean–surely no one would dispute this–we are people of the Book. If the Bible says it, that settles it for us. We love the Word, we study it, we work to live by it.
A liberal takes liberties. A conservative takes care. What is so complex about that?
There is a basic Christian character which ought to describe every follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. These two verses–I Peter 3:8-9–state it about as well as any: we are to be loving, compassionate people who prefer harmony to strife, humility to pride, blessing to insult.
We who have been blessed have ourselves become enabled to bless others. That truth is found in the original call of God upon Abraham in Genesis 12. God tells his man, “I will bless you…you will be a blessing…all peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.”
What’s so complicated about this?
Where has the love gone? Listen to many in the church today go on and on about their political views and their religious concerns and you wonder, “What happened to the command to be loving? to be gracious and kind?”
The Apostle Peter addresses those in his audience who–like all of us, I assume–loved their lives and wanted to see better days. Then, he says, here is what you are to do:
–restrain your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech;
–quit doing evil and start doing good;
–seek peace and work for it;
–become a person of prayer.
Those instructions from I Peter 3:10-12 are not activist enough for many among us. We do not have the time or the patience–the faith!–for God to use our gentle Christlike spirits; we’ll take matters into our own hands.
Peter says, “Sit down and be quiet. Become a peacemaker not a trouble-inciter. Let’s see if you really believe what you claim to believe as a follower of Jesus: let’s hear you pray.”
He reminds us God is watching. “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous.” But wait. We thought God had His eyes on the evil-doers, that they were the ones getting His full attention. Nope. He’s watching His children to see what we will do.
To be exact, He is looking around for those who are doing good–loving, blessing, praying–in order to assist them. He is not, most definitely not, looking for someone to squash with the iron fist of His vengeance. Had He been this kind of deity, you and I would have been snuffed out long ago. Give thanks for His mercy.
“For the eyes of the Lord roam to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (II Chronicles 16:9).
God is looking for some child to bless, some believer to support, some worker to empower.
God wants His children to be different from the world.
That note of basic, authentic Christianity has to be stated and restated to every generation of His people. We so much want to adopt our John Wayne persona (a.k.a. Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo, Arnold Swarzenegger’s Conan, Bruce Willis’ Die Hard character) and wade right in and straighten people out.
How foolish. How counterproductive. How like the world.
“Set apart Christ as Lord in your hearts” (I Peter 3:15). We are to keep reaffirming that Jesus is our Lord. This is not a one-time affair, something we do at the moment of our salvation and thereafter it is just assumed.
Day after day, every day, again and again, you and I must remind ourselves we are disciples of Jesus Christ. He is our Lord. We obey and follow Him. His Word, God’s will–that is what we are about.
Be ready to answer your critics and the seekers who want to know why you are the way you are (I Peter 3:15).
This assumes something. It assumes you are living by a higher standard, that you are not doing what the world’s crowd does, that there is something vastly different about you. A little odd, even.
“They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation” (I Peter 4:4). Some will scoff at this behavior of yours, others will harass you, and some will persecute you.
But not everyone.
Some will want to know why you are different. Be ready with an answer. Explain “the hope that is within you.” Tell them about Jesus.
Now, in order for that to happen, you and I must pay the price. We must live differently. I must be the person of restraint, of love and sympathy, the peacemaker in a world of self-indulgent protestors, the forgiver in a culture of vengeance.
“Answer with gentleness and respect,” Peter says (I Peter 3:15). The last thing the world needs–and it’s getting far too much of this–is for God’s people to be as ugly and mean-spirited, shouting and name-calling, self-indulgent and self-promoting, as the world.
Live as Christ lived and you will put to shame the slanderers among you.
Alas, instead of that happening, we are being shamed by the world.
When an evangelist goes on television and caters to the lowest sensual nature of his audience, when a preacher says what the carnal want to hear and assures them it has the blessings of heaven, when the greedy and angry among us are told God is on their side, then all bets are off. The result is chaos.
Satan is having a field day in the church today.
Live conservatively. By the house you buy, the clothes you wear, the vehicle you drive, the way you spend your money.
Speak conservatively. If it’s not true or you don’t know whether it is or not, do not repeat it, do not forward it on the internet, do not repost it on Facebook. Is this a loving thing to do, is a great question to ask.
Answer your critics conservatively. Assume that among the nay-sayers will be a few who really want to know The Way. Assume also that some who attack you for not joining them in their anti-everything campaign will harass you for speaking of loving and serving and praying. Be quiet. Love them anyway. Do not feel you have to clobber them with a clever comeback. Silence is the Christlike way (Matthew 27:12).
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate. When he suffered, he made no threats” (I Peter 2:23).
If you have to suffer, says the apostle who would later be crucified upside down on a Roman cross for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, then let it be for doing good rather than for evil.
If you have to be exposed on television, let it be for the work you are doing with the hungry and the fallen, and not for the jillion-dollar mansion you are building for yourself with God’s money or the jets you are purchasing for your ego.
Someone ought to live differently from the world. When God’s people are as materialistic and greedy as the worst among them, no one cares about forgiveness of sin any more. The death of Jesus on the cross becomes irrelevant to a congregation devoted to building huge bank accounts.
The prosperity gospel is a cancer upon the church. It is a rebuke of everything Jesus ever taught. It is a shame to all who preach it and an embarrassment to the lost who would like to know if Jesus can redeem them.
Those who preach such a message are not conservatives. They are liberals of the worst sort. They take liberties with the Word and pick and choose what of His scriptures they will live by.
The reason Christ died, the Apostle Peter states, is NOT that you and I could get rich in this world. “Christ died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God” (I Peter 3:18). That’s why: to bring us to God.
A conservative interpretation of that will lead us to conclude that bringing people to God is a mighty important thing to do. Why, if Jesus thought that was worth His death on the cross, then I will want to devote myself to bringing people to Him, too.
Let’s not take liberties. Let’s be careful.