CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

It’s Time To Be Offensive

Dec 6, 2010

The history of the Christian church is replete with examples of the believing community being sucked into the worldview and values of the surrounding culture. It happens all the time unfortunately, and will undoubtedly continue. The church is meant to be countercultural, but it so seldom really is.

Indeed, in God’s upside-down kingdom, you can almost take it as a rule of thumb that whatever the world is just crazy about, the church should be dead set against. Within reason, and with obvious exceptions, that may not be a bad way to look at things. Indeed, if the world is in love with what you are doing, then you might need to ask if what you are doing is really of God.

Consider just one area in which the church has slavishly conformed to the world around it, instead of radically challenging it. Today in the West it has become axiomatic that the only ‘virtues’ worth agitating for are acceptance and tolerance.

In an age which believes in nothing, it is assumed that we are supposed to get excited about nothing. Just live and let live. Whatever you are into, or are doing, or believing, that is just hunky dory. Who am I to judge you? The only thing anyone should do is embrace everything, accept everything, judge nothing, and criticise nothing.

And this silly and even harmful mindset has now crept into the churches big time as well. We have simply soaked up the false values of the surrounding culture, and put a Christian spin on it all. Indeed, we seek to recruit Jesus in justifying our embrace of such worldly lunacy.

Thus we now have so many believers who are terrified of saying anything or doing anything for fear of offending somebody. They seem to think it is the loving thing, the polite thing, even the Christlike thing, not to rock the boat and not to cause even a hint of controversy.

Well these believers really need to start reading their Bibles again – or for the first time. Simply reading the four Gospels will show what foolish and unscriptural sentiments these are. Time and time again we read about Jesus offending people, getting people angry, causing division, and provoking major public commotion. Wherever he went, he seemed to get into trouble.

We see that he was constantly causing uproars, alienating people, and coming in for criticism. There are plenty of passages one can appeal to here. In Luke 4:28-29 we find these words: “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff.”

Well, at least he provoked a reaction. In many churches today it’s all a preacher can do to simply keep the congregation awake. Jesus had no such problems. People either loved him or hated him. There was no little middle ground.

And we are told this on numerous occasions. John 7:40-43 puts it this way: “On hearing his words, some of the people said, ‘Surely this man is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘He is the Christ.’ Still others asked, ‘How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?’ Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.”

Now Jesus could easily have softened his message. After all, isn’t the name of the game church growth? Isn’t the real deal to get numbers? Why unnecessarily turn people off? Just tone things down a bit and the crowds will come rushing in.

But that is not how Jesus operated. Consider John 6:60-67: “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?’… From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Jesus obviously was not reading carefully books like How to Win Friends and Influence People. He knew people took offence at his words, and he fully accepted that people would reject him and his teaching. Indeed, he put it this way: “Do you suppose that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, No; but rather division” (Luke 12:51).

Of course we could go on to the book of Acts and see how this same pattern plays itself out over and over again. Just one example, however. In Acts 17:6 we are told this about the early believers: they “caused trouble everywhere” (GNB). A troublesome bunch, those early Christians. If that was so very true of Jesus and the early church, should it not be true of us as well?

Now it really should go without saying that when I speak about this, I am not suggesting that we go out of our way causing trouble, seeking to deliberately be offensive, and taking no regard for the legitimate sensitivities of others. We are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, as Jesus commanded us.

I am simply saying that it is the nature of the beast – that is, the normal Christian life – that offense will be taken quite often when we simply live a life of truth, integrity and conformity to the will and claims of Christ. That will always prove to be offensive to people. It was true of Jesus, and it will be true of us.

So by all means, let us be tactful, diplomatic, and seek to build bridges where possible. Let us strive to be as gracious and loving and kind as we can be. But just remember, the most gracious, loving and kind person on earth was rejected by men, an outcast of the world, and eventually crucified for taking an unflinching stand for the truth of God.

Can we be, and do, any less?

[998 words]

16 Responses to It’s Time To Be Offensive

  • Unity can be misconstrued in the church as unanimity, whereas biblically it is inclusive of diversity: diverse perspectives, contributions and gifts.

    If you are offensive, in the right way, you are deemed offensive in the pejorative: under this silly pretext that difference automatically entails divisiveness.

    So much for the Body metaphor, where unity into Christ the Head is achieved by the proper functioning together of the parts: a symphony of different gifts and contributions.

    Peter Grice

  • Bill

    Do you think it might be time for Christians groups to give the other ‘offended’ groups a taste of their own medicine, turn the tables, and begin using the hate laws against them as well.

    There might be theological pros & cons for this.

    David Williams

  • Thanks David

    One could easily use such laws against them, since they are vilifying Christians and pushing their hatred on believers all the time. But whenever I am asked this question, my answer is always the same: these are bad laws and they should be overturned. Many of us campaigned long and hard against them in the first place, and to seek to now use them for our own advantage would undermine our past efforts and weaken our case. So I would rather just work on overturning them altogether.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Jesus blessed the persecuted (Mt 5:10-12). If the whole world loves you, question whether you are really of Him at all (Jn 15:18)
    Grant Vandervalk

  • It’s funny Bill there’s a strange consensus these days that if we just agree with people and be nice without any moral backbone that that’s the way to do it. I’m proud of my own Catholic faith for standing up against this, and many Evangelical Protestants I meet also feel the same way. My only question is this: Why can’t the rest of these Churches read their bibles!!!
    Richard Lyons

  • Actually, the entirety of John 6 is a great lesson on how Jesus did not pander to this idea that being offended is a problem that He needed to concern Himself about. One can see the progression of the multitude over the course of less than 24 hours of how the celebrity status they projected onto Jesus with the miracle of the loaves and the fish, becomes unravelled as he tells them the next day about the reality of his mission. As Bill pointed out, the truth about Jesus causes sharp division, and you can see it escalating further and further as Jesus says more. In the end, there was too much truth, and many left.

    It didn’t matter that Jesus had shown his authority the day before, offense simply isn’t avoidable because the heart of man is by nature against truth and God. But Peter, having walked on water the night before by the power of Jesus (Matthew 14:28-29), says to Him “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

    At the end of the day, the only offended party to any of our words, thoughts or deeds we should concern ourselves with, is God. We are always going to be loved by some and hated by some. How you conduct yourself before God will determine who’s in those two groups, but the idea that one can avoid offending people is just silly. The only people who don’t offend anybody else are the dead.

    “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit. Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. (1 Thessalonians 4:7-12)
    The line between respect and rejection is obviously very thin.

    Mark Rabich

  • Thanks Mark

    Congratulations. For what it is worth, yours was the 20,000th comment to appear on this site. You win the grand prize, and you can come to my place to collect it. (I have not figured out what it is yet however.)

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • That’s alright Bill, I think I’ve been reducing my odds a bit…
    Anyway, your mad dog Daisy will probably expect me to play fetch with whatever it is!
    Mark Rabich

  • Thanks Mark

    Now that’s a great idea: Daisy can be the prize!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Greetings Bill.
    I have found one of the most frustrating things amongst many brothers and sisters I mix with their now deeply ingrained belief that positive is good and negative is bad. And so they will never dare say or accept something they consider negative, judgmental or hence offensive. And I must point out these terms are not biblical terms.
    As an electrical trades person working with God’s creation I consider establishing the negative as a point of reference far more important than the positive, our very life depends on it. Get that right, then we can start playing with the positive. The cross is essential before Pentecost, death first, then resurrection.
    Rob Withall

  • To quote someone who’s name I don’t recall:
    “When you are offensive change yourself, when the message is offensive, don’t change the message, it is the power of God for salvation.”
    Kylie Anderson

  • It is an upside-down world where Christians would rather keep silent while someone goes to eternal damnation, than preach the gospel and risk offending them.
    Kylie Anderson

  • On the matter of vilification laws – “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt 5:11-12). “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but on the contrary bless! For to this you have been called so that you may obtain a blessing” (I Peter 3:9).
    It is significant that the Matthew passage is followed by ‘You are the salt of the earth…” If we fall into the trap of using the vilification laws against our enemies, we lose our salt and are “no longer good for anything…”
    Geoffrey Bullock

  • Thanks Bill. This is so needed in the church…the voice of prophecy. The Bible calls Jesus a ‘stumbling block’. Although He is the Prince of (true) Peace that He came not to bring peace but a sword. The antiChrist seeks the opposite…a false peace. Back to Daniel…

    Daniel 8:25:
    And through his policy also he shall cause craft
    to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify
    himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy
    many: he shall also stand up against the Prince
    of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.

    Interesting when you look at the Hebrew translation of this word ‘peace’: – peace is the Hebrew word transliterated as shalvah (shal-vaw’), defined as “security (genuine or false)

    The anti-Christ (alternative to the true Christ) will seek to impose a false security under the label ‘peace’ whereas the Prince of true Peace comes with a sword to destroy this counterfeit security.

    When the church sells out to counterfeit peace and refuses to speak the Truth which will cause offense, it can never hope to bring true peace to the world.

    Dee Graf

  • The point about being non-judgemental reminds me of a recent news article about Rev Alex Brown, who was apparently openly gay, who performed about 360 sham marriages for illegal immigrants, which were only rumbled when someone noticed cheap wedding rings and a price tag on an outfit. The weddings scam brought great revenue to the church but he pleaded innocence. He did nothing and allowed wrong doings to carry on.He was eventually jailed. From his photograph he looked exceptionally dense, whether deliberately or otherwise..

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-11200507

    Rachel Smith

  • Good point David Williams – not sure of Bill’s response – until I read Geoffery Bullock’s post referring us back to scripture. But Bill is correct – “overturn” the laws and changes of Government allow such measures to be implemented – Righteousness exalts a nation, a State, a city, a home, and the individual from where the Lord commences His work.

    Ray Robinson

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