Once there was a television show about some pretty nasty jobs – things like cleaning septic tanks, etc. I suppose it made most folks feel good knowing that while they had less than ideal jobs, there certainly are other jobs that are far worse. In the Christian world we find similar sorts of jobs – jobs no one wants.
Folks like to be liked – they like to be popular and accepted. This is true of believers and non-believers. Christians may claim to want to only please God, but men-pleasing is a continuous temptation. Saying what people want to hear instead of what they need to hear is a trap far too many pastors and Christian leaders fall into.
Certain Christian callings pretty much guarantee that you will make lots of enemies, have few friends, and displease most folks. The job of the prophet and the watchman are among those Christian jobs no one wants, because they end up with so many people upset with them.
Indeed, as most of the prophets discovered in the Old Testament, and as John the Baptist, Jesus and the disciples found out, telling it like it is will likely get you killed. Thus most people avoid like the plague any Christian ministry that involves warning, rebuking, chastising and challenging.
To act as a watchman or a prophet will result in you losing plenty of friends, but if God has called you to do it, then you must do it with all your heart, and ignore all the negative consequences which will come your way. Many of God’s great servants have had to take on this job of warning, of rebuking, of correcting.
It did not win them heaps of friends, but it meant they were pleasing to God, which is all that really counts. I have often written about these great saints. One of them is J. C. Ryle (1816-1900). See here for more on his life and work: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/08/08/notable-christians-j-c-ryle/
I have often quoted from his vital 1877 volume, Holiness. But his equally important 1878 volume, Practical Religion is also so very well worth referring to and quoting from. His penultimate chapter there is “The Great Separation”. It is based on the words of John the Baptist concerning Jesus as found in Matthew 3:12: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Ryle reminds us of basic biblical truths: there are only two classes of people in the world: those who are truly His (the wheat) and those who are not (the chaff). One day Christ will return to finally and fully separate the two. In the meantime we find both intermingled in the world and the church. Says Ryle:
There were two classes in the days of Noah’s flood: those who were inside the ark, and those who were outside; two in the parable of the Gospel-net: those who are called the good fish, and those who are called the bad; two in the parable of the ten virgins: those who are described as wise, and those who are described as foolish; two in the account of the judgment day: the sheep and the goats; two sides of the throne: the right hand and the left; two abodes when the last sentence has been passed: heaven and hell.
Yet Ryle notes that most folks actually think there is a third class, and they are in it. They do not feel really at home with hard-core religion, but they do not think they are as bad as the pagans. It is a “safe middle class” says Ryle.
In this middle class is where the majority of men persuade themselves they belong. In this class a person only needs enough religion to be saved, and yet not go into extremes – to be minimally good, and yet not be exceptional – to have a quiet, easy-going, moderate kind of Christianity, and go comfortably to heaven when they die – this is the world’s favourite class. I denounce this notion of a middle class as an immense and soul-ruining delusion. I warn you strongly not to be carried away by it….
Apart from these two classes there is none. You must examine yourselves! Are you among the wheat, or among the chaff? Neutrality is impossible. Either you are in one class, or in the other. Which is it of the two?
He goes on to speak of the blessedness of heaven for the wheat, and the horrors of hell for the chaff. And he spends a bit of time – just as Jesus did – dwelling on the reality of hell, and offering strong warnings for those who would deny its reality or seek to water it down. His words are powerful and cut to the heart here:
Beware of manufacturing a God of your own: a God who is all mercy, but not just; a God who is all love, but not holy; a God who has a heaven for everybody, but a hell for none; a God who can allow good and bad to exist side by side on earth, and will make no distinction between good and bad in eternity. Such a God is an idol of your own creation as real as Jupiter or Moloch; as true an idol as any snake or crocodile in an Egyptian temple; as true an idol as was ever moulded out of brass or clay. The hands of your own notions and emotions have made him. He is not the God of the Bible, and aside the God of the Bible there is no God at all.
Beware of thinking yourself wiser than that which is written in God’s Word. Beware of forming fanciful theories of your own, and then trying to make the Bible agree with them. Beware of taking selections from your Bible to suit your taste – refusing, like a spoiled child, whatever you think might taste bitter – grabbing, like a spoiled child, whatever you think might be sweet. What is all of this but the same as taking Jehoiakim’s penknife and cutting out portions of Scripture and throwing them into the fire? (Jeremiah 36:23) What does it amount to but telling God that you, a poor short-lived worm, know what is good for you better than He. It will not do: it will not do. You must take the Bible as it is. You must read it all and believe it all.
He concludes this chapter by imploring the listener to make sure they are really right with God through Christ, and are not fooling themselves. That is how the true prophet always operates: he warns, but he also weeps. He speaks the truth of God fearlessly, but he speaks with a broken heart as well.
Perhaps I can conclude this piece, and also bring it right up to date, by noting some words just penned by another modern-day prophet, Matt Walsh. I like him and I relate to him. In his newest piece he begins by telling of all the abuse and hate he gets, simply for sharing biblical truth.
Yep, I sure know all about that. He discusses how he recently gave a speech at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. and reaffirmed basic biblical truths, such as on sexuality and marriage. For that he was targeted and taken to task by some of the staff and students there! He writes:
The evening went just exactly as it would have if I’d been giving a talk at Berkeley or San Francisco State. Many of the students who tried to shut down the event showed up in protest. A group of them held a gay pride banner in the back of the room. I took time out of my remarks to explain to them why our allegedly shared faith condemns gay marriage, but they told me they weren’t there to “have a dialogue with me.” OK. Nobody shouted or heckled during my speech, which was nice, but the Q&A afterwards was mostly dominated by one student after another fishing for applause by calmly explaining why I’m a mean, hateful bigot, and so forth. I argued with as many of them as I could before they kicked us out of the room, then I stood in the hallway and argued for another hour.
Most of the kids offended by my arguments and my very presence were upset that I don’t believe in “marriage equality.” Some said they agreed with me but believe my approach is hateful. The word hate was tossed around quite a bit. My words are hateful, my ideas are hateful, my beliefs are hateful. Everything is hateful. Except for a crowd of people pointing at me and calling me hateful. They’re not hateful, remember. Just me.
Yes, all Christians are sinners. Exhibit A: yours truly. I fail to live by my beliefs all the time. I am weak. I am selfish. Lord, I am truly a pathetic sight. I am not saying that Christians who fail to perfectly follow Christian teaching are not Christians. If I were saying that, I’d be excommunicating myself, and the entire rest of the world.
But it’s one thing to fail in your pursuit of holiness, and it’s another to call holiness “hateful.” It’s one thing to sin, it’s another to say that sinning is not sinful. It’s one thing to disobey the Commandments, it’s another to categorically reject the authority of the Commandments. It’s one thing to crawl back to God and beg for forgiveness, it’s another to stand there and say you don’t need forgiveness because God was wrong when he called your sin a sin. It’s one thing to follow Christian teachings imperfectly, it’s another to loudly denounce them. It’s one thing to fall short of the faith, it’s another to change the faith to suit you.
In all of these cases, you can do the former while still retaining your Christian identity. But to do the latter is to reject your Christian identity. And you are free to do that, by the way. There is no law saying you must be Christian (the laws are trending very much in the other direction). You are not compelled or required to profess a faith in Jesus Christ. Many people are not Christian. I have friends who are not Christian. I think you should be Christian, I believe your salvation depends on your acceptance of Jesus Christ, but that is your decision to make. I just want you to be honest about it.
What you cannot do — what no Christian school or church or household should allow you to do without being rebuked – is testify a Christianity that does not include whatever bits and pieces you find distasteful to your modern palate. What you cannot do — what I will not sit by and allow you to do without forcibly challenging you — is claim a Christianity that makes room for our culture’s favorite sins. What you cannot do is say you are a Christian whose faith condones, supports, permits, or otherwise accepts the homosexual lifestyle, abortion, pornography, or whatever else. That is a heresy. You are creating a religion for yourself and of yourself and by yourself. You are proclaiming that God is Lord on one hand, but calling him fallible and foolish on the other. You cannot keep hold of the name “Christian” while you speak such blasphemies.
You cannot be a Christian who fundamentally rejects Scripture’s moral dictates — that is, a Christian who openly calls those dictates illegitimate or outdated or unbinding — any more than you can be a Christian who rejects Christ’s divinity or His Resurrection. These are defining features of our faith. How can you accept something while rejecting its defining features? That’s like saying you love the forest but you hate trees. You’re allowed to hate trees, but if you do, I think I have not overstepped my bounds if I suggest that, in fact, you don’t love the forest at all.
Our faith is clearly one which condemns abortion and sex that is not between a man and his wife, and it is clearly one which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Whether it should be is a different question. Of course I believe it should. No Christian can say “I don’t think God should have made that Commandment.”
But there is still repentance, of course. You can commit evil acts and be saved. You can be a former abortionist/gay porn star/Democrat and still enter into Heaven, provided you repent and come to Christ. More to the point, you can have these sins in your past and still be Christian, but you cannot say they are not sins and still be a Christian. Because if you say they are not sins, then you are denying the authority of God and attempting to discredit the path to salvation that He laid out for you. How can you be a Christian who says God is fallible, sins aren’t sins, you don’t need forgiveness, and you don’t need to act with justice or righteousness? That is not Christianity, no matter how much you’d like it to be.
Hmm, sounds like what Ryle was saying. And Jeremiah. And Paul. And Jesus. And for saying such things the hatred flows. As I said, it is the job nobody wants.