Like millions of others, I watched the press conference between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday. Then I watched reactions in the press, and it was as if there were two different events.
Fox News reports that the president is facing “harsh bipartisan criticism back home” from lawmakers who claimed he “missed a chance to ‘stand up’ to the Russian president on election meddling.” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was especially critical, calling the president’s statements “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
By contrast, several Republican leaders were supportive of Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Putin. For instance, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ken., called critics of President Trump’s approach to Russia “mistaken” and said, “We should look for ways to make the dialogue better.” He described the president’s critics as victims of “Trump derangement syndrome.”
Our “post-truth” culture
Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as its international word of the year in 2016. The decision seems appropriate in our relativistic culture.
For example, Episcopal Church leaders decided last week to allow same-sex couples to marry in their home parish, even if their local bishop objects morally to gay marriage. This despite objections from some bishops that such a move would force Episcopalians “to accept social and cultural practices that have no Biblical basis in Christian worship.”
One bishop explained the motive behind the move: “Folks just want to be married at home.”
Episcopalians are by no means the only denomination to struggle with reconciling biblical truth and contemporary culture. The United Methodist Church, America’s second-largest Protestant denomination, is planning a special General Conference next year to decide its position on LGBTQ issues and marriage.
Presbyterians have divided into various denominations, largely over disagreements over homosexuality and same-sex marriage. While most Baptist denominations support biblical marriage, the Alliance of Baptists and a few other Baptist organizations support same-sex marriage.
“Rightly handling the word of truth”
Are there days when you would prefer to ignore the culture wars, name-calling, and “fake news” in the news? I feel the same way.
In fact, God’s word warns us “not to quarrel about words” (2 Timothy 2:14) and to “avoid irreverent babble” (v. 16). We are to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone” (vv. 23-24a).
However, Paul’s statement continues: “able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (vv. 24b-25). “Correcting” translates a Greek word meaning to raise a child or discipline a person.
We are to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (v. 15). “Rightly handling” translates a Greek word meaning “to guide along a straight path.” We are to give our muddled, “post-truth” culture a straight path to biblical truth, morality, and wisdom.
So, when should we avoid contentious issues? When should we respond to them with biblical truth?
When Jesus is on trial
I think we should engage people in divisive controversies only when led to do so by the Holy Spirit.
It is the work of the Spirit to convict people of their sins (John 16:8) and bring them to salvation (John 6:63). It is our work to join him in his work as he calls us to do so.
Think of our role as similar to a witness called to testify in a courtroom. Jesus is on trial. The Holy Spirit is the defense attorney; Satan is the prosecutor; the person with whom you are speaking is the jury.
The Spirit will call you to the stand at the point in the trial when your testimony is especially relevant to his overall strategy. He will then lead you to say what he needs the jury to hear.
You may be called to testify early in the trial and never hear how the jury decides. You may be called to testify at the end of the trial and hear the jury’s verdict, hopefully for the Defendant. You may be somewhere in the middle. Or you may not be called to testify at all.
If you are called to the stand, your job is not to win the trial. It is not to convince the jury that you are right and they are wrong. Your job is to tell what you know when you are led to do so. And it is to impress the jury with the Defendant, not yourself.
Remember three imperatives
When the Spirit leads us to speak truth to divisive issues, we should remember three imperatives.
First, be humble. We are all broken people. The person on the other side of the issue is someone God loves as much as he loves us.
Second, be prayerful. Ask God for wisdom (James 1:5) and for the words to speak when called to speak (Luke 12:12).
Third, be courageous. Say with the psalmist, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6).
Matthew Henry: “It is our duty not only to hold fast, but to hold forth the word of life.” Let’s do both today, to the glory of God.