“One out of four Americans (23 percent) state that religious beliefs and teaching are the single, most significant influence on their thinking about whether or not there is such a thing as absolute moral truth. The next most prolific influence is said to be the Bible (15 percent). Other significant sources of influence about moral truth are family (13 percent), experience (10 percent), and emotions and intuition (7 Percent).”
The only frightening thing about Barna’s findings is that our generation may not care. Over a century ago Charles Finney wrote, “If we are deceived in respect to our being subjects of moral government, we are sure of nothing.”2 We might say, if we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything. We expect such from people who refuse God’s grace and reject His revelation to man. How can one have manners if there is no parent around to lay down the law?
I have been following coverage of conservative Americans calling for the discarding of a fellow conservative politician on the grounds that he is so persistent in his principles he will never be able to make Americans like him enough to be effective. Better to be amiable than accurate; to be relevant than right. These are drastic times that call for drastic measures and slavish homage to unpopular principles will not win the day! This is why Kierkegaard said, “The thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.”3 But to anyone with Divine manners, with any sense of a moral universe, that sounds a lot like nonsense. It was for that reason Chesterton said, “Mere light sophistry is the thing that I happen to despise most of all things.”4
We believers may readily admit that we cannot always interpret God’s world correctly but we are sure there is a correct interpretation. We may not always read our Bible right but we are sure there is a right way to read it. And we are sure that our job as stewards of God is to give testimony to truth and not to error. We may not change the unbeliever’s mind or heart but we will be good ambassadors of truth (with proper “manners”) nonetheless.
It seems unfitting to me, therefore, that we should continually be asked by some to give up or even set aside truth in our ambassador ministry. I was told the other day that having stealth convictions for the purposes of inter-church sports would cause the lost to want my faith more.
Really? I wouldn’t if I were he! Why would a thinking person want a faith about which I’m embarrassed? Do we advise married couples or even friends to reconcile their differences by hiding things from one another?
Now some will say, “Well, we understand what we mean here. We only mean you can’t ram your beliefs down another person’s throat!” (as if someone is going to bring up the hypostatic union at a volleyball game). But is that all we mean? Are these things simply a matter of wisely teaching the unlearned, or is it more a matter of believing that unity is more desirable than struggle or that by denying or hiding a small truth, larger ones are more acceptable? If I say, “The flowers will bloom in the Spring,” but you say, “that’s irrelevant because the Earth revolves around the Sun,” why does truth about Botany hinder truth about Astrology? (the fact is, it might be a great help).
Once we are willing to hide certain things that we believe or know to be the truth, we may be willing to acquiesce to things that we know not to be the truth. C.S. Lewis, in discussing questionable behavior writes, “What is one to do? For on the one hand, quite certainly, there is a degree of unprotesting participation in such talk which is very bad. We are strengthening the hands of the enemy. We are encouraging him to believe that ‘those Christians,’ once you get them off their guard and round a dinner table, really think and feel exactly as he does. By implication we are denying our Master; behaving as if we ‘knew not the Man.’”5
First Corinthians 9:20-22, where Paul declares, “I have become all things to all men” has become the clarion cry of those advocating stealth ministries. I don’t believe such a view of those verses can be justified from the rest of the book. In 10:25-30, Paul instructs a believer to feel free to eat meat offered to idols because of our knowledge of idols. But he says (vs 28), “if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake . . . Conscience I say, not thine own, but of the other.”
An important question is, who is the “any man?” One view is that it is another believer who also happens to be at the feast. But there is no indication that this “any man” is a Christian brother. A better view, and one that is entirely natural to the story, is that a pagan man says to the Christian, “This is good meat that has been offered to my god.” In this case the pagan has connected the eating of this meat with his false religion. Now the believer must not partake because to do so would be to say something is true which is not. Paul’s reasoning is seen in verse 33, “Not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they might be saved.”
In the above reference from C.S. Lewis, he would call the situation where a believer is not willing to walk away, “connivance.” He says, “The temptation is to condone, to connive at; by our words, looks and laughter, to consent.”6 This is where Peter found himself when he was asked if he knew Jesus, conniving and warming himself by their fire.
To what, then, are we accountable as believers in Christ? Isn’t it to Him and His Word? Do we really think we can figure it all out better than He? As stewards of this ambassador ministry, we are only asked to be faithful, and to herald what our King has already told us. It is not ours to bargain with the King’s words. Thomas Wentworth once wrote, “There can be no greater vanity in the world than to esteem the world, which regardeth no man; and to make slight of God, who greatly respecteth all men.”7Notes: 1. George Barna, The Index Of Leading Spiritual Indicators (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1996) 104. 2. Charles Finney, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1994) 27. 3. Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God? (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1994) 205. 4. G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1994) 5. 5. C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt & Brace, 1958) 72. 6. Lewis, 71. 7. Mayo Hazeltine, Ed, Orations from Homer to McKinley, Vol. 4 (New York: Collier and Son, 1902) 1471.