If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men
-Romans 12:18 (NASB)
“A pastor shouldn’t be this divisive or passionate about politics!” the Facebook user commented as I responded to a shared article on New York’s controversial Reproductive Health Act in 2019. My crime, in the minds of the commenter and the others who responded either with nasty (and irrational) comments or laughing emoticons, was that I had the audacity to contend for a Biblical worldview in public spaces1. “You’re trying to impose your worldview!” cried those with the intent of, in the context of abortion, silencing all who oppose the act, criminalizing good charities who have bona fide religious convictions about the practice, and forcing all Americans, including those who have bona fide religious convictions about human life, dignity, and the Creator’s sovereign reign over creation, to pay for the slaughtering of babies in the womb2.
If you’ve engaged in discussions about cultural issues and have attempted to engage Mik secular society’s weak and inconsistent values, you’ve likely faced significant pushback, personal attacks, and challenges to your professed faith. How can Christians be so divisive? Aren’t Christians commanded to be agreeable? Just this week we witnessed this view of the Christian faith expressed by Don Lemon from CNN who, while commenting on The Roman Catholic Church’s statement on homosexual unions, said, “I respect people’s right to believe in whatever they want to believe in their God… But if you believe in something that hurts another person or that does not give someone the same rights or freedoms, not necessarily under the Constitution, because this is under God, I think that that’s wrong.” Lemon wrapped up his remarks on the topic by stating that Roman Catholics and other professing Christian groups needs to reexamine their beliefs about God because God “is not about hindering or judging people.” In summary:
• You should be free to believe in God
• But only if those beliefs are acceptable to all
• If you profess to be a believer, you should endorse and even celebrate all practices and beliefs
Now, the inconsistency of Lemon’s position should be immediately apparent to all. His view is unacceptable to Christians who maintain any semblance of historic, Biblical Christianity, but he flatly stated that Christians need to reexamine their beliefs to conform to his theology. Professing Christians who don’t play along not only have poor theology; they also have violated their duty to be agreeable.
Is this what God has called Christians to be like? Should we embrace faith that resembles that of Ned Flanders? Should we have a personal faith we cannot and will not defend? Are we supposed to be watching our culture and saying, “You know what, I am going to reexamine everything I know about God as revealed in Scripture because of what’s trending on Twitter, and because Don Lemon said so”? If the basis of good and evil is subjectively grounded upon social trends, can we know what it is? If that foundation is concrete, should Christians pretend otherwise because one (mistakenly) believes the unbelieving world will think we fit in with them and they’ll want to hear what we have to say about God? Do we have to remain silent about abortion, our culture’s view of gender identification, or attacks on religious liberty? Should pastors feel the need to lament how divisive Christians have been by sounding the alarm about progressive efforts at suppressing religious liberty? Will progressives be justified in persecuting those who adhere to historic, Biblical Christianity, because we should have been nicer?
Before we unpack those questions, let us first examine what the Bible teaches about Christians being agreeable.
The Bible’s Teaching on This Topic
There are many wonderful passages that deal with how Christians ought to interact with others, including believers and unbelievers alike. The Bible isn’t silent on the topic of disagreement, conflict resolution, reconciliation, or even appropriate ways to address those who are in error. The Bible takes this issue seriously enough that two women in Philippi were called out in Scripture by name for allowing conflict to divide the local church. For the sake of brevity, we will examine one chapter that addresses this topic: Romans 12.
Romans 11 reminds believers in Rome that God is faithful to His covenant promises. Because God had not cast away the Israelites, Gentile believers could be confident that His promises to them were sure as well. Those promises revealed God’s merciful salvation of all who respond in saving faith to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Reflecting upon so great a salvation led the Apostle Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to burst forthin praise at the end of the chapter.
Examining the Text
Romans 12 builds upon how those who have experienced such a great salvation respond to Jesus: with a desire to glorify Him, with gratitude, and in obedience. Specifically, verses 1-2 command the believer not to be conformed to the dying world which is enslaved to and celebrates sin from which the believer has been and is being saved. Rather than living for the world- embracing its beliefs, actions, etc., the believer is called to be a holy, living sacrifice unto God. This is the only appropriate response for those who are in Christ Jesus.
From there, the passage goes on to explain how living a holy life affects the believer’s relationship with others in the local church. Those who are puffed up with pride have a misunderstanding of their need for a Savior and about His purpose for the individual believer as a part of the body, working together with the other parts for the glorification of Jesus Christ. Recognizing that the Lord has mercifully and graciously saved the believer, not on the basis of human merit, but as a result of His good plan, one should desire to understand His plan for their lives. God’s plan for the redeemed is for their willful, joyful, and sacrificial service of others through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, unto Jesus Christ.
Because Paul, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was writing to believers in a culture that was hostile to the Gospel (Paul would get to visit Rome as he hoped… as a prisoner. He would later be beheaded by the Romans), he understood that real opposition to the Gospel message exists. He didn’t urge Christians to be pushovers or to pretend that the believers in Rome needed to water down Biblical teachings to try to fit in with the world. Rather, he wrote these words:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind towards one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14-19a, 21).
This excerpt from Romans 12 reminds the believer that he or she will be persecuted and then proceeds to describe how one ought to respond to those who mistreat the believer. The believer may reasonably ask, “Why would Christians be persecuted, hated, exposed to evil treatment, and have conflict in this this life?” The answer is found in the verses above, and it is consistent with the larger context of God’s Word:
Let love be without hypocrisy: abhor what is evil; cling to what is good
While verses 10-13 would describe how Christians ought to behave towards one another, the cited verse above (v. 9) establishes what Christians should not be: hypocrites. In our culture, saying that Christians shouldn’t be hypocrites would garner praise from the believer and unbeliever alike. Many articles are written about hypocritical Christians every year who dare to address moral filth but aren’t morally perfect themselves. And, while that is certainly an issue about which Christians should deeply be concerned, a believer struggling with sin doesn’tnecessarily represent hypocrisy. In fact, the Bible clearly affirms that Christians will, while growing in sanctification in this life, wrestle with temptation. I am unaware of any significant theological tradition within mainstream Christianity in the United States that affirms sinless perfectionism. But… that isn’t what this passage is addressing. When Romans 12 calls out hypocrisy, it’s confronting those who would profess to be Christians while loving what is evil: the world. Rather than living for Jesus Christ in gratitude, awe, and obedience to His Gospel message, those individuals conformed to the world and its values. You know, the sort of person guys like Don Lemon think represents the sort of faith one should have.
Nowhere in this passage does it suggest that believers should water down the truth claims of Scripture because those might be offensive to a dying world. The Apostle Paul anticipated that the congregation in Rome understood that the terms good and evil had concrete meaning. God’s Word had clearly revealed that God is the standard of moral values and duties. Christians don’t have liberty in deciding whether they would like to believe those claims or not and they certainly don’t have the right to pretend there is no foundation. Christians don’t bow to cultural pressure because an immoral practice is celebrated by random influencers.
Nowhere in this passage does it suggest that Biblical teachings on moral values and duties will be celebrated by the world. Quite the opposite is presented. Rather, Christians are expected to give themselves wholly over to the risen Christ in worship which requires the denial of all else. The Bible doesn’t anticipate that Christians will do this privately. Rather, it should be known that Christians live for Christ. The world should know and take notice. And they’re going to respond. Christians shouldn’t be surprised by this. We know how they will respond as well as why: “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also” and “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
But Do Christians Have to Be So Divisive?
Someone might read this and recognize that beliefs Christians hold are inconsistent with the values of a secular world and wonder whether one might be able to avoid conflict simply by remaining silent. There are a few issues with this. First, God hasn’t called you to a private, hidden faith. There are no examples of that sort of faith in the New Testament. The reason the world hates us isn’t because of what we say about gender identify, abortion, homosexuality, or any other hot button issue: the reason the world hates the believer is because the follower of Jesus Christ recognizes that in Christ alone there is life. Everything else is death. The believer who maintains historic, Biblical Christianity, affirms His sovereign reign over creation, which is abhorrent to those who want to be a law unto themselves. To even suggest that one is in need of a Savior is to note that every person deserves the fires of hell because of their sin apart from the redemptive work of Christ.
Second, you are obligated to share that truth. Your friends and family who don’t know Christ are going to die and go to hell. I don’t care if they’re nice, charitable, murderers, homosexuals, or celibate. This is true if they’re sincere about another faith or passionate about spiritual matters. To withhold the Gospel message from them is to be party to their spiritual death.
Third, the Christian isn’t simply called to tell people the good news, but rather, to contend with false beliefs that hinder others from coming to saving faith in Christ. “I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” In Titus, Paul addressed the cancer that is false teaching while describing the false teacher as one who must be silenced. The implication is that Christians will know the truth (because there is a foundation for Christian doctrine that is not determined or discovered by the individual or culture), will stand upon it (not reexamining it because unbelievers don’t agree with it), and contend for it. Christians should be tearing down ideologies that hinder people from coming to saving faith through intellectual engagement, sharing the Word, prayer, and through living lives that glorify Christ.
For the sake of the advancement of the Gospel, Christians must confront false ideologies such as critical race theory. Critical race theory offers false teaching about the core problem with humanity, healing, justice, and redemption. Additionally, Christians who happen to live in America must contend for religious liberty, which is under fire. Pretending that remaining silent about attacks on religious liberty will result in social good is a grave error. While Christianity certainly can and does thrive under persecution, Christians should not champion for or remain silent about efforts to curb the free expression of the Gospel message or living out one’s faith in public spaces. We want everyone to hear the Gospel message of Christ, which means that we must be willing to tear down barriers laws would create to silence our witness. To remain silent about that topic isn’tbeing nice- it’s championing for less people to hear the Gospel.
Fourth, you can’t remain silent. The world wants to find you. In recent years, celebrities who dared to attend churches who affirm historic, Biblical truths were called out in the media. Chris Pratt and Chip & Joanna Gaines come immediately to mind. The reason for this is obvious: the unbelieving world doesn’t want you to coexist with it; it wants you to conform to it. The world wants you to acknowledge that the Gospel message is just your truth that can be watered down until it is no longer offensive to their sins. It wants your penance, and when you refuse, it will try to crush you. Professing Christians who worship man and live for their praise, believe they can please both God and man. The Word clearly affirms that such people cannot please either. Those trying to appease the world with their faith are like the man who fed others to a shark hoping it would eat him last.
Fifth, you are a part of a culture that is increasingly hostile to the Gospel message. The fact is that nations who reject God’s plan invite judgement. One cannot read very much of the Old Testament without finding prophets condemning wicked nations for their injustice. What was the message of Jonah? “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” His words were simply: repent or die. Those who would profess to know Christ and would care about the nations in which God has placed them (whether America or otherwise) must not remain silent on consequences for national sin. How can the believer, knowing how God treated Israel, His covenant people, when they disobeyed Him, remain silent about the moral filth in America, a nation that isn’t even a blimp in recorded Scripture?
Christians are called to do our best to make peace with all men. We are supposed to show humility and respect unto one another as an expression of our worship for Jesus. We are not, however, called to conform to the world. Those who have saving faith in Jesus Christ should respond with awe, gratitude, and obedience to His Word- even if that invites scorn and persecution from the world. Further, believers should, through sharing God’s Word, prayer, intellectual engagement, and through living lives that glorify Christ, tear down all ideologies that hinder others from coming to saving faith. The world will find this offensive, and you will be cancelled. Will you allow this to stop you from living for Christ, like the hypocrite confronted in Romans 12 or will you give yourself fully over to Him? Let us all respond like the Apostle Paul:
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:7-11, NASB)
1One’s doesn’t have to maintain a Biblical worldview to recognize that abortion is a violation of human rights. Secular groups are powerful voices in the pro-life movement.
2 Note that the Hyde Amendment was repealed in 2021.