When I first considered posting an interview with Jon Guerra, I only had one question in my mind, and that was, “How do I handle the writing of the words that some will find offensive.” At no point did I consider whether to post the interview at all, or the review of the EP that preceded the interview.
To be honest, whilst I recognized that the issue of Christians using cuss words would raise some eyebrows, and maybe even draw some passionate debate, I never expected the emotional depth of conviction that it has raised. I’ve had conversations with people on both sides of the debate who got emotively animated as they expressed their position. It was not just a matter of the idea in isolation, but the idea was connected to deeper feelings and convictions.
For those who stood against Guerra’s usage, it was a passion for witness, holiness and right conduct. For those who stood with Guerra in a restricted but appropriate usage, there was fear of legalism, a different understanding of culture/context/language and a few other things thrown in for good measure in both camps.
So far, other than recommending the EP to those who are able to handle the language without damaging their consciences, I have not really publicly thrown my hat in the ring. I might disappoint you all with my final answer, but I have reasons. First and foremost, I’m less interested in the specific issue and more interested in how we handle such things more generally. Secondly, I recognize that the issue here in Idaho might not be an issue in Chicago, Guerra and Milano’s context, at least not to the same extent.
Let me clarify that second point some more. In conversation with a friend, he stated that he is refreshed when he sees pastors speak out their opinions on public platforms and not get wishy-washy. The case in point was a guy who tells it how he sees it politically, as a citizen of the USA, and does not sit on the fence. My point was that in Idaho, that is not really shocking or challenging to stand firm on republican ideologies. Now in Portland, or Chicago, that could be a real sticking-point, whereas in those cities cussing, smoking and drinking as a Christian might be marginal points. There are cultural distinctives in which matters of praxis cause offense/division.
As we see from Paul’s writings in the New Testament, some things are not black and white, but instead require a personal submission to the Holy Spirit without imposing that on other believers except where Scripture expressly forbids a behavior or demands a certain behavior. So the meat eaters eat their meat, and the vegetarians should eat their tofu, and we should not be trying to force each other into something which is not Scripturally mandated. Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, Seattle, has talked about having “personal legalism” wherein believers are individually responsible to submit to the Holy Spirit, working through their conscience, in areas that are left gray in the Scriptures.
I have a personal conviction to keep my own language free from certain words. Sometimes I get frustrated, or angry, or generally lose control and use particular words. In those moments I have sinned and confess it as such. And Jesus is faithful to forgive. Yet I am conflicted about pointing at others and crying, “Sin!” See, there were two positions raised about the matter that I was unsettled by – on one side the salvation of people who do x or y was called into question, and on the other side it was proclaimed that we shouldn’t judge each other. I’d say both are unbiblical. Yep, more worms being spilled from cans, but this is important.
To the first I would ask you to reconsider the gospel. The Good News is dependent on, in and through Christ alone. It cannot be Christ + anything and it cannot be Christ – anything. It can only be Christ. So Christ + clean language is not the Gospel. Christ – bad language is not the gospel. The Gospel is that He has done it, He is the righteous One, He has saved us. Yes, in areas of sin we must be repenting, but as fruit not root. And the gray zones of life are between Jesus and the person/people involved, no matter how much we might want to codify things.
Now to those who cry unfair whenever a Christian asks questions about another Christian’s behavior. I would refer you to 1 Cor. 5:12:
For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (ESV)
Specifically, it seems, judgment should be an internal matter, not one leveled at outsiders of the church. We must keep in mind what this judgment is – it is not the final judgment of salvation, but it is a disciplinary discerning of behavior. We do not have the right to judge who is worthy of the Gospel – that one is easy; none are worthy – but instead we should examine each other’s conduct and call each other, lovingly, to account. To do that implies a judgment of the behavior, does it not? There is much more study in this area, Romans has a lot on not judging, but whatever you read there must be kept in tension with Paul’s own words in Corinthians, words written to a rebellious and wild church that needed correction. The judgment is in clear cases of sinfulness and rebellion, defined by God’s Word, not man’s ideas. But it is judgment, nonetheless.
You may be wondering what my point is by now. It is simply this – we must be careful and Biblical whatever side of the issue we come in on, and not just regarding language usage. The Bible does not speak to many things that some say no to, and others receive joyfully. We must not make our personal legalisms (right as they are for ourselves) gateways to Jesus.
Here are a few more observations this week has brought me.
The Pastor in Public
Whether or not it should be this way, pastor’s are treated differently when they voice an opinion on a controversial topic. I personally don’t think of myself in a pastoral capacity external to the members of the local church I serve. That does not mean all people see things that way and make a distinction as such.
Right or wrong, I must consider this when engaging in dialog in a public setting. That’s why I chose on Facebook this week that my only comment was to direct people to the blog where things can be overseen properly. I cannot control everything that happens online in regard to responses to what I say, write or think, but I can control how, when and where I post content and engage in follow up.
The Church in Public
The problem with debates on things like Facebook is that they give great opportunity for Christians to bash each other over non-essentials to the detriment of the faith. I’m not saying this happened this time, but I have seen it happen before. Blogs, at least well moderated ones, have a better chance at maintaining integrity and decorum simply because they give a greater level of control. We must really pay attention to how we use social media in public, and sometimes a cooling off period is good before we type what is on our minds. Along with this, if you post regularly, it might be worth having someone read your stuff before you post it, especially if you think it might be contentious.
Yes, lesson learned.
Most importantly, the whole thing has just reminded me that Christianity must never become about the small definitions of the outlying points. I don’t dispute the need for rigorous doctrine, Biblical boundaries and the pursuit of holiness, but it must never be about those things. Christianity can only be about Christ, about who He is and what He has done. That is the only true Gospel.
I don’t know where I’ll head next on the blog. I am very thankful for all who have conversed and I have been praying that people would grow through this, and love Jesus more because of it, and have grace for each other. Whatever you think of Guerra’s choice of words, or my decision to interview him and promote the EP, know this. I absolutely love Jesus. He is my Lord, my King, my Savior. And I believe the same is true for Jon Guerra. We are your brothers, you are our family.