Let me start off with a question. Have you ever been in a situation where you were trying to defend a viewpoint or side—political or religious, a work or sports issue, whatever—and someone on your side started speaking and acting in such a way that you wished they would either shut up and sit down, or just go home? A person like that doesn’t help your cause, even if they have good points to make, when they act in a way that is unsuitable for the situation. They end up doing more damage than good.
Recently I joined in on a debate online. A pastor, whom I don’t know well, was answering a challenge presented by a group of atheists and I thought this would be a great opportunity. So I joined in by asking the atheists a couple of questions to gather information. I then presented an argument for the reality of Jesus’ existence, something they were denying. After the atheists and I exchanged messages back and forth a few times, the pastor came back in with a long string of insults, names, and comments that were rude and condescending to the atheists in the debate. I was completely shocked at this display coming from a man who has dedicated his life to the building of the Kingdom of God. It seemed to me that he was doing everything he could to disparage and isolate these people, saying they were acting like toddlers for not believing in Jesus. He told them that they were no better in the public eye than rapists, and seen as barely above pedophile priests. My only guess, as I suffered through the reading of this tirade, was that he was somehow trying to shame them into believing in Christ.
I was quite ashamed and embarrassed that someone who was seen, in the eyes of the atheist group, as someone on my side of this debate was treating them so horribly. You see, to them I’m sure we were lumped together as “the Christians” in this debate. It’s very easy for them, at this point, to say, “See, that’s how Christians are. No surprise there. They’re all rude and condescending and I want nothing to do with them or their worldview.” If they see Christ’s ambassadors acting like this, it’s a natural conclusion that Christ is that way also.
The pastor went on to put words in their mouths as he claimed that they thought they were smarter than several named scientists of the past that were Christians. By saying that, he’s essentially saying that all Christians are smarter than atheists. I know a lot of atheists that I would feel quite comfortable saying are smarter than I am. Disagreeing with someone’s worldview does not make you more or less smart than they are. This tactic was fruitless to say the least.
Well, by this time, the damage was done. This was a forum-type of format, so there’s no interrupting someone mid-sentence. Though I wished it, there was no way to give a nervous giggle and step in front of the pastor and cut him off, desiring to save the moment before too much damage was done. What was posted was posted. I wish I could say that it was just one post that he made in this tone, but it was several. What was I to say? Whatever headway might have been made with someone watching this was now lost. There was no way they were going to listen to anything we said at this point, regardless of any good points that the pastor may have made. The only thing I could do was quietly bow out, praying for another opportunity at another time.
My friends, we have a very serious responsibility to share the truth of who Christ is and why that’s important. But there’s an effective way and an ineffective way to convince someone to see our side of an issue. If someone is going to be convinced of the truth of our message, they first have to hear what we are saying. If, because of our manner or character, we cause them to put up defenses, they’re not going to hear our arguments. They’ll just shut us down, inside if not outwardly. As Peter has taught us, we’re to always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have, but with gentleness and respect. With gentleness and respect! The Gospel message has a certain amount of offense built into it. We dare not remove the offense that’s inherent in it, but we should in no way add to that offense by our negative character.
All people are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image. Regardless of their worldview, God loves them and he wants to save them if they’ll turn to him. Most of the time—I would put a percentage on it of over 99—God uses his people to reach those that aren’t his. It’s our mandate given by our risen Lord; it’s not something that’s in any way optional for us. As his ambassadors to this dark world, we need to cultivate a character that is winsome and inviting. Our character and manner needs to compliment the message that we’re here to convey.
Knowing that we could never have done anything close to saving ourselves, and that Jesus had to come into this world to die in our place, Christians of all people should be humble creatures. There is no room in a Christian for arrogance. It’s not hard to compare ourselves to other people and find characteristics about ourselves about which we can boast. But our comparison is not to be with other people. We’re to compare ourselves with Christ. And we don’t match up too well with him. So when we’re discussing the truths of our Lord, we cannot be arrogant or condescending. We cannot treat people as if we’re better than they are. We cannot be rude, ever. Even if others are being rude to us, we cannot be rude in return. When we’re arrogant, condescending, and rude, we bring dishonor upon the very name we are professing. I understand that we’re not perfect and we will slip up, but that should be the exception, not the rule regarding our conduct.
As I said above, I don’t know this pastor very well, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I’m choosing to assume that this event was just a bad day for him. I hope that’s the case. It saddens me that the example of how not to share the Word of our God, has come from a man who’s taken upon himself as his occupation the proclamation of the good news of Christ to the world.