But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect… (1 Peter 3:14-15).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in The Cost of Discipleship:
Asceticism means voluntary suffering; it is passio activa rather than passiva, and it is just there that the danger lies. There is always an danger that in our asceticism we shall be tempted to imitate the sufferings of Christ. This is a pious but godless ambition, for beneath it there always lurks the notion that it is possible for us to step into Christ’s shoes and suffer as he did and kill the Old Adam. We are then presuming to undertake that bitter work of eternal redemption which Christ himself wrought for us. The motive of asceticism was more limited – to equip us for better service and deeper humiliation. But it can only do that so long as it takes the suffering of Christ as its basis; if not, it degenerates into a dreadful parody of the Lord’s own passion. Our whole motive now becomes a desire for ostentation. We want other people to see our achievements and to be put to shame. Our asceticism has now become the way to salvation. Such publicity give it the reward it seeks.
My father has always been a very straightforward person. One never has to ask for my father to reveal what is on his mind. He is always ready with a pithy saying, an apt illustration or personal story to draw people to his point of view. He has always enjoyed spirited debates. He often gets a little boisterous in his passion for the topic at hand. However, there is one instance that sticks in my mind more than all of the other times when I saw him in action. It was not my fathers proliferation of words or quotations or stories that makes it stand out in my remembrance. It was his gentleness… his respect amidst an undying fervor that showed itself on a Saturday morning.
A certain religious group came and knocked on our door and wished to speak to my father. My father graciously invited them in and offered the two young men a cup of freshly brewed coffee. He invited the gentlemen to sit in the living room and my father joined them. My father stated very simply that he was a Christian. He told the young gentlemen that he would give them fifteen minutes to talk to him about their faith. In turn, he asked that they would give him five minutes to talk to them about his faith.
BRIEF EXCURSIS ON MY FATHER: My father was not raised with any religious upbringing. He was not baptized until he was 30. I was 6 at the time. It was an enormously impressionable event in my life as I saw, for the first time, a male presence in my life admit that religion (even more, the church) was important. From that point, he never looked back. He became a self-taught, theologically astute lay-person. I would put his theological acumen as high as some pastors that I have met. This is not a knock on our pastoral training, but a testament to my father’s passion for study.
So my father sat and listened.
For the whole fifteen minutes. He set his watch. He was silent for the whole fifteen minutes. For those that know my father, you know what a feat of self-denial that is. Love ya’, Pops! 😉
When his watch went off, the young gentlemen got up as if they were going to leave. My father, kindly, reminded them of their bargain. He reset his watch for 5 minutes. He patiently walked through the Scriptures showing the vast differences in the opposing views of Jesus. He showed them the Gospel in a way that I wish I would have recorded. It was succinct. It was elegant. It was the Word of God… for those young gentlemen. The timer went off. My father thanked them for their time. The gentlemen, obviously a little taken aback by the whole visit, thanked my father for their coffee and left.
Later, I asked my father how he could stay so calm? Why didn’t he argue with them? Why didn’t he tear their arguments limb from limb like I had seen him do to other opponents so many times before? He looked at me and said, “Son, sometimes you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” I was confused and must have looked the part also because he added, “Even when you are right, it doesn’t give you the right to be a jerk about it.” My father saw that these gentlemen had a view of Jesus and God that would lead to their eternal damnation. In that moment, I saw my father have the will of God… “that all would be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” My father did not want to get in the way of that. He was less and Christ was more.
CAVEAT: I am not arguing against orthodox doctrine and practice. I know there are times when we need to defend the faith and our practices as they are defined by our doctrine. Please don’t play that card.
I worry that many do not take the idea of winning our brother over to heart. We concern ourselves with winning against our brother. I worry that we long for our asceticism and ostentation. I worry that we forget the will of God. I worry that we forget that Paul became all things for all people. I worry that we forget Paul tailored his proclamation for the hearers so that he might be effective in his first article gifts. He never watered his theology down but he began in different places for different people. I worry that Christendom (and the LCMS as a microcosm of Christianity) has lost the ability to dialogue. We have lost the ability to be quiet for 15 minutes before we launch the heresy hand grenades and blow everyone up. We look like jerks… and not just to the ignorant, not just to outsiders, not just to the world, but we look like jerks to others within our own ranks. Even if we are right, it doesn’t give us the right to be jerks about it.
What if we started to actually listen to one another instead formulating our arguments while the other person is finishing? What if we stopped trying to use buzzwords, and we just tried to give Jesus? What if we saw the proclamation of the church as something that led people to the altar where Christ gives us His body and blood? What if we saw the altar as something that sends us out into the world of vocation?
So, if any of my brethren in Christ and in ministry have deigned to read my humble opines, please let me know what you think. Maybe we can begin to change the way we do things. Not that we all need to be “liturgical”. Not that we all need to be “progressive”. I do not care much for buzzwords. Not that we all have to be cookie-cutter copies. But we don’t need to be jerks about it either. Hope this makes sense.
What say you?