In these divisive times, Christians are going to hold a wide range of opinions on all kinds of matters.
It’s when each side advocates their respective ways that a highly-effective verbal device makes its appearance. After the points have all been placed on the table, one side (typically the side named here) digs into the bag and pulls out their gotcha:
“Haven’t you considered your Christian witness?”
“You don’t want to come off as unreasonable to non-Christians, do you?”
“Aren’t you worried about what the world will think?”
Three reasons why we must be incredibly careful in using this argument (if we do at all):
- Being viewed negatively by the world is not inherently good or bad.
Sometimes what’s pleasing to God (love, service, kindness) will be attractive to the world. We should do those things, but not because the world likes them. We do them because they are what God requires.
Other times, what’s pleasing to God (doctrinal stands, commitment, counter-cultural obedience) will make the world call us crazy, or evil, or stupid. We should continue to do those things, not because the world is angered by them, but because such acts are pleasing to God.
Many in the world think we are absolute morons for believing in a Creator, water being turned into wine, parting of seas, a talking serpent, and basically every other miraculous occurrence. They think we’re evil for holding to a book in which sexual deviants were stoned to death and certain nations were tabbed for utter extermination.
Some Christians capitulate to this social pressure, worried about how we look to the world. They think we should hide from the Bible’s stranger teachings and stop talking about the Old Testament. The implication: if the Bible says something people don’t like, it must be the Bible that is in the wrong rather than sinful humans. How arrogant can we be?
And before you rush in to a matter to let all the anti-religious people know you’re not that kind of Christian, that you’re the good, nice kind with all the socially acceptable opinions… go ahead and mention that you believe the death, burial, and resurrection happened, that the Bible is inspired and authoritative, and that we’ll all face the judgment.
One of two things will happen. You will either fold to the pressure and give up belief in the central tenets of Christianity (like this person), or the world will agree that actually you are that kind of Christian, no matter how “cool” you are on the rest of the issues.
If we are never odious to the world, if they always like us, we’ve messed up. We have not shown ourselves to be different.
2. The world does not hold one universally shared opinion.
Most of the issues standing between Christians today are also just as divisive outside our family. To lecture your fellow Christians for not considering how the world will view them regarding masks, race, Trump/Biden, or whatever other issue is to pretend that everyone in the world is in agreement against the position your brother holds.
For every person who might be appalled and turned away from the church by your view on #BlackLivesMatter, for example, there’s somebody in the world who would be just as appalled if you held the opposite view. Who are you to lecture a fellow Christian for their view on such a matter, with the authority of “the world’s reaction,” when your view would drive away perhaps just as many?
Just because a view is held by the loudest voices in our culture does not mean it’s held by everybody, or even the majority. Just because Twitter or Facebook are all up in arms about an issue does not mean everybody sees it that way. The world does not hold one opinion, so it’s up to all of us to examine how God would view our Facebook posts, tweets and political claims. It’s dishonest to claim only one side has that responsibility.
3. God told you to mind your own business in matters of opinion.
We all have differing opinions, sometimes on rather important things. The Bible has commands like “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As long as we agree on that and both pursue it, we might disagree on the finer points of how to apply it.
If somebody is in the wrong and clearly in disobedience of God’s commands, tell show them how they are in the wrong. If your opinion is different than theirs, you can try to persuade them.
Here’s why this frustrates me so: what the “what will the world think?” argument often means – in reality, if not in intention – is “You need to stop advocating a position I don’t like.” If someone is genuinely in the wrong, say it. If I just don’t like their opinion, I’m free to offer my disagreement. And then I must drop it. What I cannot do is try to manipulate them into doing what I want by pressuring them. We have no authority to take something we know is a matter of opinion and hint and imply that people are in sin to try to force their response.
But this is exactly what can happen here. Those who lack a commandment from God to correct their brother’s view resort to the abstract, supposedly universally-agreed “world” to try to shame their fellow Christians. They will not say the act is wrong. They will not confront it as a sin. They will merely imply that anyone who is on the wrong side of the issue is “harming the church.” This is not acceptable. And I say this as someone who has probably done it to a degree in previous articles. For that I apologize.
Romans 14 is of the utmost importance in these matters. Some Christians thought they could do certain things (eating of meats, observing of certain days), while others thought they should not do those things. “Let each one be convinced in his own mind” is the inspired command on the matter (14:5b). Neither group was allowed to bully the other into conformity.
Yes, we should be willing to adapt our ways and put others first for the Gospel (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 10:23-24). But that doesn’t mean we are forbidden to hold a position because roughly half of the unconverted disagree with it.
Our main concern must always be to please God. There are some ways in which there is only one right way to please Him, and other ways in which we are given liberty. Let’s hold each other to the commands and allow each other the liberties.
If we do everything with an eye toward pleasing God, the world’s responses will vary. Sometimes they’ll love us, sometimes they’ll hate us, but you’ll know you’ve done the right thing and will have a clean conscience in the matter. You’ll be both offensive in all the right ways, and winsome in all the right ways. By constantly basing our decisions on what the world thinks, we become winsome in all the wrong ways and offensive in none.
Be very, very careful in using this argument against your brethren. Don’t use it as a hammer to eliminate any exchange of ideas on principle. And especially don’t throw your brother or sister under the bus to score points with the world. Be diligent to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3), and let each one be convinced in his own mind (Romans 14:5b).