There is a tendency at the moment towards something quite unpleasant and potentially dangerous. The other day, I wrote about the problem when people resort to hyperbole attacking this or that Christian for heresy without much evidence and when in fact the debate is usually one within the boundaries of orthodoxy about how to most clearly and accurately communicate the truth we believe. At least in those cases the target and nature of their complaint is obvious.
Now, have a look at this example.
In effect, Tom Buck has practically sub tweeted most of the church. You see, he has made a far reaching accusation. If I as a pastor had used the 2nd commandment in order to denigrate the first, I would be guilty of false teaching and idolatry. I would be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Any pastor who has been doing that should step down or be removed from office immediately.
Yet, by framing his attack vaguely, by not saying who is doing this and why, what Mr Buck does is to create an environment of suspicion. Any Christian who hears him say this and values his ministry is left thinking every time they hear other Christians talking about loving your neighbour “is this what Tom was getting at.” Any Christian who seeks to teach the second commandment or obey it is put under suspicion.
I think, though I can’t be certain, that I have an idea about who Tom has in mind. The argument for observing COVID restrictions, whether wearing masks, social distancing, refraining from singing and shouting, meeting outdoors or even to temporarily close buildings and make use of online media has been that we do this to love our neighbours. There has been a growing noise from some quarters to the effect that this shows a failure to love and honour God with out worship.
Of course, the argument that loving your neighbour denigrates from loving God is a faulty one for several reasons as follows:
- When making those decisions, church leaders have consistently been asking the question, “How do we help our congregations to continue showing their love for God in worship through a pandemic?”
- The concern of many has been that we do not bring dishonour to God’s name and the Gospel by being seen to put people at risk. My love for God and worship is not just about the words I use but what I cause others to do and say.
- The NT is clear that you cannot separate the two out. The evidence of my love for the one I cannot see is in my love for the ones I can see. I show that I love God by loving my neighbour and also I best love my neighbour by whole-heartedly loving God.
Now, when I saw Mr Buck’s tweet, I asked him to clarify and so far he has remained silent. This is important because to wilfully create a context when people will naturally suspect others of things that are not true is itself slander. To fail to challenge and correct gossip and slander is itself to bear false witness.
Let’s stay clear of habits where we just cast aspertions.