Todd Linn’s January Article, Evansville Indiana’s Courier & Press Newspaper

Christians can disagree and still be respectful

By Todd Linn

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Any casual follower of the recent news cycle will recognize the ubiquity of the new buzzword, “civility.” Like its popular predecessor, “tolerance,” civility may be defined loosely as refraining from making public statements that hurt or harm people.

To be sure, most people in a “civilized” society such as ours recognize the importance of showing common courtesy and respect in public discourse. At the same time, however, we are human beings, and we often disagree with one another with great emotional fervor and spirited passion. Civility is thought to occur when we keep our head and speak our peace without vilifying others.

While the word civility has surfaced largely because of recent political debate and discussion, its recurrence raises questions about how the word is to be used in Christian contexts. How does one express “Christian civility?”

The Apostle Paul calls for Christians to speak the truth of the Gospel “in love” (Ephesians 4:15). This means, of course, that Christians are to “be civil” in their proclamation of Christian doctrine, the Gospel.

Thus, while I may not agree theologically with all, if not most, of the contributors of the 2009 book “Christian Civility in an Uncivil World (Smyth & Helwys),” I can agree with this statement in the book’s preface:

“Christian civility does not mean that we won’t disagree. There is a difference between incivility and disagreement. Incivility breaks down communication and ruptures God’s kingdom, but disagreement between Christians is inevitable — and even productive.”

Indeed, while Christians will not agree on every point of doctrine, they can respect one another as they share their differences. But it is not insignificant that the writer acknowledges that Christians will, in fact, disagree. It is at this point we must take care to stress that simply because one disagrees, it does not necessarily follow that he or she is therefore being “uncivil” or “intolerant.” Truth simply divides.

Given some of the statements of Jesus Christ, one might wish to label him “uncivil” or “intolerant.” For example, Jesus warned his followers to beware of those he referred to as “false teachers” (Matthew 16:6, 12). He also accused the religious leaders of not knowing the Bible nor the power of God (Matthew 22:29), even going so far as to refer to these leaders as “snakes” and “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:29-33). Was Jesus being “uncivil?”

The fact is, Jesus was speaking the truth in love. For him to tacitly permit false teaching that led people to hell would be cruel and unloving. Perhaps the most pointed and exclusive truth claim of Jesus is found in John 14:6, where He says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.”

As followers of Christ, Christians should not be surprised, then, when they find themselves labeled “uncivil” or “intolerant.” While Christians must “speak the truth in love,” they also must take care to not sacrifice that truth upon the altar of civility.

The Rev. Todd Linn is pastor of First Baptist Church in Henderson, Ky.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Todd Linn’s January Article, Evansville Indiana’s Courier & Press Newspaper

  1. Bill Patterson says:

    Well done, Todd!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s