(June 26, 2019) Dr Jim McClure, straight shooting theologian, reminds us of scriptural bad news – and scriptural good news…
Nobody likes bad news!
But sometimes we need to hear the bad news if it urges or provokes us to do something that may correct a tragedy or help us avoid disastrous consequences.
In Australia each year bush fires cause heartbreaking devastation to trees, animals, towns and, of course, people. How hard it is to watch the horrendous and frightening images of out-of-control fires raging through trees and homes, destroying livelihoods, creating havoc, causing death, pain, sorrow and financial devastation.
Fortunately many lives are saved each year when advance warning is given that enables people to vacate their properties, perhaps save their animals and leave with some treasured possessions. The tragedies would be significantly worse if warnings were withheld because they represented ‘bad news.’ Therefore, sometimes we do need to hear ‘bad news’ in order to avoid even worse consequences.
However, the fact remains that no one likes to be on the receiving end of bad news. Some people deal with it by denying it. Others respond by anger at the person who delivers it.
There is an old saying that states, ‘If you don’t like the message, don’t kill the messenger.’ This advice has been around for a long time. For example, in the middle of the 5th century BC, Sophocles, a Greek poet and playwright, wrote, ‘No one loves the messenger who brings bad news.’
However, in recent days we have seen a ‘messenger’ being savaged by the media and social media. Israel Folau, who quoted from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, has not only lost his employment as a rugby player but has also been roundly condemned as bigoted, intolerant, homophobic and so on.
But the bottom line is that what he tweeted is wholly in line with scripture. He was sharing a message that was not his and if the warning it contained was not to the liking of those who read it, he cannot be blamed for its content!
To his credit he has not backed off even though he has been subjected to so much vitriol, criticism and abuse. It is particularly noted that those who have chosen to be most offended are from the LGBTI alliance.
Today homosexuality and kindred sexual deviances have become a type of ‘protected topic’ and anyone who dares to challenge those viewpoints are vigorously opposed both by the media and increasingly by governments that pursue an obsession with political correctness and legislate for the implementation of ethical values that stand opposed to historic biblical values. The right to hold differing views – especially if those views are biblically based – is increasingly being opposed and suppressed.
In such a climate I am increasingly saddened to see the response of some church leaders.
Recently I listened to an evangelical minister preaching on Genesis 19 – this is the chapter that tells of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The main thrust of the sermon was the appropriateness of God’s judgment. And with that I wholly agree. God’s judgments are always righteous as Paul explains in Romans 2. However the reason behind God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah – the homosexual depravity of the people – was not even tentatively raised in that sermon. The nature of the sin of the people was totally ignored!
This was evidently an avoidance tactic and it is a favoured one that some preachers use under the pretext of ‘preaching the scriptures’ yet circumventing subjects that they wish were not in the Bible, or feel uncomfortable in raising them or remain silent for fear of causing offence to some people in the congregation.
However preachers, if they are true to their calling, do not have the luxury to ‘cherry pick’ the scriptures by choosing to declare only those parts and those topics that they particularly like and/or are uncontroversial.
Apology and compromise are favoured techniques among those preachers/teachers who feel that they must address current topics that stand in opposition to biblical values. I came across an example of this recently in an article in a denominational newsletter. In referring to Israel Folau’s posting of the 1 Corinthians 6 passage he commented that it was misplaced as ‘Paul’s letters, were written specifically to the churches, the believers, the church family … Think of Paul’s letters as “internal company manuals”.’
The point being made was that such biblical truths should be kept ‘in house.’ The logical direction of such a view means that the message of the Bible is essentially restricted to Christians and that non-Christians should not be challenged (or offended) by the uncomfortable teaching of God’s Word.
Indeed how can the need for repentance – an integral part of the gospel message – be made known to unbelievers if that critical component is kept ‘in house’ and considered only as an item in the ‘internal company manuals’?
Is this why, as so often happens today, when an appeal is made to people to become Christians, the concept of ‘repentance’ is often omitted and replaced by such phrases as ‘giving your heart to Jesus’ or ‘inviting Jesus into your life’ with not a hint that at the core of the true gospel message that Jesus preached was the need of repentance?
On the basis of this argument Jesus was quite wrong in many of the things he said to people who were not in-house, for example, to the crowd to whom he declared, ‘But unless you repent, you too will all perish’ (Luke 13:5). How could he have made such an inexcusable error? He should have been more politically correct! Why did he not just make those ‘internal company manual’ comments to his 12 disciples?
Unfortunately the article was an attempt, however well intended, to coordinate what the Bible says with the contemporary ‘political correctness’ agenda. However, if the early church had carried out its mission with such an approach, there would have been no church today! We must never try to modify the Bible’s teaching or to apologise for it or to place limitations on it.
Rod Bower, vicar of the Anglican Church in Gosford, NSW, has recently been making some comments on Twitter concerning the Israel Folau Tweet. He wrote, ‘Israel Folau is the price we pay for free speech. He has the right to say it and I have a responsibility to oppose what he says.’ (I mention Bower by name because he has publically broadcasted his opinion.)
In addition Bower included a photo of his church’s notice board, which states: ‘LGBT friends, Folau is wrong. Don’t listen to him.’
However, Folau was quoting Paul whose writings are included in the scriptures which we accept as God’s word to us.
So, was Paul wrong to write the things he did and, by extension, is God also wrong? And are Bower and his LGBT friends right in promoting views that stand in total contradiction to the clear teaching of the Bible?
This vicar, it seems, has extended his attack to God himself! This in itself is not new, however it is particularly sad – and dangerous – that a man, who has been ordained as a Christian leader and who should be representing God as an ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20), has chosen to attack God’s message as revealed in the Christian scriptures.
So by avoidance, apology and attack the word of God is modified and corrupted to appeal to a generation that does not want to receive its message. Of course, this is not a recent phenomenon – the Bible’s message has always been challenged because it does offend our human inclinations.
But Paul’s response to this is clear. He declared that ‘Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:17-18).
And then, the clincher – ‘I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God’ (Acts 20:27 RSV). Paul was stating that he did not proclaim half-truths or only the ‘nice parts’ of the gospel. Rather he did not suppress or withhold anything that God had revealed as God’s truth does not need to be embarrassingly concealed.
Accepting God’s good news!
The whole will and purpose of God includes some things that have always been difficult to hear but that does not mean that we should make it more palatable by discarding or modifying those truths that may upset or offend some people.
But what may be conceived as ‘bad news’ actually leads to the good news of God’s saving love and his gifts of forgiveness and eternal life. This good news is expressed in John 3:16-17 –
‘God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son. Anyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world. He sent his Son to save the world through him.’
(See also my April Easter article The Divine Drama)
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
Recommended are his enlightening Grace Revisited and Looking for Answers in a Confusing World; also Overview of the Old and New Testaments, Love, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, The Masonic Deception, Word of Life in the Old and New Testaments, Interpreting the Letter of James. All are available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. Link for orders and questions: firstname.lastname@example.org