Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.
Over the last few weeks I have been profoundly troubled by a vice that is fairly common in the church. To address this issue, which I believe comes directly from the uncritical adoption of the rhetoric of the world into our speech, I’m go to shy away from my typical style–close analysis of cultural events and the ideologies. Please bear with me.
What is charity and why should we care?
At the risk of sounding dramatic, I want to suggest that charity is a virtue that is tragically and damningly lacking in the church, particularly on the Internet. This lack results in divisions, arrogance, petty bickering, causing brothers and sisters to stumble, destroyed reputations, seriously petty bickering, compromised witnesses, disgrace to the church, loss of faith, I-can’t-believe-someone-thought-it-was-worth-the-energy-exerted-to-type-those-words petty bickering, hatred, malice, and general sin.
Charity is loving-kindess. It is an openness to the other. A recognition of our own fallenness, of God’s Grace, and a re-extension of that grace outward towards all others.
It is a desire to listen before speaking. To actually listen. To listen with the intent to understand as well as we can. Not to listen in order to find a weakness or flaw to exploit.
It is a willingness to love unconditionally. Love that is not contingent upon agreement. Or on the brilliance of our argument. Or on the humiliation of the other. Or on our own rightness. Just love end of the sentence.
It is an acute awareness of our finitude. The deceitfulness of the human heart. Our physical, biological, and chemical failings. Our lack of sleep. The way coffee after 4 PM puts us on edge.
It is the prior commitment that before anyone’s mouth opens the conclusion is settled: One faith, one Lord, one baptism. One faith. One Lord. One baptism.
It refuses to be deceived, by our self-righteousness or the sinfulness of others into justifying abusive, condescending, or bitting speech.
It is the knowledge that whatever we deem worth demeaning another for, whatever we view as more important than gentleness of spirit, whatever we elevate higher than well-seasoned words is truly an idol. A false God. Because the True God has told us how to speak: always full of grace and seasoned with salt.
It is a desire to edify the other. To enter into their lives and know their needs. To speak words that build up, no matter how much the other tears us down.
Just recently I had an online conversation with a significant evangelical figure concerning the blogger and activist, Pamela Geller. This figure had shared a few of Geller’s blogs on his site, and I challenged him to examine her reliability and to reconsider promoting her online, particularly considering the vicious and uncharitable tone she uses. He responded by saying, essentially, that the real issue was the threat of creeping Shari’ah law and the Islamification of our country, not charity. Charity, was a distraction and he urged me not to get caught up on it.
The truth is that Christians across the political and theological and light spectrum consistently fail to practice charity, including (but not limited) to myself. And this really does matter. Charity is not a distraction. It is not a side issue or a decoration we put on the truth to make it palatable. Charity is not rhetorical garnish. It is the very thing we should always already be communicating.