Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.
One of the most insightful ways to understand the identity of a group is to listen to the stories it tells about itself. In Christian culture, there are a number of stories we like to tell: our testimony, how we were hurt by “the church,” how an atheist/agnostic/mormon was converted/refuted, how society is oppressing us, how a particular song gave us hope at just the right time, etc. I’d like to look at just one of these stories today: how we caused offense by sharing the Gospel.
I want to suggest that to a large extent Christians have confused the offense that the Gospel naturally causes, without any help from us, with the offense we cause in trying to share the Gospel. Public dialogue in our culture is primarily combative, adversarial, derisive, dismissive, and focused on the self rather than the other. As a result, many times in a public debate (on Facebook, in a classroom, on TV, or in a book) the participants will be more concerned about “winning” than “winning over.” And, thus making your “opponent” angry, offending them with your “truth” can be seen as a sign of success.
Among many Christians, the sign of an honest proclamation of the Gospel and/or the Truth is whether or not the other person was offended. In some circles it is actually a badge of honor to share how you have lost friends, angered family, or caused strangers to swear at you. We share these war stories of how telling the “Truth” about the president or homosexuality or illegal immigration or Muslims or a famous pastor made some of our Facebook friends mad–it’s one of the few times we allow bragging in the church.
This attitude towards our neighbor is justified from verses like John 15:18, which talks about how the world will hate us if we follow Christ, or Gal 5:11 where Paul describes the “offense” of the cross. But what is overlooked is that for Christ and for Paul offense is not the goal, it is a result. Not all offenses caused by our sharing the “truth” is the offense of the cross or the hate Christ talks about in John. Sometimes we offend people because we are arrogant.Here’s the scary part: when we take pride in offending others “with” the Gospel and the offense is actually caused by our self-centeredness we are glorying in our shame (Phil 3:19).
So, here are a few suggestions to help us think through what we conceive of as the offense of the Gospel:
- Do you take pride in the offense you cause? It should never be a joy to us that we have angered someone. If we truly hope all things for our neighbor, we should hope that our conversations will win them over, rather than incite them to anger.
- When you know you have offended someone, do you question what caused the offense? Do you ask whether it was loving? Perhaps the best way to discern Gospel offense from personal offense is to make a conscious effort to examine ourselves. Don’t assume that the offense you caused was not your fault.
- Remember that not all True statements must be said at all times. There is a dangerous teaching and defense of offensiveness in the church which says that as long as you are telling the truth, you are justified in hurting others or causing offense. But this is absurd and unloving. If you suspect that what you are about to say will hurt others, ask yourself if that hurt will be a result of the Truth, or of your untimely proclamation.
- What is your desire for your neighbor? Do you truly wish that they would recognize their sin, repent, and turn to Christ? Or do you wish to see them admit that you are right? Before you speak, what do you desire for the person who will hear your words? Is that goal loving to them?
It’s true that we will hurt and offend and alienate others because of who we love and how we love others. But we must make every effort to discern between our self-righteous offense, which has no place in the Church, and the offense of the cross.