When I wrote last week’s piece sort of springing off of Ray Ortlund’s exhortation to love and be lovable, of course I knew a lot of people would find fault. Personally, when I read it I saw a few flaws in the exhortation myself – but the few flaws are in the intentional omissions. The great strength of this is that it really is a reliance on “Christ Alone” for the basis of your view of things.
I mean: there’s a reason that I said this last week --
Personally, I completely get what he’s saying here: given that Augustine didn’t believe everything we “reformed” folks believe, and Aquinas didn’t believe everything we believe, and frankly Calvin and I would have some robust disagreements, and Jerome and I would have some disagreements, and in the other direction Wesley and I would give each other the angry eyebrows, and Billy Sunday and I would probably not see eye to eye, and in the end Billy Graham and I would probably not agree, and Chuck Colson and I would probably disagree ... given all that disagreement, can I find in these men some kind of trace of their status as redeemed people?With Augustine, I’d object strongly to his view of his the eucharist; with Aquinas, I’d object to his
But here’s the thing: I think we are compelled to call all of these men Christians -- and I’m not speaking in some broad sociological sense, either. Some of them may be bad Christians – doctrinally bumfuzzled or worse: doctrinally indifferent. Some of them may be misguided – as I think Aquinas was – for intellectual or sociological reasons. But they are Christians.
Think about this for a second:
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. [Acts 11:19-26]In considering the people first called “Christians”, maybe we should think about this: You are welcome to be someone who would say, “well, until they received a year’s worth of teaching from Paul, they were not called ‘Christians’, and I reserve the right to call someone who’s not that fully-informed ‘not Christian.’” You are also welcome to be someone who wears a tin foil hat and tuxedo made of newspaper.
I say that not to bait those of you who would choose such a thing, but to underscore what sort of choice you are making. The person making the above fashion choice is sort of flaunting their idiosyncratic choices in a grand way, and maybe they are tipping their hand a little regarding their fringe-element tendencies by wearing a tin-foil hat (the hat purported to protect you from cell phones, government-sponsored mind-reading equipment, and of course the aliens). The person who is willing to write off all of the people (I would be willing to say: any of these people) in my example is doing the same thing theologically: buying into an idiosyncratic view of the faith and those who have lived it historically that ultimately says, ”there were no Christians before there were people who believed exactly what I believe.” Which is to say: you yourself were not a Christian until you believed exactly what you believe today.
But that said, I’m going on a campaign to popularize the slogan, “everyone wants to be Paul, and nobody wants to be Barnabas.” John Piper named one of his sons “Barnabas,” but it’s not a common name – and Barnabas’ approach isn’t a common approach to the Christian life.
But look at him in this story from Acts: he gets sent by the folks in Jerusalem to Antioch to find out what’s goin’ on over there, and when he shows up and sees people who believe in Jesus Christ ... he was glad. After walking – what? 500km? 600km? It would take you two weeks to walk 600km – Barnabas finds a bunch of people in Antioch whom he personally did not teach, and when he sees they believe in Jesus, he’s glad!
And get his exhortation: Stay faithful! Not “get faithful” or “Geez – I wish you were faithful.” What Barnabas finds in Antioch is faithfulness, and he exhorts it, and it makes him glad.
And in the same way, at some point, the faithfulness of other people – that they have believed and turned to the Lord – ought to make us glad. The faithfulness of Jerome ought to make us glad; the faithfulness of Augustine ought to make us glad; the faithfulness of Aquinas ought to make us glad; the faithfulness of Calvin and Wesley and Sunday and Graham and Colson ought to make us glad – and the faithfulness of people like them ought to make us glad.
Which, of course, is more than fair enough – but look at the context of Barnabas wanting to see his friends taught well. It wasn’t that they were tumped over into heretical apostasy: it was that he had exhorted them to stay faithful, and Paul could put the legs under that in a way that merely loving people and being glad for them did not.
It seems to me that this is actually what Pastor Ortlund is talking about, and that it is what we ought to mean when we say quote Eph 4:15 and go on about the truth in love. We are not talking about a grave love which is so solemn that it is only didactic and corrective: it is also somehow glad for the other person that Christ is in them, and they have repented and turned to him.