When Christians Disagree

A couple of months ago, I received my first edition of View Magazine, a publication produced by Covenant College where my daughter enrolled as a freshman in the fall of 2016. The cover article entitled,  When Christians Disagreeimmediately grabbed my attention. The crucial issue of disagreements among believers is taken up in the article in the form of a conversation between three members of the college faculty. I found the content of this conversation to be extremely helpful and insightful, so I was compelled to pass it on.

Covenant College graciously allowed us to post the article in its entirety here at Family Matters. I commend it to you heartily, and I encourage you carve out a few minutes to “listen in” on this conversation and reflect upon how you handle the inevitable disagreements in your life.

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Since the beginning of Christendom, Christians have disagreed. They’ve disagreed about doctrines and politics, social and personal questions, and the list could go on. Our day is no different. Much like iconoclasts defacing artwork in the 1500s, in our disagreements waged on the social feeds of Facebook and Twitter today, we Christians continue to wrestle with the importance of disagreeing well with one another. The following faculty conversation weighs in on this question of disagreement and provides thoughtful insight into the nature of disagreement as part of the Christian life.

In this conversation, you’ll hear from Dr. John Wingard (professor of philosophy), Christiana Fitzpatrick (director of global education), and Dr. Tim Morris ’83 (professor of biology).

Do We Really Disagree?

Wingard | In logic, we make a distinction between disagreements in belief and disagreements in attitude. You and I may actually agree in belief, but disagree in how we respond to that belief attitudinally. The other distinction is between matters of fact and matters of taste or perspective. I think, many times, because of our locatedness in a particular place and time, we each have different perspectives. Tim [Morris] and I may be viewing the same event from different perspectives, and so will be thinking of different things. And there may not be real disagreement there—it may be that our perspectives are complementary.

Morris | It reminds me of the demarcation problem in the philosophy of science: there’s not a clear distinction there, which warrants more discussion to try to figure it out. Maybe we won’t agree about what constitutes a preference or a real disagreement, and that’s where the real disagreement comes to light. When a disagreement does arise, a main goal should be to try to figure out the roots of that disagreement: where is the fork in the road?

Fitzpatrick | I think that there can also be deep-rooted preferences that our own background has led us to think are ultimate beliefs. Until we’re presented with another Christian who really views the world differently, we’re not challenged in those areas. So over and over again we just get confirmation that our preferences are correct and are more than preferences—that they are right. Part of what we’re trying to do with students is challenge them to read and interact with challenging texts and ideas but also to interact with people who might view the world differently.

Morris | It’s all part of a web: preferences are usually attached to something deeper and we can mistake where they fit on the strands of the web. Conversation can help us clarify whether we have a preference difference or a deep disagreement.

…I grow in knowledge and understanding when I converse with people with whom I disagree.
– Dr. John Wingard

Quarreling & Disagreement

Morris | I’ve been surprised by how much quarreling is discussed in the Old and New Testaments. One thing that hit me was that it’s not disagreement, per se, that is usually identified as a problem. It’s quarreling that is identified as the problem. But quarreling can tend to make us shy away from disagreements out of fear. Scripture has all kinds of things to say about quarreling and contentious people. I think some of the harshest things in the New Testament are said about people in the church who are contentious and quarrelsome. There are some rich passages about quarreling in 2 Timothy 2. Paul writes, “Warn them before God against quarreling about words. It is of no value and only ruins those who listen.”

Fitzpatrick | I think of the passage in James that talks specifically about “what causes quarrels and fights among you”—it’s when the desires of your heart are not met. We start to view people as getting in the way of what we want instead of as people.

Morris | Pride seems to be a major theme that the apostles talk about in terms of what’s at the root of quarreling—pride and then a lack of trust in God to do His business. There seems to be this urgency, where we think that we need to straighten things out now. If I’m so wrapped up in convincing someone right now, it really reveals my lack of trust that God can do this work.

Quarrels as Clarifying Moments

Morris | When you find yourself in the midst of a quarrel, it can be a clarifying moment. I’ve been surprised at how strong my reactions are in some quarrels, and those moments provide an opportune time for some introspection—time to drill down and see what’s really going on in my head and heart.

Fitzpatrick | We often want to look at the other person and say, “What is going on there?” But it’s much rarer to turn that on ourselves and ask, “Why am I reacting in this way? What’s at the root?”

Wingard | These episodes are so valuable—for that very reason. It is an invitation to introspection. I’m not always going to be successful in avoiding quarrels because I’m still sinful. But they provide a great opportunity for me to find out what some of my idols are. So we ought to regret these things, but also be thankful to God for surfacing things in our hearts that needed to surface.

Disagreement & the Gospel

Wingard | I think the way we go about disagreeing can either help our witness for the Gospel or hinder it. I think some disagreement among Christians is a good and healthy thing, to be welcomed and not avoided. I’m not talking about quarreling, but about disagreeing when our views on something actually differ.

Morris | Some Christians will shy away from disagreement. But I think, as John [Wingard] is saying, that it’s a mistake to run from a disagreement. I think God uses disagreements to refine us. He provides us with opportunities to disagree without quarreling.

Wingard | I’ve realized that disagreement has been helpful to me in so many ways in the church. I think it can be good for our growth in grace—our sanctification. I also find that I grow in knowledge and understanding when I converse with people with whom I disagree. When that disagreement comes out and we allow it to be expressed and we explore it, I end up growing in knowledge and I think that has been the case in the life of the church from the beginning. If you look at Acts 15 for example, in the Council of Jerusalem, there’s a disagreement that has erupted in the church. Because of that disagreement there was growth in knowledge and growth in grace, not just for individuals but for the church—for the body of believers. The great theological advances down through the ages have come through believers wrestling with matters on which they disagree.

Fitzpatrick | I also think about the global work of the gospel and how sometimes disagreement actually allows the work of the gospel to go forward into different areas. I think about Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith, with whom we might disagree on smaller or even larger details of what we believe. As believers, how are we going to pray for them, support them, and care about policies that impact them?

Morris | That’s important when we think about disagreements among Christians before the watching world. Are there ways that, even in the face of disagreement, we can work together?

…we have to allow, in love and charity, that there will be uncomfortable messiness. That’s just how it is when fallen humans get together and try to obey God and serve one another. It’s never going to be comfortable.
– Dr. Tim Morris

Disagreeing in a Facebook World

Fitzpatrick | Sometimes we think of social media as this new place where everything is now public. But throughout the centuries, disagreement has often been a very public thing. Nailing 95 theses to a door in Wittenberg was a pretty public disagreement that was meant to create public conversation. One thing that social media has done is democratize opinion. There are good things about that—we hear voices that we previously have not heard from, like members of the persecuted church or those who have been historically oppressed. But we’re hearing all of the voices at the same time, which makes it hard to figure out how to distinguish and filter through all of the issues.

Wingard | I think a lot of people engaging in social media are not very serious about questions or about getting at the truth of the matter. It becomes more about them than about the truth. This has always been a problem in disagreement—we make disagreements about ourselves and not about finding the truth together. Social media has, in some ways, encouraged that mode of disagreement in ways we haven’t seen before because of the anonymity factor at play.

Fitzpatrick | There are always pros and cons to every form of communication. The anonymity of social media allows people to say anything without thinking of the person they’re communicating with.

Wingard | I also think these social interactions have really encouraged a lack of civility even in face-to-face conversations. I think we’re beginning to see these modes of communication on social media translated to in-person conversations. I think this lack of civility is, in part, a result of new habits being formed on social media.

Morris | I like what Christiana [Fitzpatrick] says about how these problems have been around for centuries. But there is something about the advancement of technology that has intensified and made caricatures of these issues. I think it’s possible to argue and disagree well using these media, but it’s very difficult. We may feel like we’re contributing to something via social media, but if we’re not being thoughtful, our posts may actually contribute to a quarrel rather than calm a quarrel.

Fitzpatrick | I have seen people use disagreements on social media in really wise ways. These people disagree in a way that is kind, healthy, and really tries to listen to the other person. There are examples of people who keep interacting in godly ways with folks who are hostile.

Wingard | It can be done very well, but it takes time to be serious about issues, think through them, and write something carefully. And that care is not encouraged by Twitter and Facebook. We’re used to dealing with things instantly—creating a post instantly and getting likes instantly. It doesn’t encourage the kind of robust conversation that is needed in our society and in the church.

Morris | But I think it would be a real shame if Christians entirely withdrew from the space of social media. There just needs to be a realization that this is very difficult. We’re talking about 95 theses versus 140 characters—that’s tough.

Fitzpatrick | So often we want to disagree by simplifying things and not dealing with the complexity of all the different elements at play. But there are exceptions to this. I can think of things I have learned because someone took the time on Facebook and Twitter to not just write one tweet, but multiple tweets to really explain a concept.

Morris | I would love to challenge our students and others to come up with redemptive ways of using social media. Spend some time thinking about how to redemptively engage and use Twitter and Facebook and other forms of social media.

The great theological advances down through the ages have come through believers wrestling with matters on which they disagree.
– Dr. John Wingard

Staying Silent in Disagreement

Wingard | If we stay silent when we disagree, we run the risk of depriving our brothers and sisters in the church of things that God actually intends for them. God gives us different gifts, and diversity within the church is something that God Himself has orchestrated and ordained for our good and for the advancement of the gospel. I also find that if I don’t express a disagreement, it ends up causing resentment and maybe even bitterness over time.

Morris | On the other hand, we talk in my family about “fatal attractions.” When you find all conversations with a particular person leading to the same issue and same disagreement, there may be something else going on under the surface.

Fitzpatrick | Sometimes when we’re silent, we’re giving credence to the other side of an argument, which could potentially be damaging or hurtful or sinful. I am on the quieter side of things, and I tend to listen rather than want to speak up, but there are times when I have to speak up because if I don’t speak then no one knows I disagree with what was just said and that could be damaging to others—not just if “word gets out,” but if those ideas go forward unchallenged. I think there are other times when it’s important to stay silent because I may only be disagreeing to hear myself speak or because I’m more interested in the argument than I am in that person as an image bearer and my brother and sister in Christ.

Wingard | I think we have to think about the motives both for speaking up and for staying silent. Sometimes I find that I’m silent out of fear, and when that happens that’s a failure of love. Love, according to Scripture, drives away fear. And I’m letting the other person down by acting out of fear.

Fitzpatrick | It’s also good to remember how people disagree in different contexts. In some cultures, harmony is of the highest value. If I walk into that culture and argue and critique and challenge, then I am completely ignoring that context. In this room, we’re all from a direct society, but any time we enter contexts different from ours, we have to be aware of the fact that the way you have a disagreement will be different in different contexts.

Disagreeing under the Law of Charity

Morris | I talk to my students about the ability to take up a disagreement in a way that doesn’t immediately allow the well-worn pathways of parallel discourse to click in. It’s so easy to frame a conversation in a way that moves into that binary mode. How can we say things in ways that don’t immediately channel us in particular ways? How can we open up conversations in good ways?

Wingard | One important emphasis in Scripture is that, no matter what, we’re always under the law of charity. So whether we decide to express disagreement or not, how we express our disagreement must be motivated by love. I think of the old slogan, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I think that really captures the biblical teaching about how we should respond to one another.

Fitzpatrick | In the iconoclast defacing of paintings and sculptures, one of the things that stands out to me is that they are erasing faces. They’re doing it for a different reason, but what it does is erase the humanity of the people in those works of art. And that’s what poor disagreement and arguing and quarreling do so often—you lose the humanity of the other person. It all goes back to charity.

Wingard | I do think love is going to dictate different manners of response to different issues. When the gospel is at stake in the church, what love requires may appear more confrontational. But we never have the license to belittle or denigrate the other person, even if the gospel is at stake. To deface another person is beyond the pale.

Morris | It’s always going to be messy. Whatever advice we might have for how to avoid quarreling, disagreements are always going to be messy, and it’s part of that messiness that God uses to refine us. But we have to allow, in love and charity, that there will be uncomfortable messiness. That’s just how it is when fallen humans get together and try to obey God and serve one another. It’s never going to be comfortable.

“Glory to the Newborn King!”

UZZIAH AND YAHWEH

 In his prime, King Uzziah of Judah was one of the greatest rulers Judah ever had—until his greatness lead him to arrogance, and his arrogance lead him to sacrilege, which cost him his health and, more significantly, his ritual purity. Uzziah trespassed into the temple, was struck by God, and finished his life in isolation as a leper (II Chronicles 26:16-21). As the head of Judah, Uzziah’s physical and ceremonial sickness reflected the moral decay of the nation (Isaiah 1:5-6). Though every Davidic king was the anointed of the LORD – a little “m” messiah – they were all disappointments. It was clear that even the relatively decent Uzziah was no savior. But in the year of Uzziah’s death, Isaiah the prophet was granted a vision of the True King:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple…” (Isaiah 6:1)

The familiar scene is full of seraphim (“burning ones”) with six wings, who serve as the court attendants of the Lord. Dazzling enough themselves to look at, even they must shield their faces from the greater glory of the God they serve. The voices of these seraphim calling “Holy, holy, holy” shake the threshold of the temple, and Isaiah the prophet is unable to bear it:

Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

The contrast between King Uzziah and King Yahweh could not be more drastic. Uzziah is  weak and sick—cut off from Israel because of his uncleanness. Yahweh is overwhelming, and transcendently holy and glorious—cut off also, because in his holiness he dwells in unapproachable light.

AHAZ AND YAHWEH

Skip ahead some years (but only one chapter in Isaiah) to Uzziah’s grandson, Ahaz. Ahaz had no redeeming qualities. He was one of the most profoundly wicked kings in Judah’s history. Among his transgressions are burning his son as a offering to pagan gods (II Kings 16:3), exchanging Yahweh for the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser by naming himself the latter’s “servant and son” (II Kings 16:7), and seeking to cover his faithlessness and fearfulness with a thin cloak of godliness (Isaiah 7:12).

By Ahaz’s time, Assyria’s ascension on the world stage had created a foreign policy crisis for Judah. Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel had formed a defensive league and were trying to take out Ahaz and install a king friendly to their cause so they could join Judah to their alliance (Isaiah 7:1-6). Ahaz’s heart “shakes” at this threat (Isaiah 7:2), the same word that described the shaking threshold in the temple in Isaiah’s vision (Isaiah 6:4). Faced with the option of either becoming a full vassal to the Assyrian beast—losing independence but gaining security—or standing firm and trusting in Yahweh, Ahaz inclines toward the first option. This is in spite of the fact that the eternal God, through Isaiah, promises deliverance for Ahaz in accordance with the Davidic covenant. Ahaz is king in Jerusalem after all. Yahweh tells Ahaz to not fear the conspiracy his neighbors are plotting:  “Do not let your heart be faint… It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass… If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (Isaiah 7:4, 7, 9). Even when offered a sign of assurance, Ahaz refuses, hiding his distrust in the Lord under a mask of piety:

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, ‘Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’ But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.’” (Isaiah 7:10-12)

Once again, the contrast between the human king and the divine king could not be more clear. In Uzziah we have a good king, if a flawed one, and also a weak and dying leper. In Ahaz we have a wicked king whose “shaking” heart will not even let him bank on God’s direct assurance of deliverance. Uzziah, like all mortals, will die. Ahaz, like all sinners, will choose fleshly security. Through it all, God is Judah’s true king – transcendently holy, eternal, unchanging, faithful, and powerful.

HUMAN KING OR DIVINE KING?

 This contrast highlights a tension that runs unresolved through the Old Testament. God has promised that David’s throne would be forever (Psalm 89:27-37), but isn’t God himself Israel’s true king (e.g., I Samuel 8:7)? It is clear that the kings who sit on David’s throne are beset with weakness—if not wickedness. At the same time, the direct and unveiled  presence of Yahweh is overwhelming. God knows we need a king who is near to us and who can sympathize with our weaknesses, but who is himself without sin.

And then comes God’s reply to Ahaz. Refusing the sign of assurance that God offers, God goes on and promises a sign anyway – one that will come to pass when Ahaz is long gone:

Hear then, O House of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

In Isaiah chapter 9, we hear more about this son:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

God’s people need a king who is like us and near to us, but who will not fail. That is what we have in Jesus. At Christmas, we celebrate the coming of King Yahweh in human form—born as a child, born “unto us”—for us and for our salvation. A king from the House of David, fulfilling God’s covenant promises, resolving in himself the tension between the flawed kings of the Old Testament and the true, transcendently holy and glorious King of Isaiah’s vision. The Christmas hymn gets it exactly right:

Christ, by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold him come
Offspring of the virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate deity
Pleased as man with men to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn king”

~Charles Wesley, 1739~

Student Article: “Taking Back Your Joy”

The following article was written and submitted for publication by Cherokee Christian High School student, Benjamin Koehler, Class of 2017.


Have you ever felt discouraged?  In this world, it happens more often than not. Places like school or the workplace can be filled with discouragement, and unfortunately even at home with our families it’s easy to get discouraged over little things.  It’s easy to talk about hope and thankfulness, but when life seems to take all your joy away, living it out seems near impossible.  Being a pressured high-schooler, I know that when I encounter hardship in life, it’s hard to remember that everything happens for a reason.

the-flashThat’s exactly the lesson a popular TV superhero learned not too long ago.  With the recent debut of the new season of The Flash, fans have gotten to see what happens when their hero, Barry Allen, is able to take back all the things life took away from him by time traveling.  It starts out wonderful at first. He has the girl of his dreams, someone else is playing hero for him, and both his parents are alive (something he hasn’t experienced for a long time).  But things get a little messy after a while.

As Barry traverses this brave new world where he has supposedly fixed all his problems, he starts to realize his mistake.  In this new reality, one of his close friends has train-wrecked his life, and another is an egomaniacal businessman who only cares about his money.  Many of his friends and family find themselves feeling off-kilter, like something is missing, and as Barry learns more and more about how he twisted reality, he also finds that his actions are destroying him – literally. The more he lives his new life the more his old one ceases to exist, and his old self ceases to exist.  As his memories start to fade away, Barry realizes that changing the story of his life was the wrong decision, and he ends up in the sorry state of begging his rival to undue his wrongs.

Now, although the show makes no reference to God, and has nothing to do with school, the spiritual lesson to be learned for our student lives is invaluable.  Life has been unkind to many of us, and though we may not be time-travelling super heroes, we have our own battles to face in our lives as workers and students.  As a student, I know that our struggles can sometimes feel like unbearable burdens. This leads us to think that we would be better off if they were erased from our lives, but we’re missing the point.

Barry Allen is an example of someone who made a mistake of trying to play God, and who got bitten back for it.  In trying to do what he thought would be best for his life, what he thought he deserved, he ended up digging himself into a pit of even worse despair.  It’s easy to see, and yet all too often we so foolishly assume that if we were in control of our lives we could do better.  We are willing to be thankful for blessings, but have you ever
stopped and tried to be thankful for a trial?  It’s not as if our goods, relationships, opportunities, and other such gifts in our lives are our only blessings, and our trials are our curses.  That next test, that painfully stressful project, they aren’t problems that God has accidently let affect us.  They are blessings too.  If you think about it, the only reason Barry was a hero was because of his tragic history, and as much as that made him stressed-student1hurt, it did more good than harm in the long run.

It’s natural for us to get discouraged, especially since high school is often a massive sleep-stealing, stress-inducing confuddleball that sometimes seems to gnaw away at students.  But we shouldn’t see it as a curse on our lives or it will truly become one.  If we start to assume that life would be better if we could obtain what we thought we deserved, we will make the same mistake as Barry, albeit with a little less time travel involved.  Instead, all the trials and sorrow and pain are things we should look at with hope.  They aren’t problems for us, they are only small obstacles that make us better, make us who we are meant to be.

So next time you have that terrifying test, or problematic presentation, don’t wallow in your agony.  Give thanks for all the things that come your way.  Sure, it’s not exactly as glorious as running through the streets with superpowers, but it’s just as important.  If you really want to take life into your own hands, it’s not about how you change your
situation, it’s about how you let your situation change you.  That in mind, go and be thankful for your blessings and your trials.  Your thankfulness is the first step to taking back your joy.

Fear… not?

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, 
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:8-11

The Christmas season is filled with moments of solemn reflection and joyous celebration as the hearts of Christians all over the world are drawn near to a simple manger in an obscure town where the “Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” was born over two millennia ago. The story of Jesus’ birth recorded in Matthew, Luke and John contains elements that are utterly captivating – the awe-inspiring angelic messengers, the miracle of the virgin birth, the mystery and wonder of the incarnation, the vivid image of wise men following a singular star. And why shouldn’t this story be captivating. It is, after all, the story of stories about the coming of the King of kings! To quote someone who knew a thing or two about incredible stories, C.S. Lewis said:

“Once in our world, a Stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.”

What could be more marvelous than the birth of the promised Messiah, the Savior, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29)?”

And yet, amidst all the spectacular events in the Christmas story that inspire genuine awe and wonder, there is a thread of common human experience that roots the narrative in earthly reality… fear. As I read the accounts in Matthew and Luke, I can’t help but notice that the central characters are routinely faced with circumstances that produce fear.

First, there is the unique kind of shocking fear that is induced when Heaven comes to earth. Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and the chosen shepherd-witnesses were all struck with great fear on the occasion of their angelic visitations. “Fear not,” and “Do not be afraid,” are the repeated opening lines of the angels because this is the natural human response to sudden heavenly glory. But there is more.

We also observe the kind of common fear that can grip a human soul when real-life circumstances become overwhelming. Matthew chronicles Joseph’s deep fear as he considered the scorn and shame that would come if he actually took the expectant Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:18-21). Similarly, Luke opens a window into the fearful hearts of the temple priest, Zechariah, and his wife, Elizabeth. Prior to receiving the angel, Gabriel’s news that they would soon bear a son who would become the forerunner of the Messiah, they had endured the cultural burden of Elizabeth’s barren womb and feared they would never have a child (Luke 1:5-25).

Then, there is Mary, the humble, young virgin, chosen to bear and deliver the promised Savior-King who would ultimately bear the sins of man and deliver God’s people from eternal judgement. While we can only imagine the fear and uncertainty she must have wrestled with through her unique ordeal, we do get an actual glimpse of what initially troubled her. When Gabriel appeared to her and said,

“Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

Luke tells us she was “greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be (Luke 1:26-29).” While the text of Scripture doesn’t provide any more detail than this, it seems reasonable to infer that Mary’s trouble centered around her own sense of unworthiness to receive such favor. There is a kind of fear of inadequacy that is rooted in genuine humility. This fear, of course, did not paralyze Mary and cause her to reject God’s grace. Rather, it stimulated profound gratitude and comprehensive dependence upon the Lord (Luke 1:46-55).

Finally, there is a more sinister root of fear that is clearly observed in the record of King Herod. Upon hearing from the wise men that “the king of the Jews” had been born, Herod’s consuming fear of loosing his seat of power drove him to the mass murder of all male children under two years of age born in the region of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-18)!

What we see in the Christmas story is what we know from our own experience:  fear comes in a variety of “shapes and sizes.” What we also see is that fear can lead to heartfelt worship and obedience. On the other hand, it might also result in paralyzing doubt and distrust, or unabashed wickedness on a grand scale.

How we identify and deal with fear in our lives, and how we help our children deal with the fear in their lives, is of paramount importance. Here at Family Matters, we will attempt to tackle this subject in a series of articles next month.

But for now, let’s celebrate Christmas by heeding the wonderful message of the angels:

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:8-11

Tools of the Trade

By Dilawar Khan

In the early 19th century, a group of weavers and textile artisans made a name for themselves by protesting the rise of machinery in Britain. These “Luddites,” as history has come to know them, became a byword for technological resistance and ignorance. If I’m perfectly honest with you, I readily identify and resonate with their kind. It took me well into the year 2012 to start texting and another year and a half to add a data plan to myAnti-Technology first smart phone. Even the nomenclature bothers me; what’s smart about a phone? I think it right to resist fads and trends to a certain degree. What my stubbornness wouldn’t permit me to realize until late in the game, however, was that I can’t turn myself into the kind of person who waves a shovel in the air anticipating the end of culture as I know it. It’s just too easy to be reactionary in an attempt to preserve something. Much like the lithium ion battery changed the way I looked at power tools, I’ve come to see the place for the devices we all carry back and forth on a daily basis. The metaphor doesn’t quite fit, however, as I propose to explore why tablets, smart phones, and phablets, as they’ve come to be called, are so much more than tools. I wish this article had five simple steps to offer you, but the truth is that nothing is easy about it. As we step into the realm of wise stewardship, we can only beg to be illumined by grace and scripture.

If you consider the broad strokes of history, man spends his time attempting to do what he can to better his situation. Improvements in technology generally produce a greater ease in culture as free time becomes more readily available. Think through the wheel, the yoke, and every improvement in metallurgy that’s ever been; you’ll see an increase in time for thought and other pursuits spring up in the wake of breakthroughs. The circuit board is no exception to this rule. I can avoid hyperbole and still claim the world has never been the same since the PC. While we struggle to fulfill a dominion mandate, wrestling with the original posture of humanity over creation, we continue to live with the effects of the fall. Remember that pesky business about toil being increased and thistles in the ground? The scope and scale of our worlds have changed, but humanity hasn’t. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes about the balance between law and freedom; but his particular emphasis is on the responsibility of believers to one another. In 6.12 Paul states plainly that he “will not be mastered (dominated) by anything.” People look for things to live by: swords, wealth, pleasures and treasures of all shapes and sizes. To my recollection though, broad swathes of culture were never put at risk from an overly enthusiastic tendency to identify with the wheel and the plow.

The age we live in presents us with things that are more than tools. If I consider my iPhone for a moment, in many ways it wouldn’t stand up to a hammer. It’s a key that I keep in my pocket- but not with my actual keys, smartphone-worldthat might scratch the screen. It’s both a door and a window, capable of opening up information and giving me access to people and places that I might have otherwise spent hours, if not days, trying to find. Everyone in this day and age is at least somewhat familiar with the dangers of the internet. We’re all trying to navigate our way through a virtual world that is filled with echoes of the actual one. There’s thievery, sexual immorality, violence, and access to every other vice you might wish to avoid. From the benign but ridiculous cat memes to the evils of webpages catering to one night stands and affairs, we know it’s all out there. The change in our technological landscape might be different, but we aren’t. This is the first check anyone should conduct before venturing off into the online world. If we’re tempted to think that we’re improving as rapidly as our devices, we’ve been beaten from outset. Remembering our Genesis is of vital importance.

Do you accept the communal nature of mankind? “It is not good for man to be alone,” God himself says. We see community present in the Trinity; and the promise of heaven is one of perfect community with Christ and his people. As we return to that 1st Corinthian letter, Paul is frequently calling them out on their failures with regard to relating to each other properly. What would he have to say to a population causing itself spinal injury because of how long they stay hunched over a phone? The telephone itself was a marvel of connectivity, the mobile made it easier to keep in touch, but what’s seemingly changed with the smart phone? Options, options and more options; it’s all the rage and the average cell phone user today employs a minimum of three means to reach out to others. Three way calling is no longer something people will pay big money for. We’ve got greater access to people than ever before; but the issues haven’t changed. Divisions run rampant. People learn to associate with likeminded individuals found online because they aren’t learning to manage conflict in reality. The approval of an internet group can be an easy substitute for genuine affirmation. We begin to set our markers for success on the number of likes we get on posts, while disapproval can be cast off, deleted, or isn’t an option at all. On the surface all of this seems extreme, but think about all the missing context.

A professional chef posts an image of dinner, a baking whiz sets up a cake that looks like an entire landscape, a youtuber claims that repairing your own transmission is easy, and all of a sudden the race is on. There’s a grand game of one-upping taking place all across the world on a daily basis. More than ever people ask themselves why they can’t look like a certain picture, do things like a certain video or have the things they see posted all over. The crucial juncture has arrived, the internet is a place of terrible anonymity and exaggerated identity. Meaningful community grows up around the dispelling of the first and a developing honesty about the second. So at a given moment, someone online can act invisibly and without fear of the consequences that a real life scenario would produce. Have you ever played a video game online? The number of times someone will threaten to kill you after one is astounding, particularly if you’re as bad at some of them as I am. I believe these responses to be tame in comparison to some of what occurs on other websites. In the face of our own anonymity, and that of others, it’s very easy to be de-humanizing.

What is my identity? Who am I? Historically, it’s been deemed a question for the ages. The story of Narcissus provides us with a powerful Roman reminder of this. The young hunter, Narcissus, full of life and strength, rejects the love of a nymph named Echo. She is turned into a voice, and becomes the selfsame concept, while he falls in love with himself and wastes away, eventually being transformed into a flower. Ovid saw a great waste in the young man, whose self-obsession is now considered a disorder. It is certainly reminiscent of the innumerable “selfies” posted all over the internet. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to commemorate something, but peel it away a little and the camera will constantly remind you of how beautiful you are… or aren’t. The stream of these going up is also somewhat reminiscent of the evil queen’s mirror in Snow White. Classical heritage and our children’s bedtime stories warn us about being concerned with who’s the fairest of them all.

What does the Bible have to say? After his famous series on love in 1st Corinthians 13, Paul proceeds to speak of growing up as being a stage in between. He wanted to put off childish ways because “now we see through a mirror dimly.” In the book of James, the man who stares at his reflection intently immediately goes away and forgets what he looks like. The juxtaposition between that man and the one who looks into the Scriptures is a necessary one. Both of these sections deal with Christian conduct and undoubtedly point us towards our own failures in assessing our identity. We can suffer neither anonymity nor exaggerated identity in the light of Scripture.

We will constantly wrestle with the tools we have available. Even things as a simple as human hands have been used to fashion idols and this is because the heart is inclined to do so. What makes the smart phone such a narcissusunique threat is the constant access available out of pocket. If we’re not careful, it becomes a little pool for us to waste away in front of like Narcissus. Text Neck is a medical phenomenon now precisely because that threat is real. Maybe someone you know isn’t using it to substitute for self, but rather for others. Learning to deal with people, even the ones we disagree with, is a life skill that can’t be overestimated. How will we fulfill the Great Commission without it? There’s vice and virtue to be found in places online, but all of it is virtual. Without the presence of real people and real relationships, operating in the multiple dimensions that we were created to live in, people will continue to report feeling lonely even as they achieve greater connectivity than ever before. The advantages offered by our technology as greater than ever before. Using them properly isn’t a question of simple steps, but rather a daily evaluation of whether we’re using the device or it’s using us. The phone is smart precisely because it’s capable of taking us into a microcosm at will. Do we emerge the better for it, or are we transformed into lights, sounds and pretty things?

What Satan Thinks About Education

Apollyon:  “I will be God. I must be God. I will dedicate every part of my being to achieve my ends.”

Legion:  “But, how? Jehovah has created a weapon that cannot be defeated-the Word of God. It changes the very nature of the sinner’s heart and captures his affections, actions, and words. That weapon also instructs the mind of his subjects so they can discern when we are working. His subjects study the Word and use the Word so the Spirit of Jehovah can change them and teach others.”

Apollyon:  “You are right. I would like to simply kill them all, but he won’t let us. However, while we can’t stop the power of His weapon, we may be able to remove it from certain areas of their life.”

Legion:  “I don’t understand how we could possibly get them to do that.”

Apollyon:  It will take time and we must be patient, but the most obvious would be to remove the weapon from the education of their children. Our strategy would be one that employs great subtlety as well as our usual tactics of deception and confusion.

Legion:  “Oh Great One, I must hear your plans.”

Apollyon:  “It is a brilliant and multifaceted approach. Because His subjects are generally weak, we will find the weakness in each one of them and exploit it. First, let me share with you how we will deceive and confuse the parents.

Some of the parents say they believe in the absolute power of His weapon, but secretly they do not. We will exploit that weakness by pointing out every situation where a child in a Christian school does not become a Christian. I will encourage them to disregard the importance of having their own child in a place where the weapon is wielded every day.

We will constantly remind the parents that they should be very concerned about their financial futures. So much so, that fear will overcome any ideas about spending money to have their child in a school that uses the weapon. We will be quick to dull their memories about Jehovah’s promises to provide for them.

We will encourage parents to think not about the spiritual condition of the child, but more so about athletics and obtaining scholarships to go to college. This is sure to work well until their child gets to the college years and the parents find out that they did not attain their goal and the child knows nothing about Jehovah. At that time, it will be too late for them.

Even though His subjects claim that they know every child is born a sinner, we will encourage them to think of their children as little subjects who are going to heaven because they exhibit a sweet personality and a compliant nature. This will give the parents a sense of protection for the child that is not grounded in reality. We will encourage them to send them to a school where they will have no weapon to defend themselves, or have the ability to go on the offense for Jehovah. Even though the parents are educating the child without the very means that Jehovah has ordered, they will blindly believe in the power of Jehovah and his ability to work in the life of that child. We will help them forget what Jehovah says about training of children and the vulnerability and foolishness of every young person. We will work on the child slowly and allow the parent to have hope that the child is learning the ways of Jehovah; meanwhile, we will be teaching the child our ways.

We will prey on the parents’ desire to see many new subjects come to the light in a school where the weapon is forbidden. We will convince them that any small mention of Jehovah or even a drawing done in an art class is enough to convert one of our worldlings into one of Jehovah’s subjects.

For those who rely on feelings or leadings instead of the clear teaching from Jehovah’s Holy Book, we will put thoughts into their heads so they can conclude that they are being led to place their children in a school that hates Jehovah.”

Legion:  “This is truly a brilliant strategy. To use the weaknesses and strengths of Jehovah’s subjects to confuse them in such a way that they are actually destroying their children is incredibly exciting! But, what about Jehovah’s leaders? Surely they will step in and correct the wrongheaded thinking of the subjects?”

Apollyon:  “You are beginning to learn, my young apprentice. Yes, we have a plan for Jehovah’s leaders as well. Just as we will do with Jehovah’s subjects, we will exploit the weaknesses and even the strengths of Jehovah’s leaders.

We will create so many problems and challenges for the leaders that they will have no time or energy to face the challenge of getting Jehovah’s subjects to be faithful in educating their children. Whenever they think about it, we will be sure to overwhelm them so they put the battle off until some later date. Their teaching or comments about education will become muted and they will tell themselves Jehovah will lead the subjects as He wishes. As an added bonus, we may also succeed in muting the teaching about family devotions, because to do so would require teaching what Jehovah says about having His weapon before the children 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We will convince them to think about a Jehovah school in such a way that it can be ignored. We have many ways to make that work for us. For example, we will lead them to think the school is self-sufficient, or the children that attend are somehow better than or not as sinful as those in secular schools, or that the school is safe and does not face the same spiritual war as a church.

When they become convicted into thinking about it again, we will convince them that a discussion or teaching about education in their church is divisive so they need to avoid it. We will help them picture a situation where many families would become angry and leave. This will create fear in their hearts and we will draw them to think also about the financial implications should that happen.

We will encourage them to think that having an education in a place without the weapon does not always turn out badly. We will dilute their conviction that the absence of the weapon in education does damage to a child’s heart and mind by giving them regular examples of exceptions, even though we know that only happens because Jehovah has been exceedingly gracious to his subjects.

We will give Jehovah’s leaders a false sense of comfort and an expectation that children attending a school where the weapon is used needs no support from the churches. We will exploit a zealous evangelistic mindset by fooling them into believing that their support must go to areas where the weapon is hated and forbidden.

We will lead and encourage Jehovah’s leaders to conclude that an occasional mention of Jehovah’s school means that they are supporting the school simply because they mention the school at all. We will tempt them to compare themselves to the many churches that never mention Jehovah’s schools at all, instead of judging themselves according to Jehovah’s teachings.”

Legion:  “Truly, you are the master of deceit and lies. I hope to one day be as wise and wicked as you. I have only one other question. If none of these things work, do you have a final solution that will keep Jehovah subjects from placing their children in a school that uses his weapon?”

Apollyon:  “Yes, my ultimate tactic is most brilliant and it takes the very core of the weapon’s teaching and turns it on its head. I used the same tactic long ago on Jehovah’s first two subjects. We will have Jehovah’s leaders tell the parents that they must send their little children to a place where the weapon is forbidden because they must evangelize other children. Think of the irony of it-they will be sacrificing the hearts of their children for the sake of saving others without the weapon to achieve it.  In the end, we will control both the hearts and minds of His subjects as well as those who are the children of our subjects!”

Legion:  “This is so grand, so diabolical, and so wonderful. I wonder if it will really work.”

Apollyon:  “It already has.”