Friday, March 20, 2009

Further Reflections on the Church - Eleanor Shepherd

One of the most exciting parts of the week for my husband, Glen and me is Sunday morning at ten o’clock. We have the privilege of facilitating a class of teens and young adults at our church. We have come to call it the Discovery Class, because that is what we do.

More than being offered the standard answers these young people want to ask burning questions about how they are to live out their faith as Christians, and not be judged for doing so. They have heard it all, since most of them have been coming to Sunday School and church since they were infants. Their questions reflect the challenges they face in trying to authentically live out their faith every day in their schools, work places and homes.

For example last Sunday, they wanted to know how do you tell someone who does not share our faith that they are wrong. As we entered into a discussion about it, we concluded that to come right out and declare that they are wrong would really do nothing for the relationship. It would only affirm the opinion of some that Christians are arrogant bigots who think they have all the answers.

We tackled the subject from several viewpoints. One person recounted a recent experience about walking along the boardwalk at the beach on vacation in Florida. There were two young men at the open air stage with their Bibles open shouting at the crowd how they were one day going to be judged for the failure to accept God’s message. Even as a Christian, to hear the condemnation made one cringe and not want to identify with that kind of intolerance.

One option explored was keeping the dialogue going with our friends, convinced that if they are genuinely seeking the truth they will find it. Isn’t that what the Scriptures tell us? Somehow we need to be ready to listen and help them think through the conclusions of what they believe until they themselves see that they have not yet come to a knowledge of the truth.  We took this idea a little further. It is actually possible for Christians to learn some things about faith by carefully considering the questions of those who have not embraced the faith. There are questions that do not have easy answers and to reflect about them can increase our appreciation of the reality that God cannot be reduced to someone that we can figure out. His ways truly are higher than our ways and His thoughts than our thoughts. Nevertheless, slowly we can tease out truths that strengthen our faith.

There are times, when it is necessary for us to gather up our courage and with dignity and respect tell our friends that they are on the wrong track. Interestingly enough, a few days later Glen and I were having lunch with some friends who recounted to us just such a story. One person in a group, they were involved with was making choices that were not only detrimental for themselves but also brought into question the faith and character of the other Christians in the group. The only choice was to confront them with the consequences of their behaviour. Even those who were not Christians agreed that this was necessary.

The outcome of our discussion was that there cannot be rigid rules set down about telling someone they are wrong. What is essential is that the person be treated with dignity and respect. Then when we have to point out error it can be seen as that and not as an attack on the person. What must motivate our decision is love. This is not the kind of love that is a mushy sentimentality. Rather it is love that follows Jesus, willing to do as He did and lay down one’s life for one’s friends. It is a love that seeks the best for the person who is the object of that love.

Was that not the message of Jesus who said that the world would know that we are His by the love we show to one another? These young people sure set a high standard for us.


Peter Black said...

Thank you, Eleanor, for this clear and sensitive piece on a subject of great importance to those of us who are concerned for the spiritual welfare of others. Very helpful.
And, what a lovely picture. We get to meet your Prince Glen!
Blessings in Jesus,

Eleanor Shepherd said...

Thanks, Peter. You are so gracious. I remember meeting you at Write!Canada a few years ago, when I decided to join the Prayer Team.

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