Many of us have been distressed by the ad placed by three ministers “disfellowshipping” the Quail Springs minister for being the preacher of a congregation that’s added an instrumental service. Some have suggested that the right-thinking Churches of Christ should publish their own ad … something to the effect of “They don’t speak for us!”
I think that’s a bad idea … a really bad idea.
Ultimately, the proper response came to me from a couple of old George Herbert (1593-1633) quotes–
“If a donkey bray at you, don’t bray at him.”
Or more elegantly,
“Living well is the best revenge.”
Herbert was a parish priest and clearly had been reading his Bible.
As an attorney, elder, and friend to one or two people, I’ve frequently been called on to advise people on how to respond when abused in the press. (And I’ve been there myself.) Almost always, the best advice is “Do not respond.” This is especially true in the religious press. It’s really, really hard, but decades of experience prove it wise.
Debates carried out in a truly public forum, such as the Oklahoman, cannot be won. They are always lost because those outside the Churches of Christ care nothing about proscriptive silence and laws of inclusion and exclusion. They will just see a denomination bickering in public. And they’ll react accordingly.
Have you ever been around a husband and wife who bickered in public? Did you care who was right? No … you just wanted them to shut up and handle it in private! And that’s how the readership of the Oklahoman will respond to any reply, no matter how well worded.
Hence, don’t bray back.
The correct response is, of course, the Biblical response. Turn the other cheek. And rejoice!
(Mat 5:11-12) “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
I’ll not pretend that it’s easy. How do you rejoice when you’ve been declared damned in your sins by brothers in Christ in a full page ad in the Oklahoman? Well, because the reason you were singled out is because you matter.
Irrelevant people aren’t persecuted — only those who threaten the status quo. And what greater praise can there be in this busy, distracted world than that you did something the really matters. Rejoice! The status quo needs threatening.
Notice that Jesus immediately followed this beatitude with these words,
(Mat 5:13-16) “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
How do you respond to persecution? By living well. By getting involved in your community and showing the true face of Christ. By being such an influence for good that people from outside the Churches as well as those within the Churches declare on your behalf, “Such a good congregation cannot be lost!”
As Peter said, surely interpreting the Sermon on the Mount,
(1 Pet 2:12) Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
(1 Pet 3:13-14) Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”
All we can do is live well and let God handle it.
(Rom 12:17-19) Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Finally, stand ready to teach those who want to learn. But —
(Mat 7:6) “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”
If you aren’t careful, your responses “can and will be used against you,” as the police like to warn those they arrest. Don’t argue with those who only want to twist your words to further condemn you.
Don’t bray. Rejoice. Live well. Let God handle it. He’ll either bring them to repentance (2 Tim. 2:25) or turn them over to even darker sin (Rom 1:28-32). Oh, and don’t step in front of stampeding pigs.