Last Thursday night, at 3 a.m., my husband and I were awakened by a terrible siren coming from our cell phones.
An Amber alert had been sent out across Ontario, because a 2-year-old girl had been kidnapped after her abusive father had broken down the door to their home and assaulted her mother, leaving the mother bruised and bleeding on the floor.
The little girl was later found unharmed, and the man was apprehended.
But as soon as the Amber Alert went out, the police station was bombarded with calls–by people complaining about being woken up. They were asleep; they were in no position to help; this didn’t affect them. So stop bothering me!
To repeat: A little 2-year-old was missing, the situation was critical, and time was of the essence–yet people were complaining. As a society, we need some compassion. We need to be able to say, “even if I can’t do anything about this, I want to welcome the solution, because this little girl matters, and her mother’s pain matters.”
A similar thing is happening in the wider church today with regards to marriage teaching.
Let me explain. There is some teaching being promulgated that is deeply harmful to people. I talked about one such teaching on Friday on the blog, where Focus on the Family had published a book asking the innocent party in an affair to address their role in that affair. I explained in detail why that approach is faulty and why that will contribute to an unhealthy marriage dynamic.
I also talked about it at length on Twitter and Facebook first (which is why I decided to write a post about it, because people were coming down hard on me on Facebook, and I wanted to explain). In most cases, I was being called out for being negative. I shouldn’t be criticizing Focus on the Family, you see, because they do such excellent work. And these people didn’t want to be disturbed by negative things said about people and organizations that they liked.
To be honest, I think that’s very similar to the position the Amber Alert complainers were taking. Many of us (thankfully!) will never be affected by an affair in our marriage. Most of us have faithful spouses. Most of us, indeed, have relatively good marriages. We’re not affected by this bad teaching. This kind of teaching on adultery will never hurt our marriage, or our relationship, and so we don’t see it as all that bad. When someone criticizes the teaching, then, it’s assumed that that criticism is unnecessary–it’s really only being done to stir things up.
“Why be so negative?” they say. “Why stir up all of these things?” they say. “Why are you always looking for someone to get mad at it?”
But what if the criticism is NOT unnecessary? What if there’s a woman lying bleeding on the ground, with everything that she loves being taken from her, and the “help” that she is getting is telling her exactly the wrong thing? What if that “help”is heaping more blame on her, kicking her while she’s down, telling her things that will only ever hurt her?
It’s easy to ignore her, to believe that she doesn’t exist, that she is just a figment of someone’s imagination and that we’re making a mountain out of a molehill. After all, that little girl and her mother were only two people in a province of 9 million. Are they really that important?
But Jesus sees that bleeding woman. And Jesus tells a very similar story of a person lying bleeding on the ground, being ignored by the religious people, but being helped by the secular people.
In our world today, religious people are often giving abused women and those married to sexually promiscuous spouses guilt and blame, while the secular world is helping them with healthy advice.
This simply has to change.
The reason Jesus and Paul called out false teachers was not to stir up trouble, but to rescue those bleeding on the ground.
I don’t think Jesus enjoyed calling out the Pharisees. I don’t think He got up in the morning thinking, “How can I get in their face today?” Similarly, I don’t think Paul enjoyed calling out false teachers. He didn’t think to himself, “How can I make sure I’m the prominent apostle by making all the others bow to me?” No, both Jesus and Paul were trying to reach the lost with a message of hope and salvation.
But as they were doing so, as they were going about their business, they would come across religious leaders that were hurting the very people that Jesus and Paul were trying to minister to. And so they would speak up–not because they enjoyed fighting the powers that be, but because they had compassion on those who were being hurt by these bad teachings.
Just look at these examples:
Jesus, in Luke 11, had just finished talking to crowds, telling them about freedom they should have with God. And, while He was in the middle of that, a Pharisee asked him to come and dine with him. The way it is worded, it sounds like the Pharisees are trying to break up Jesus’ sermon, or confront Him on what He’s been saying.
But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.
Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.
“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”
One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
Look at what Jesus is upset about: the Pharisees have lived by the letter of the law, but they have neglected justice and love, and they are loading people down with burdens that they will not help them lift. They are hurting people.
He says something similar in the “woes” passage in Matthew 23:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
Here’s Paul, in Galatians 1, telling off the church in Galatia:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
What gospel is it that they are spreading? It’s that they need to live under the law again, and not under freedom. That’s a common theme that you will see Paul and Jesus returning to, again and again. That people are adding rules to how we should behave, and putting up walls between people and God. And it has to be stopped.
A perfect example of this is Paul’s actions when Peter wouldn’t eat with Gentiles. Paul walked up to him and rebuked him in public. It wasn’t done in secret. It was done for all to see! And then Paul even wrote about the incident, so even more knew. Why? Because the gospel was at stake, and when something wrong has been said or done in public (Peter not eating with Gentiles), it has to be corrected in public. False teaching is not something that falls under the Matthew 18 directions about how to handle it when someone offends you, because the offense is not personal, between two people. The offense is about the gospel, and in that case, it must be called out publicly.
False teaching is NOT a Matthew 18 issue–where we address things in private first. Matthew 18 is about personal offences. When false teaching has occurred in public, it must be corrected in public, even if that seems “mean”.
I think we forget how much of the New Testament is actually addressing false teaching.
Yes, Jesus and Paul were calling for unity, but that did not mean that they failed to address false teaching. And, in fact, the teaching that they railed the most about was the teaching that put people in bondage yet again.
It could be that you have a really good marriage, and that you don’t know a lot of people who are being abused, or who have had their spouses cheat on them. I know when I started this blog, I sure didn’t. That’s why I had a very different attitude towards divorce back then, in 2008, than I do now. I’ve seen more. I’ve realized that I need to have a bigger view of things, to have compassion on those who are really hurting.
And so it could be that when you read things criticizing false teaching, it makes you sad, because you want to believe that the Christian world is completely healthy, and that there’s nothing wrong with these organizations or authors that you love.
Whether we want to admit it or not, there are many people who are being abused or neglected and the church is making it worse. And our call as Christians when we see those who are hurting is not to ignore them for the sake of our own comfort–it’s to have compassion on them. Compassion is different than pity–compassion actually requires something of you; it’s hard. If you find yourself angry at people bringing up uncomfortable topics for the sake of the downtrodden or the abused–and this will sound harsh–you are showing a lack of compassion for the people whose lives are a living hell because of their torment that you have the privilege to ignore.
Next time you see someone take issue with a blogger, or writer, or organization that you like, then, I would just ask you to take a step back for a moment and ask, “is there someone bruised and bleeding on the ground right now?” And then have compassion on them. Even if it disturbs you. Even if you were enjoying your rest. Even if there’s really nothing that you can do to help.
Because, whether we like it or not, sometimes Amber Alerts are necessary.
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