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Christians and Controversy

Following Jesus' example to put prayer and relationships before confrontation

In a world full of social media, we can broadcast our beliefs with the click of a button. While the secular world is apt to convey their opinions of social issues without hesitation, the question is raised: How should Christians respond to controversial issues? Do we express our beliefs openly, posting our feelings about abortion and marriage on Facebook walls and blogs, or do we remain silent? In a time where controversy is king, the secular world is watching at how Christians respond. In battling with the decision on how to handle controversy, we should look at the ultimate example on how to respond: Jesus.

Jesus never directly confronted political or divisive issues. The Pharisees constantly tried to trap Jesus by forcing him to give an opinion on contentious topics (Matthew 17:24:-27; 19:1-12; 22:15-22). His responses were earnest, yet brief. Jesus did not come into the world to debate the world, but to save the world. Therefore, his ministry centered on the person rather than the issue. Regarding social issues, Jesus' philosophy was to "love the sinner, hate the sin." He was notorious for dining with "sinners," tax collectors, and other "social misfits" because his concern was for their well-being rather than making a statement.

An Example of Controversy

One of the greatest examples of Jesus' philosophy regarding controversy can be found in Luke 5. Jesus calls Levi the tax collector to be his disciple. At that time, a tax collector was one of the most hated people in Judea because they exploited their neighbors for personal gain. However, Jesus approached him and told him to follow. The publican got up, left everything, and followed Jesus.
I personally would have loved to witness the exchange between Jesus and Levi. The only words recorded in the call of Levi are: "Follow Me." It appears this is the first exchange that the two men had ever had (though I would conjecture that the publican had seen the miracles Jesus had been performing in Capernaum and recognized he was different from other Rabbis). The fact that Jesus approached Levi, spoke to him, and wanted him to be a disciple deeply impacted him. The tax collector was forever changed.

We then immediately see Levi respond with hospitality. Not only does he host his new teacher in his own home, but he begins to reach out to others who need Jesus. This is the first "evangelism meeting" recorded in Scripture (Luke 5:29). Levi understands Jesus' approach and begins to embrace it as his own.

When the scoffers denounce Jesus' interaction with the sinners, Jesus is quick to correct their wrong thinking. He had no intention of hanging out with the "religious elite." Rather, he knew his mission was to lead people to repentance: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Luke 5:31-32).
In thinking about this story and asking myself how much time I spend in my "Christian bubble" instead of in the mission field, leading people to repentance, I am a bit disproportioned. We often feel more comfortable being around people who are "like us," and simply talking about people who "do those other things." Yet, this is not the Gospel. We will never reach the world for Christ if we are not in the world, being salt and light.

Affecting Change

We can learn a lot from Jesus' example in Luke 5. Rather than debating how "tax collecting" infringes upon the commands of Scripture, we should be reaching out to the tax collectors. The temptation is to plaster our beliefs via a wall post on Facebook or a bumper sticker of a car as if a tag line will bring about repentance. While this may generate an audience, it may never bring about life change.

Too often we forget that there are people who need a Redeemer behind the stain of sin. We feel we must take a stand for Christ and consequently forget to show him to the world. If we would only think beyond ourselves and desire to embrace the "unembraceable," we might actually have a chance to show them there is such a thing as grace. Yet, our approach is often to "save them from their sin" rather than to show them the love and grace of God. Jesus confronted sin, but it was only after he had shown love to the sinner.

Here are three things for Christians to remember when considering how to pragmatically respond to controversy today:

  1. Pray. When we see a news story on television or we are confronted with an issue, we should pray about those who are affected by the issue. We should ask God to help us be ambassadors of Christ.
  2. Build relationships. Rather than talking about issues, Jesus responded to people. In the same way, we should look to ways to minister to people who are hurting, regardless of the controversy surrounding their lives. We must see beyond current controversy and recognize that everyone without Christ needs redemption.
  3. Know When to Stand. Jesus knew when to stand. He confronted the Pharisees when they misunderstood who He was and what His mission was. In the same way, we need to stand up for Christ when others misrepresent Him or His Church.

Cortney Whiting received a Masters of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. She currently serves as a Children's Minister at One Heart Church in Norcross, GA. Cortney is a wife and mother of two small children.

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