The Apologetics of Christian Solidarity
March 17, 2016
Love is the end (telos) of the apostles' teaching and the first apology for the faith (1 Tim. 1:5). Without love even the most celebrated preacher or apologist is just a noisy gong or clanging cymbal; by love even the least gifted believer can adorn the gospel, shame Christ's opponents, and silence the church's slanderers (1 Cor. 13:1; Tit. 2). There are other ways to shame opponents and silence slanderers than by love, of course, but no other way adorns the gospel and demonstrates the present reality of saving grace while doing so--or demands much self-denial from the would-be apologist.
It's this last bit I'm most interested in here: a peculiar sort of self-denial that love demands of apologists of the faith, which we are all called to be (1 Pet. 3:15). What does love demand of us, for example, when our brother or sister does or says something socially embarrassing or politically impolite or completely uncool in the company we keep or aspire to keep?
Harsh and scathing reactions occasionally encountered on the Christian blogosphere show just how ready we are to throw brothers and sisters who happen to embarrass or disagree with us under the first bus we meet. Love never throws anyone under a bus, last of all a brother or sister in Christ. Seems like that should go without saying and yet it seems like that sometimes needs to be said.
The weird temptation is to think that stiff-arming the embarrassing brother or sister is apologetically expedient. It never is. It may temporarily spare us, in a selfish way, some part of the unpleasantness of being too closely associated with a sister's awkward act or a brother's distasteful statement. Whatever apologetic gain we think we derive from deriding our fellow believer is destroyed through our failure to embrace and love that brother or sister as Christ does. In the end, when we behave this way, we come off more like asinine teens too cool to bear their parents' presence than people who believe the gospel or know God's grace.
But what if those parents are not just insufficiently sophisticated but say and do certain despicable things? What if, for example, they're obliviously racist or what if they are not so obliviously so? Is it then permissible or apologetically expedient to throw them under the nearest bus? (I'm only asking about fellow believers, not those outside the church.)
No doubt, the children must stop eating their parents' sour grapes if they don't want their teeth set on edge (Ezek. 18; cf. Ex 20:5-6). To that end, we must recognize and name the sinful, harmful, and offensive ways of our spiritual parents and break with whatever witness-destroying pattern of life and thought we find coursing through "our history." This is clearly one of several things the overture on civil rights remembrance at the 2015 PCA General Assembly was calling the church to do.
Even as we break with the sinful ways of our spiritual predecessors, however, we must honor them and own them as our parents in the faith along with everything that association entails--the wonderful and the dreadful--accepting the responsibility of rightly disposing of every inherited effect. It's precisely because we are their heirs that we must break with them on this matter and it's precisely as their children that in doing so--doing the right thing, that is--we honor them. The very possibility of doing the right thing, in other words, begins with owning our solidarity with these brothers and sisters in Christ who, like all the redeemed who have ever lived, left us a mixed and conflicted legacy.
Christian solidarity is something love demands of every apologist who attempts to deal with the sins of those who preceded us and is why those who follow us will have to deal with ours too one day. Love never asks of a brother or sister or father or mother in the faith, "What do I have to do with them?" or "What business of mine is their sin?" Jesus made our sin his business, freely associating with and embracing his sinful people, and he is not ashamed to call the despicable likes of me his brother (Heb. 2:11, cf. 11:16). That's what love does: despising the shame, love denies itself and bears and endures all things; and we adorn the gospel and begin to acquire apologetic credibility only insofar as we do the same.