Monday, December 7, 2020

Grace to Change Your Mind

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A Bit Reactionary

When Covid-19 first began to change our lives, each of us developed an opinion on the fly. I'm talking about the days before masks, way back when there was still snow on the ground from last winter. Those days seem like they should be read about in a history book somewhere, but we're still using the same calendar now that we were then. I digress.

Remember when all of those initial assessments of the virus were zipping around everywhere we looked?

"It's just the flu."

"It will kill us all."

"We must practice common-sense isolation."

"If you isolate from others, you're in sin."

"This will all be over by summer."

"This will all be over after the election."

"This will all be over sometime around the Second Coming."

Since those first days of Covid talk back in February and March, we have all learned a lot. On the other hand, at one point or another, we have all felt like we have been kept from actually learning anything about what's really going on by the powers that be in our culture. This is especially true of church leaders trying to navigate these particularly complicated circumstances. Our eyes have been wide open, but the room seems so dimly lit that we can hardly make out our hands in front of us. 

Nevertheless, the light in the room has been bright enough for each of us to see some stuff. We've been able to discover this and that and interpret it all to the best of our ability.

Though helpful, this adventure hasn't exactly eliminated all of our problems. In fact, it seems as though this kind of existence has only created more issues for us. Our interpretations of what's going on have varied from one another, pitting us against each other. We collide in this big, dark room we're sharing and immediately start grabbing for each others' throats because we can't agree about the floor plan or the best way out. It's legally blind guerrilla warfare.

Additionally, in many cases, our interpretations start to evolve and we end up disagreeing with ourselves. For several of us, our opinions have changed since our initial assessments, putting us at odds with ourselves and forcing us to decide whether or not we will actually voice our changes of mind or stick to what we originally said about this disease.

Although these two problems are new, I believe solving the latter will help us solve the former -- and solving the two of them will help us all move forward in peace. As Christians, this should be our motivation and our goal for the church. After all, the kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Grace Greater Than Our Assessments

Due to the culture of barking and biting that has overtaken much of the common decency we became accustomed to, it seems like there's a lot at stake in the formation of our opinions. There's pressure on us to develop a confident assertion regarding the news of the day -- even if we're not ready yet.

"How could you not denounce this?"

"How could you not promote that?"

"What do you mean you need more time to think through it? What are you, a liberal?"

Instinctively moving your foot toward the brake pedal instead of stepping on the gas in order to barrel full-speed in some direction is seen as a sign of weakness and, frankly, many Christians don't have time for that. We're all expected to pull the trigger without so much as a blink. This way it can become clear to the Christian population at large just exactly who is orthodox and who reads Gospel Coalition articles.

This is bad. It's bad in a deep and powerful sense. It's not bad in the I-wouldn't-do-it-that-way sense. It's bad in the loveless, graceless, merciless sense. This type of pressure in society and, more tragically, the church, is a weapon of warfare and the only two outcomes of the battle are division or empty, temporary unity.

This kind of approach divides because it demands conformity to a particular set of convictions. There's a certain group out there that demands you take their approach to the coronavirus ordeal. You have to believe X-Y-Z about the government, our responses, and the virus itself. And if you buy the narrative, you better stick to that opinion or else. 

"Or else what?" you ask. Or else you prove yourself to never have believed in the cause in the first place; you were just a bad guy feigning good intentions. Now your true colors have shown through and you're marked as a wolf. We knew it. We knew it the whole time.


Now I recognize that there's a time and place for this kind of interaction. If we're talking about primary issues, it's important that a Christian hold others to a "Bible's way or the highway" approach. This must be done in love, gentleness, and respect, of course, but it must also be unwavering and consistent. There's an objective standard for the foundational truths about God and man; therefore, our conversations should reflect that.

But when we're talking about worldwide viruses, God's word allows us to disagree about how 21st-century local churches should respond and how individual Christians should go about their business. It's much more of a Romans 14:13 issue than it is a Galatians 1:6 issue. This means that we're free to wait to develop an opinion. We're free to give ourselves time to construct a conviction. We're even free to [insert dramatic pause here] change our minds about what we initially believed concerning the virus.

When the coronavirus issue -- and other similar issues -- are treated like primary doctrinal issues, no one is free to evolve in their thinking or change their minds. Everyone must stick with a particular narrative or opinion and see it all the way through, even if they don't believe it anymore. This is nothing but prideful arrogance that drives a person to think more and more highly of himself. 

Well, there's good news. We have grace greater than all our sin and we have grace greater than all our opinions and snap judgments. If we come to the point where we decide our initial assessments are wrong, God gives us a wheelbarrow full of grace for us to admit such wrong thinking and change course. We should marvel at His patience and kindness!

Grace for Us, Grace for Them

As we realize the grace of God for ourselves in the midst of our evolving opinions and convictions, we should be able to extend grace to those with whom we disagree. Their original assertions have changed and will continue to change -- just like ours. Can we give them room to think things through without condemning them?

There's a greater principle in all of this for the Christian: We all need room to develop convictions on issues that Scripture leaves up to conscience. Individually, we desire the grace of others when we're needing space to think through a difficult situation, yet when it comes to extending that same grace to others, we're all prone to get stingy. We should be ready to extend grace as a fellow believer is processing an unclear and complex circumstance.

Romans 14 is wonderfully instructive on this. Here's a section of that chapter that speaks directly to disputes between Christians about what foods they should or should not eat:

For if because of food your brother or sister is hurt, you are no longer walking in accordance with love. Do not destroy with your choice of food that person for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by other people. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the person who eats and causes offense. (vv. 15-20)

It should be relatively clear how this teaching translates to disagreements between Christians about Covid. Replace "food" with "responses to Covid" above and see if you can draw out any application.

This is not to say that wisdom should be left out of the conversation. Obviously there will be some decisions made that can be judged as foolish, as there will be some decisions made that can be judged as wise. There's room for that conversation. However, we shouldn't aim a bazooka at our brother's head because of his folly. We shouldn't blow someone up over an uncertain matter. How foolish that would be of us

Instead, we should be doing what we can to build up the kingdom of God. We should be focused on righteousness and peace and joy together in the gospel. What a tragedy it would be if a piece of cloth with two elastic loops got in the way of that. It is our duty to recognize foggy scenarios for what they are and give each other the space to work it out.

This means that every Christian carries with him or her the responsibility of extending grace to one another. We're called to love, which sometimes means we give each other space to take time and think. Our brothers and sisters are free to assert an opinion today and change that opinion tomorrow. We've done it ourselves. Believers are free to throw up their hands and declare they just don't know what to think about this. We've done that, too.

We should all be fighting our way to the front of the line to extend grace to each other.

Can We Really Do This?

Yes. But will we?

I fear for the future of the church. I don't doubt our blessed hope and I am confident that we'll make it to the marriage supper of the Lamb. But for the rest of our vapor's existence I have legitimate concerns. We've shown our ugly side for several months now and it really is ugly. We've pumped a few 9-millimeter rounds into our brothers and many of them were seeking to do the same to us. If we didn't spit out bullets verbally, they were fired off in our hearts. 

Our goal should not be to mow down our spiritual siblings who hold to different convictions. Our goal needs to be love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from a sincere faith (1 Tim 1:5). Regarding an issue like this, we should be occupying ourselves primarily with removing stumbling blocks for each other. When Christians disagree on an issue like this, they should be competing with one another to see who can be the most accommodating for the other. This is what constitutes true, humble love.

Think of those curling events you watch once every four years when the Winter Olympics are held. A pair of men jog alongside a stone that is skidding down the ice toward a target. They carry broom-like tools in their hands to clear the ice in front of the stone when they want it to go farther; when they want it to slow down, they let the built-up ice on the course do its inertia thing. This is a good picture for Christians regarding matters of conviction. Regardless of what side of the argument you're on, if you're a Christian, you should be coming alongside your fellow believers and removing anything that would hinder their faith. That looks like serving them in the truth with a sincere love.

Perhaps you've not been the most charitable in your conversations with others about coronavirus. Or, more likely, maybe you've harbored some ill-will in your heart because of what you've thought of other believers' personal convictions. This moment is a good one to repent of that.

Let's commit to moving forward together in grace, giving each other the space needed to think through this. You can change your mind about Covid and you can allow others to do the same. Let's talk about it while we wash each other's feet.

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