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My two youngest children sit together on the floor in a bedroom. They spend their days playing beside each other with a myriad of toys, co-imagining worlds filled with talking construction equipment, neon-hued horses, and plot lines that range from pedestrian to strange and violent, often within seconds. It’s fun to stand around the corner and listen to them, but invariably, I have to intervene and referee a dispute.
Kind words, and kind hands, I say. We share our things.
We certainly do share our things. At least, that’s what I try to reinforce. Yet, amid the repetition and rote indoctrinations against covetousness, my wife and I also tell our children about the things we don’t share. Medical reports, for example. No, you may not tell the cashier why we are buying prunes. No, even two weeks after, you do not shout “lice” in a crowded room. This, of course, causes otherwise calm children to part like the waters of a frightened Red Sea, isolating the poor afflicted kid on the dry ground of pariah-hood. Then there are hats, speaking of that. You may never share hats with other kids at your school. It’s funny, coming up against exceptions you didn’t think about before, and I find myself subject to the same family sermons.
Two churches stand along the interstate, for example. Here, they shall go unnamed, but know that they exist. Facing each other from opposite sides of the freeway, their buildings, which look to be of roughly equivalent size, once bore banners saying things like “Not Like Your Regular Church” or “A New Way to Do Church.” They seemed to be waging a subtle marketing war, telling thousands of passersby, “We’re not like them. Don’t go over there to that church. Our church is better.”
To be perfectly honest, it infuriated me. The Church belongs to Jesus, and if he refuses to have even angels pull the tares from the wheat until the end of time, who are we to presume to take on the job here and now? I am not saying we ought to falter in our use of discernment—and oh! let us use good judgment in using the word judgment—but it often feels like we’re the Yankees trying to buy Babe Ruth (and everybody else), blowing through money to build the prize-winning team. This, of course, is not a biblical idea.
It’s easy to pick on those two churches however, because it’s always easy to pick on Them. We know this to be true. I find myself tempted even in this writing to tell you what churches they are. Whoever Them is, we find slander and gossip about Them as easy to share as lice from a grade school hat. The problem is worse on social media, and I’m guilty of it. I have hung the sign out on the front of my public impression, saying, I am not those people. You are free to stand beside me; you won’t catch what they’ve got.
Disconcertingly, in the Church, it is really not up to me.
“The body is a unit, though it is made of many parts,” says Paul to the Corinthians. “We were all baptized with one Spirit into one body.”
The holy catholic church. The communion of saints. The forgiveness of sins.
This means that They are me, by the Blood of the Lamb. One body, one Spirit. I cannot by dint of my disgust or horror separate myself from them, nor they from me, no matter what one of us has done. I cannot hand the Bride of Christ a razor blade and ask that one arm cut the other.
The Church belongs to Jesus, and if he refuses to have even angels pull the tares from the wheat until the end of time, who are we to presume to take on the job here and now?Adam Whipple
What does this mean we are to do? When and if we share articles on social media or topics at the water cooler, where do we draw the line between being up front about our faults as The Church and slandering the Bride of Christ? When is it that we have moved from discussing these things within the Family of God to flinging our brothers or sisters out to the mob because they failed or thought differently?
I do not know, but I do know that one action is the high calling of boasting about our weaknesses for Christ’s sake, while the other is certainly a sin. Assuredly, we all know various prominent personalities are going to say unbiblical things. We know that certain people are never going to preach on the evils of idolatry after wealth or on the exclusivity of Christ. Do we share those things in order to separate ourselves from those people? If there is a chance that they are actually believers—or even if they are not—do we do well to share their faults as though denouncing them from the guillotine scaffold? Certainly, the apostles had no problem calling out sin in the Body of Christ where they saw it. Yet, while I believe I have the Spirit, I am also not one of the apostles. When I share what some church or Christian is doing wrong in the public sphere instead of approaching that group or person with honesty and grace, I cannot claim to act in love. We believe so hard in earning the right to be heard with regards to, say, evangelism. Yet, with haste, we assume we have the inalienable right to be heard in regards to defamation. It cannot be so.
I have never written a letter to a multi-millionaire televangelist. My prayers for politicians are far-between and paltry. I am ready to listen to my neighbor next door, but I cannot give a pundit the time of day in a clock shop. Yes, perhaps it’s a function of television and the internet, but that is no excuse for me. The Church is everywhere, and she is one Church, no matter how one arm pummels the other. Thanks be to God. I should be ready to share my own faults before I share the faults of others.
My children are young now, but at some point soon, I shall have to begin to advise them in the use of the internet. They will interact with friends and acquaintances in the subconscious tattoo-ink of the ether. I hope they will act honorably; it seems now a dreadful thing to give such powers to a teenager with little conception of the consequences. Who knows what social media will even look like in that day? Yet the ability to slander has been and will forever be the same, and I can foresee conversations.
Yes, I know that person did wrong. I know you are hurt and angry. No, you still may not irrevocably tell the whole world how wrong you thought it was.
I will still be refereeing disputes, acknowledging the hurt done even while encouraging grace—let us hope. We don’t share hats with schoolmates, after all, but we do share kindness. Even if our friends have nits, we don’t shout ‘lice’ in a crowded room.