You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion. ―G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles
Pastor A.W. Tozer once wrote, “To be right with God often means to be in trouble with men.”
He had a number of rather insightful things to say on this topic. They seem prescient now (he died in 1963)—but perhaps they just demonstrate the old adage that the more things change, the more they stay the same:
If Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation, it must be by other means than any now being used. If the Church in the second half of this century is to recover from the injuries she suffered in the first half, there must appear a new type of preacher. The proper, ruler-of-the-synagogue type will never do. Neither will the priestly type of man who carries out his duties, takes his pay and asks no questions, nor the smooth-talking pastoral type who knows how to make the Christian religion acceptable to everyone. All these have been tried and found wanting.
Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will be not one but many), he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom. Such a man is likely to be lean, rugged, blunt-spoken and a little bit angry with the world. He will love Christ and the souls of men to the point of willingness to die for the glory of the One and the salvation of the other. But he will fear nothing that breathes with mortal breath.
Recently, Michael has been reading through Acts. Tozer’s quip that to be right with God often means to be in trouble with men, could be a summary for the entire book.
The leaders of the early church found themselves under attack by violent mobs, drug before wicked courts, and even killed by those who claimed to be representatives of God.
For what? For telling the truth. For obeying King Jesus and preaching His gospel.
The book of Romans tells us that unbelievers suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
In a similar vein, G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
The people we must face today—in the church and without—don’t want to hear the truth. It is not lack of ability. It is a moral decision. They despise the truth.
In Galatians 4:16, Paul, speaking to churches he help found, asks, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?”
The answer today, in many cases, is yes.
This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (John 3:19–21)
Truth-telling makes enemies in a world that loves lies and prefers to live in a fantasy. That is why Jesus said, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31).
The Word of God is true, and it is liberating. It frees you. But that freedom requires repentance, and repentance comes with a conflict. Will you love the chains of your sin—or will you bow the knee and serve the Righteous One?
Will you continue to live in the darkness—or will you live in the light as He is in the light?
Will you continue to willfully believe and cherish lies, to propagate fantasies—or will you submit to and boldly proclaim the truth of God’s Word?
This is the conflict that truth-telling forces. It creates a crisis. A moment when someone is confronted with their lostness and rebellion. And a lot of folks don’t like that.
Hence, “To be right with God often means to be in trouble with men.”
This is why the Apostles and early churches were constantly harassed by mobs.
Always in trouble.
It seems like that’s where we are at again. So here are a few short reflections from Acts on how to stand up to the mob:
First, you must keep speaking the truth with boldness.
Never back down. Don’t apologize for the truth. Declare it.
They prayed: “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence” (Acts 4:29).
And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (v 31).
What the devil and his agents want is silence. They want you to be quiet. To keep it to yourself. Thus the Sanhedrin said, “let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis writes:
When the modern world says to us aloud, “You may be religious when you are alone,” it adds under its breath, “and I will see to it that you never are alone.” To make Christianity a private affair while banishing all privacy is to relegate it to the rainbow’s end or the Greek calends. That is one of the enemy’s stratagems.
Lewis is right. The tactic is always to find ways to limit the spread of God’s Word. They will reduce when and where you can speak it.
Some, the more crafty ones, will also try to limit it to a narrow gospel message. In other words, you can only talk about salvation by grace alone and no other facet of God’s Word. You must not talk about what the Scriptures have to say about government, sexuality, or any other thing that might cause a stir.
We must resist this. We must speak. We must tell the truth, and ask that God would give us boldness to speak His Word in the face of the mob. We must trust in the power of God’s Word. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. How do we stand up to the crowd? If God wills, we convert them by speaking the truth.
Second, you must be wise and strategic in how you speak to the crowd.
We didn’t say winsome. This isn’t because you shouldn’t be winsome—you should, if by winsome you mean appealing or attractive. But that’s not what most Christians mean by it these days. What they mean is to speak in such a way where no one gets upset. Being winsome is the eleventh commandment of Big Eva: Thou shalt not be offensive. Hence, they insist that Christians speak in a soft, sweet, and even unsure sort of tone. To be confident is to be arrogant. To offend is heresy.
Tone does matter…but it’s usually a way to side-step the actual issues.
So if someone is criticizing your tone, ask: “Would you agree with the content of what said, if I said it differently?”
9 out of 10 times they’ll admit that they wouldn’t, or try to weasel out. “That’s not what we are talking about.”
Then, if they can’t disregard you based on your tone, they’ll try to do it by claiming you only said what you said because you love controversy and the attention which comes with it. And provocateurs do exist. Pointless controversy is destructive. So you shouldn’t lightly brush off such an accusation. Always examine yourself, lest they be right.
But some men just hate anyone or anything that upsets the “peace,” even if it is a false peace. These men are quick to give in to the cries of unstable individuals—and especially senseless mobs. They just want it quiet. They are cowards, and cowards shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Revelation 21:8).
So consider this:
Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” (Acts 23:1–5)
Interestingly, Paul is being sarcastic here. Augustine and Calvin both argue that Paul wasn’t apologizing. Calvin puts it this way:
I acknowledge nothing in this man which belongeth to the priest…Paul purgeth himself of this crime; yet so, that he denieth that Ananias is to be counted a priest of God, who hath corrupted and perverted all the order of the Church.
What Paul does next is very crafty. He recognizes that he is in trouble, so he focuses on a key truth of the gospel that he perceives will split his opponents. By dividing them against each other, they are far less likely to be united against him:
But perceiving that one group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” As he said this, there occurred a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And there occurred a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks. (vv 6–10)
Third, don’t fall for their gaslighting.
The classic example of gaslighting is to switch something around on someone, then deny it when they challenge it. “You must be imagining things.” A common gaslighting technique, used continually by false shepherds within the church, is to convince you that you have sinned, despite what you know. They will maintain a facade of righteous concern throughout, and enlist many others to agree with them, until you start questioning your own sanity. How can so many reputable people be wrong about you? How can so many men and women of good standing secretly be wicked and manipulative? Look at how earnest they seem. Maybe you really did sin and there is something to what they are saying.
Here’s an example of gaslighting in Acts:
But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing. For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him. We wanted to judge him according to our own Law. (Acts 24:4–6)
Our age of intolerance and victim culture has given birth to an entire class of people like this—the crybully. These are people who engage in intimidation, harassment, or other abusive behavior while claiming to be victims. Often they are women, enabled by white knights; often they are nice guy pastors (see A primer on how influential women & white knights destroy the church.
If crybullies are allowed to rule a church, that church is sure to die. Resist, correct, and (if need be) expel them if you can. But be aware that it can be very difficult, because crybullies are often master manipulators, and will gather useful idiots around themselves to maintain the gaslighting illusion. They will make you look like the abusive one, and try to turn things around so that you are the bad guy.
Dealing with gaslighting is a master class in maintaining frame. It is extraordinarily difficult without allies. It’s a battle of realities, and unfortunately most Christians are not taught how to judge truth claims—and are apathetic at best about doing so anyway. Like we said at the start, they are conditioned to simply want quiet, and will lash out against what they see as the source of the noise. So you must be prepared to lose everything for your love of the truth. Who, remember, is a Person.
These are just three steps for dealing with what looks increasingly like a coming “purge.” Bnonn is slowly working on something more expansive: an Eleventh Commandment Survival Guide, to help prepare men to deal with the kind of abuse he had to go through at his old church, Trinity Reformed Baptist in Hamilton, NZ. He is looking for testimonies of similar experiences. We know they’re widespread, but more light needs to be shone into this darkness, and the rot exposed. If you have a story about standing up for the truth in your church—whether for good or ill—reply back.
Read and share this email on the web: #
Talk again next week,
Bnonn & Michael