Christians in advertising (Bulldog for February)
The way we act and live can attract or repel others from seeking Christ
The greatest advertisement for Christianity is Christians. The worst advertisement for Christianity is Christians.
We can either attract or repel by the way we act or live. There will always be the offence of the cross and the reaction of conviction and antagonism to the faith, but when it is the lovelessness of a Christian life or its selfishness that repels, then a terrible stumbling block is put in the way of seekers for God.
Evangelicals ought to be attractors to Christ. We claim to have found Christ as our Saviour and that we live under his Lordship. We claim to have been born again of the Holy Spirit and that we have the mind of God opened to us. We claim the Scriptures have become alive to us and we regard them as the Word of God. We claim to live in the Spirit and to be maturing in the fruit of the Spirit.
All these claims are true by the grace of God lavished upon us. So many evangelicals are wonderful people, with lives demonstrating the grace of Christ. They are great people to know. Barnabas was the very model of a lovely evangelical. He was the sort of person anyone would enjoy being with, and all could see that he was full of the Holy Spirit. His love for others did not weaken his hold of the truth, but such was his love that many were drawn to Christ through his ministry. He was also a great encourager and was ready to give Mark another opportunity to serve even when Paul would not do so. I think of so many evangelicals who have been such men and women, and thank God for saints like L.F.E. Wilkinson (second principal of Oak Hill College) or Peter Baker (vicar of Reigate during the 1950s and 60s).
Yet most outside opinion about evangelicals seems to regard us as trenchant, over-confident, condemnatory, negative and very difficult to get on with. This is fed by the media, but the media is fed by some evangelicals who make me shudder. They will immediately condemn or judge without any real evidence - often on a selective quote or an attitude of bitter negativism towards someone. The gracious are so often set aside, as they do not give the stinging sound-bite that the press wants. Any endeavour to remonstrate with such evangelicals is put down as 'weak' or 'woolly' and I still blanch at the statement 'Jesus condemned and so I condemn'. The fact that Jesus judged with perfect insight is ignored. One reporter of a national newspaper was sickened at an evangelical press conference, where so-called evidence was manipulated into judgment. The reporter commented: 'This is a case of a plank in the eye'.
The balancing of love and truth is always challenging. John Stott is a model to us all of such Christ-honouring balance. Holding what we believe to be the truth, without love, pushes others away from hearing the truth. (Indeed, much of the shift towards accepting homosexuality has resulted from reaction to what has appeared as evangelical bigotry.) The equally firm but more loving evangelical voice is set aside.
Love without truth is deceptively dangerous too. It can appear attractive, but leads to disaster. In the Letters to the Churches in Revelation, Ephesus errs one way and Thyatira the other.
Sin and grace
We also need to be more clearly the preachers of grace. It was tragic that when an evangelical was appointed to a high position in the Church, and someone dug up evidence of a sin some 25 years before, that evangelicals were among the condemners. That grace abounded in that person's life, that there had been true repentance and change of life was ignored by those who took up the stone. They joined the Pharisees in Luke 7 when the woman 'who had lived a sinful life' breaks the alabaster box of ointment over our Lord'. 'She is a sinner' they say. Jesus says her sins 'have been forgiven' and reassures her.
We do not ignore sin, but we believe in grace. We must be like our Lord and not like the Pharisees. Thus when I was asked by a close friend of the Royal Family whether someone who had committed adultery could be king, I could speak of David and Bathsheba, and the true repentance through Nathan's intervention. That genuine repentance, as seen in Psalm 51, meant that David could be king.
James was deeply concerned about the zealot's attitude of condemnation and attack. He argued that 'the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere'. It is urgently necessary for all evangelicals to hold the wisdom of God with such grace and love. Where we disagree with one another, we must still expect to do so with love. Only as we live more like Jesus can we expect to be heard and for others to be drawn to the truth. The vast majority of evangelicals hold the balance of truth and love. It is this majority which needs to be heard - for Christ's sake.
Michael has recently retired as Bishop of Chester, and is now helping as Bishop-at-large in the diocese of London.