Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Musings: When Men Shall Revile

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Some of my readers might know that my church was one of the locations blessed with an impending protest from Westboro Baptist Church this morning.
Some of you might also know that the church I attend was formerly part of Mars Hill, but since that organization dissolved we have "relaunched" into an independent entity called Redeemer Church.

For those of you who don't know: my church was formerly Mars Hill Portland, and it is now called Redeemer Church. And this morning, we were slated to be protested by Westboro Baptist.

Why? What reason would a church have to take up signs and engage in unwholesome speech against another church? 

Is it the music? We do have a drum set, though occasionally our pastor (and worship leader) will choose not to use it. We sing contemporary hymns, or rearrangements of older hymns.

No, they couldn't care less about our music.

Is it the lack of dress code for the congregants? Redeemer Church has no formal dress code; girls show up in pants all the time. But there is no awkwardness or "aloofness" for girls like me who wear dresses and skirts to church. I do it because I like to. And it might not be ones formal wear, but at least everyone who comes to Redeemer makes an effort to look nice on a Sunday, out of respect for Jesus. Because we know at the end of the day, coming to church means focusing on Jesus.

But no; the paragraph of "indictment" against "Mars Hill Portland" does not mention anything about clothing.

Is it because of the scandal surrounding the former leader, Pastor Mark Driscoll? There is plenty to disparage there: the cover-ups, the abuse of authority, the hypocrisy... We acknowledge that things happened which should not have. As Redeemer Church we are taking heed lest we fall in the same traps.

But no; according to the paragraph of offenses justifying this attack, there is no mention of this whatsoever.

Is it our refusal to speak out and take action against heinous crimes like homosexuality and abortion? We do hold a standard on those things, and we take our cues right from the Bible. If the Bible is blunt, we are blunt. Not that we are in support of those things by living peaceably with places like the Q Center just down the street—but we believe in the unconditional love Jesus demonstrated in all four accounts of His life that we read in the Bible. It is up to us to "Love thy neighbor"; the Holy Spirit will work salvation in the heart. 
Nowhere in Scripture does it say it is okay for us to condemn the "kindling" because "they are doomed anyway." To condemn another person is to violate the second greatest commandment, and what does that mean for us? "For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you." (Matthew 7:2 ESV) 
"For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." (James 2:10 ESV)

And there, my friends, is the case against the church: our pastor dares to preach the love of Jesus from the pulpit. We have earned a protest of outrage from another church because we preach Jesus as the Son of the God of love.

I'm not making this up.

Screen-cap of their "indictment" against us.
Is it just me or does this whole thing not make any sense at all??

That's right; we are offensive to this one particular church because our preaching is contrary to their Bible. We are a "loose" and "blasphemous" and even "whorish" church for espousing this one foundational truth:

God is love.

Is God love? I decided to take the "loving" advice put forth by Westboro and open my Bible to "READ THE WORDS." [sic] Here are the words I found:

"In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him." (1 John 4:9 ESV)
"For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life." (John 3:16)
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13 ESV)
"The Lord... is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)
"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love." (John 15:9 ESV)

And that's just barely scratching the surface of the New Testament. For the sake of post length, however, I will just share a few verses I found in the Old Testament:

"For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations." (Psalm 100:5 ESV)
"The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord." (Psalm 33:5 ESV)
"I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me." (Proverbs 8:17 ESV)
"But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation." (Psalm 13:5 ESV)

As it turned out, the only people to show up in the morning were a few reporters—and a group of "counter-protestors" who sought to reach out and communicate love to this church so steeped in hate and fear. We had thought that the protest would move in while the first service was letting out and while people arrived for second service, but when I got there, I heard that they had moved the time of protest to right at the start of the second service. Hence the incredible lack of firsthand accounts that I was hoping for.

But that doesn't bother me. I am just coming to church. I believe in the message of the Bible, that God loved the world, which is the reason that Jesus, God Incarnate, His Only Son, had to die. I believe that it is not my place to judge who is going to Hell and who isn't, because the Bible says: "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." (Romans 9:16 ESV) What I have been commanded to do is two-fold: First and foremost, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31 ESV)

I am called to love, and let God draw to Himself whom He may. So long as I am following that mandate, I have nothing to fear. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1-2 ESV)

I am grateful for the response my pastor gave when a local reporter asked him about the threatened protest. I am thankful for the reputation we have built over the last three years, as a helpful, useful, support-worthy congregation led by a patient man. Even though the protest never really happened, in spite of all the hype, while driving to church I was reminded of the verse in Matthew 5 that does say, "Blessed are you when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven!"

In particular, the Holy Spirit emphasized the words "for My [the Lord's] sake." Because the protest wasn't personal at all; it was nothing we were doing as a church, some extra-Biblical application that we had taken on as doctrine. The protest was completely for Jesus' sake, on the grounds that we believed Him when He spoke of love and how we are to love others because He loves them. Our reward is not great because we did the Great Thing and people hated us for it. Our reward is great and we can rejoice because He is our focus, and all their quarrel is with Him. We love Him because He first loved us, He has been faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and by His sacrifice we can be called children of God. And that is cause for reassurance and celebration in the face of opposition.