“You can’t always be nice”

95-stellingenWhen Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses, he picked a fight.  It was a good fight, and he won.  He won not only because his arguments were more biblical but also because he manfully took responsibility for challenging the status quo.  It was a public challenge, right out in the open.  His courage added moral authority to his arguments.

Mature Christian leaders know the difference between petty issues that deserve zero passion, and burning issues worth dying for, and the various gradations in between.  But mature Christians leaders are willing to say hard things out loud in public, willing to face the past rather than sweep it under the rug, willing to create an awkward moment because something more important than saving face and remaining comfortable is on the line.  God is so real to men and women like this, that they will do whatever his Word clearly requires, no matter what.

Thabiti did that today on his blog.  He put something significant right out on the table so that the rest of us have to face it, think about it, feel it, and that does all of us nothing but good.  Thabiti is not one of those cruel bloggers who are more eager to vent than to serve, more eager to embarrass than to build up.  Thabiti is a mature Christian leader.

The striking thing, to me, is how rare among us is his admirable forthrightness.  I wonder how thoroughly we have applied the gospel to this aspect of our life together.  Here are two guiding principles — complementary, not contradictory — that come to mind right away, for starters:

1.  “Give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).  That which is honorable, that which is morally elegant, is our standard always.  Will a reasonable person, including a reasonable unbeliever, look at what we are saying and doing and admire it as honorable?  Self-serving moral fervor comes across as ugly. Selfless restraint comes across as noble.

2.  “To them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Galatians 2:5).  Sometimes, in order to preserve the integrity of the gospel for others, the gospel in both principle and practice, in both doctrine and culture, we must resist. We must protest. And we must offer a positive alternative for the sake of the future.  But as my saintly and gentle dad once said to me, “You can’t always be nice.”

Thank you, Thabiti, for not being nice.