I always thought this question was easy. Choose your principles. If you can’t stick to your principles, then what good are they to begin with?
Lately, I have been reconsidering. A good friend of mine is going through a difficult breakup with his church (it really is like a relationship for him). He’s standing up for his principles by leaving, but few people in the church really understand that. His underlying position while leaving is that he wants to keep all the relationships that he has on good terms. That’s certainly admirable. In doing so, he hasn’t really talked about why he’s leaving to anyone other than the leadership of the church. I’ve always had the opinion that if I thought something was really screwed up in the church, I would make it clear to everyone what I thought, even if I left. My friend isn’t doing that.
I’m beginning to see the fallout that would come if he did fight the church’s viewpoints publicly. Many, especially younger people, in the church could become disappointed with the church entirely and give up trying to walk with God in a church setting. “It’s just a bunch of bickering Christians. If they really had God’s love in them, they wouldn’t fight like that.” I don’t necessarily think their attitude is correct, but it is definitely a possible response. Regardless, it would certainly divide the church, probably extremely so, to the point that it could well destroy the church altogether.
The biggest challenge to all of this is that the reasons my friend has are behind the scenes. Publicly, the church is fine… even great. So it would be on my friend to explain what’s going on, and then why it’s not good. It also means that the church’s teaching is generally ok, but it explains a lot about why the church has made decisions it’s made over the past few years.
So that leaves the question… is standing up for and defending our principles more important than the people that will affect? If the people will generally be ok in the church (at least for the foreseeable future), then why not let them be? People is ultimately what God cares about. We definitely hold to incorrect doctrines, but God is patient with us. He wants us to share his love with people. We don’t want to be stumbling blocks for other people and cause them to give up on God. But at the same time, we don’t want to let them walk down a path that may (will?) ultimately lead them away from the Cross and the core of Christianity.
Ever since this began, I’ve hoped my friend would speak out and bring this into the light rather than letting it hide in the shadows. I’ve even been tempted to bring these things out myself even though I’m not directly connected to the church, though I’m fully aware it is not my place to do so. That’s why it is a temptation. 😉
The worst part is that I can’t think of anything in the Bible that directly relates to this. Every time a story in the Bible describes a screwed up situation, one of the prophets or apostles spoke out vehemently against whatever that thing was. There is Jesus’ parable of the tares and the wheat, but that is pretty generic and can be interpreted in many ways (and even has been used to defend what is going on in the church). The ordeal has felt similar to David refusing to destroy Saul even though he had the opportunity and God’s promise that one day he would be king. My friend has chosen a similar path on the basis that he must submit to authority, similar to David’s principle that he would not lay a hand on God’s anointed.
Does anyone have any ideas of anything else in the Bible that wrestles with situations like this?