Don’t Write People Off Because they Don’t Get It

What is one key event that has shaped who you are today? Have you ever thought about what your life would be like if that had never happened? What would be different?

There are surely many. Some surprisingly simple and seemingly insignificant when they happened, some seismic in their nature.

I was a music major my freshman year in college, aspiring to be a worship pastor/leader. I was doing OK all things considered, but still ... something wasn't settling right. I was asked to read a passage of Scripture and share a devotion at a student worship gathering one evening, and after that experience, one of the religion professors came up to me and said something to the effect of, "You have a real gift for reading and teaching the Bible. Perhaps you should consider changing your focus and profession." A simple statement that profoundly shaped me forever. I can't imagine what my life would be like without that one comment.

Other events were more seismic. My parents' divorce. My choice of college and graduate school. Marriage. Children. Career adjustments. All of these things have made indelible marks in my life.

Then there is the gospel—the good news that Jesus came, lived, died and rose again. Or as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, "That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me." While kind words or major life events make a temporal impact, belief in a resurrected Jesus makes an eternal one.

It's why Paul was so incensed that anyone would question Jesus' resurrection and our future resurrection. "For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins" (1 Cor. 15:16-17). If one's eternal destiny is wrapped up in the resurrection of Jesus, then that is a doctrine we cannot play with. It's a hill we have to be willing to die on. Without it, we are still not right before God (v. 17). It makes the un-worthy, worthy. "For I am the least of the apostles, not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (1 Cor. 15:9-10).

Yet somehow, the Corinthians didn't easily grasp this or find it as important as they should have. And while Paul was certainly concerned at their lack of understanding of this core doctrine, he did not immediately write off the church and tell it to close its doors for a lack of sound doctrine. Rather, he worked to correct the church through patient teaching, following the advice he would later give to Timothy in Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:2).

Paul's pastoral approach stands in sharp contrast, I think, to our culture's "shoot to kill and figure out things later" mentality when it comes to doctrinal or even leadership concerns in the church. Think about it: we're talking about the RESURRECTION—arguably the most crucial doctrine of the church—and Paul chose to patiently invest rather than quickly kill. I wonder how my denomination's convention would respond should a member church begin to teach that the resurrection did not and would not happen? Would they work to correct the teaching pastors and salvage the congregation, or would they savagely sever ties and pretend like the relationship never existed and push them down stream to the liberals?

No one can accuse Paul of lacking doctrinal conviction or leading like an avoidant. Yet at the same time, he was slow to write off whole churches, even those that were losing their grip on core doctrines (Galatians, anyone?!). Let us take our cue from Pastor Paul when it comes to dealing with doctrinal issues in the church. Let us stand on our convictions and love those we must correct.