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Disagreeing with grace

Engaged in a serious crisis in the Church of Scotland, Kirk minister Rev. Louis Kinsey was struck by a verse relating to Paul's appeal to an unruly and partly hostile crowd.

by Louis Kinsey
"Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defence."
When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic,
they became very quiet.
(Acts 22:1-2)

paul and crowdOh boy! Paul's manner at the start of Acts chapter 22 is such a challenge, if not a direct rebuke to so many, if not most of us, isn't it? It's a great challenge to me this morning, as I read it, I can tell you.

"Brethren and fathers, hear my defence before you now." And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent.

One of the things I have noticed about the use of social media by Christians who blog, tweet or update etc is the wrong tone that Christians use and the consequent response they get from those who disagree with their Christian beliefs and opinions.

Sometimes, Christians seem to have just the right approach, I concede. They present their point of view, often in a hostile internet environment, disagreeing and challenging where they feel they need to, but all done in a manner that creates no offence, even if the opinions they share do. And that is what I admire. The sheer graciousness they have. I could name names, but I won't. They have a finesse of touch that I am not at all sure I am able to copy or replicate. They have a wonderful capacity of being able to continue a controversial discussion with others simply because their manner is inoffensive, and as long as the discussion continues, the possibility of securing a conversion and of winning an unbeliever for Christ is prolonged.

I have also noticed that the converse is true. It is very possible to be entirely right in one's argument but to thoroughly alienate people unnecessarily through the rigorous manner with which one speaks and debates.

There is, of course, a time for gentleness and a time for sharpness. There are times when we have to speak robustly, and even to break off from debate. Paul knew how to discern which approach to take, and how to recognise the moment, and his manner in Jerusalem at the start of Acts 22 has much from which I think we can all learn.

"It's just about making sure that the love we are meant to have for our neighbours is communicated in our speech ....."

Speaking to a Jewish audience that did not agree with him concerning the identity of the Messiah, he calls them 'Brethren and Fathers.' I can't help being struck by the deeply respectful tone with which he begins to seek to persuade them about the truth of the Christian Way that he once persecuted to the death, and the self-control that was called for in order to do that. They may want to see him dead, but that doesn't prevent him from taking a gracious tone and speaking in a respectful manner that was intended to keep the door of dialogue open for as long as possible.

When great issues are being discussed, great emotions are aroused. Strong words are used when the stakes seem high. And when we have felt hurt, the inclination is to be less than careful when we respond.

I did watch as other evangelicals engaged [on a denominational blog] with liberal thinkers and with confused thinkers there, and they did it with great grace and patience. It was apparent to me that those whom they were trying to correct there did not, very often, mind their efforts, because their manner and tone was right. A discussion about eternal things could take place because people were being treated with kindness and respect, even though they might very well be wrong about many things.

As I notice Paul call his audience 'Brethren and Fathers,' and as I see him speak in the language and terminology so readily understood by them, and when I see that he acknowledges his hearers have a zeal for God - albeit misplaced - I think I hear the Spirit telling me to be more careful about the mood with which I speak and write and preach.

If I do that, and pay attention to getting that right, perhaps others might be more ready to give me a hearing. It's not about compromise, or about that form of dialogue that says you are right and I am right, so let's find the points of overlap and be happy ever after. Not any of that at all.

It's just about making sure that the love we are meant to have for our neighbours is communicated in our speech, as well as in every other way.

Ed footnote: The above is an edited extract from a 'Coffee with Louis' blog published by Rev. Louis Kinsey a Church of Scotland minister serving in a parish church in Aberdeen. The occasion being the decision by the Church of Scotland meeting in General Assembly in May 2013 to allow congregations to call actively-homosexual ministers.

Louis Kinsey, 25/08/2013

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