Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Rom 8:35, ESV)
So far I’ve looked at three of the four fears I think are common to evangelicals as they begin to consider evolutionary creation: the fear of losing biblical authority, the fear of losing our Savior—the place of Jesus in salvation history—and the fear of losing face and admitting that we might not have all the answers. Today I finish up this series by looking at the last fear—one that touches especially on our lives together as the body of Christ: the fear of losing peace.
Eight times in 21 years, my work has required that I pull up stakes and move. And with every new work-related move has come the loss of a loving church family and the dreaded journey of finding a new church home. For someone like me, that’s not an easy task. Though I’ve been asked on a number of occasions why I don’t seek out a church that agrees with what I believe theologically in regard to creation and evolution, the fact is that conservative, evangelical churches are a “known quantity” in each location in which we’ve lived—dependable places to find Christian community, and ones with which I’ve never desired to part. Also, if I took only and all of my theology into account, I’d end up worshiping in a church comprised of just me: a cult of one! But worshiping the Trinitarian God is to be done in community, and theology is something to be lived out in that community—not simply studied. Thus, my family and I have chosen not to isolate ourselves with others who agree with us on every point of Christian culture; we go where the Holy Spirit leads, and it appears that God’s found fit to put us right in the middle of congregations that are solidly young-earth creationist—right in the middle of all sorts of potential anxiety.
Depending on your particular situation, loss of peace can come in a variety of forms. It can be well-intentioned but overbearing counseling from concerned pastors and elders who fear the entrance of heresy into the church. It can be shunning by other families in your homeschooling circle. It can be the internal heartache caused by shocked family members and the resultant emotional discord that follows when your theological views no longer align with those of your spouse. It can be the threat of joblessness if your employer finds out that its premiere Old Testament scholar has shifted his views away from the institution’s Doctrinal Statement of Faith. It can be the threat of losing your entire apologetics ministry because a vast majority of your supporters will no longer support you if you revealed your paradigm shift. It can be the potential financial loss resulting from a repudiation of your previous scholarly work. One does not easily step out of the comfort zone of seemingly-settled doctrine into a world in which one’s beliefs, if made public, can cause all sorts of worry or anger from family members, pastors, friends, co-workers, and supporters.
As I mentioned in this series’ introduction, church members, pastors, elders, and deacons have blessed me by not causing me to endure any significant persecution. So what’s the secret? I’m not entirely sure. While I’m careful not to reveal my entire hand at the first available opportunity, I’ve never hidden or denied my views, either. In fact, when my wife and I last attempted to pursue official church membership, the board of elders denied our membership request as a result of my evolutionary creationist views. Nonetheless, we were warmly welcomed into the life of the congregation: My wife was given a children’s Sunday school teaching position, and I joined the worship team as a vocalist. More amazing to me was that I was explicitly instructed not to refrain from discussing my views if the occasion should arise—even within the context of adult Bible studies. Was the invitation to continued fellowship (if not membership) in our church the fruit of candidly confessing my views before the church’s elder board? Was it because I had exemplified my devotion to Jesus Christ in the months previous? Or was it demonstrating a thorough knowledge of Scripture that invited a congenial spirit from those whom I believed would firmly oppose me? Perhaps it was a combination of all of the above. This same approach of demonstrating respect and love before, during, and after engaging in risky dialogue has also proved successful with interactions in our current congregation, and we find ourselves once again fully involved in various church activities and ministries despite not being voting members of the church body. In every case, my agenda is nothing more than to be a productive member of the Body of Christ.
Although my “layman’s advice” doesn’t necessarily translate to a sure-fire method of maintaining a teaching position at a Christian academic institution, keeping an apologetics-based ministry afloat, or maintaining your book sales, I do know that attitudes and actions that reflect a devotion to Jesus win over hearts (if not minds), and are vastly superior to argumentative behavior and being a constant source of dissension. Granted, not all churches will be as accommodating as mine, but I offer my anecdotes as a small measure of hope for those readers who have encountered or will likely encounter persecution from family, friends, and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Whatever your situation is, treat those who persecute you with love, patience, and understanding, and reassure them of your steadfast devotion to Jesus Christ. If your Christ-like love isn’t returned after a concerted effort on your part to forestall a spiritually bloody confrontation, shake the dust off your feet and move on to a congregation that will accept you (cf. Matt 10:14). You owe it to yourself and those who rely upon you for spiritual leadership and protection.
Finally, I would also counsel those who stop pursuing the truth for fear of losing peace in their lives to not succumb to that fear. Rest on Jesus’ promise that the truth will set you free (John 8:32). Seek the help of the Lord (Heb 13:6) and seek the help of those who are on or have successfully made the same journey. We are out there, we love you, and we will help you (Gal 6:2).
Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Pet 3:14b-16, ESV)