Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Are you Christian "Nice"?

I was in a strange situation the other day. I ran into a couple who had been part of a difficult situation in my past. For the wife’s part, she had been actively involved in slandering me.

So how would you respond? I am originally from Minnesota, and we have something called Minnesota Nice. Wikipedia hits the nail on the head. “Minnesota nice is the stereotypical behavior of long-time Minnesota residents, to be courteous, reserved, and mild mannered. According to Annette Atkins, the cultural characteristics of Minnesota nice include a polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and self-deprecation.”

Sounds like a lot of churches to me. Aren’t we “Church Nice”? Isn’t our tendency to smile and pretend that all is okay, at least until the person is out of earshot, and then we say what we really think. We call it being “gracious.” Hmmm. I wonder.

Isn’t it interesting how explicit Scripture is? If you have something against someone, it is your responsibility to go to them (Matt 18:15). If you know your brother or sister has something against you, it is your responsibility to go to them (Matt 5:23-24). It is always your responsibility. Yes, you can pursue peace only as far as it depends on you (Rom 12:18); some relationships will never be mended. But if you are offering your sacrifice — I have thought this included communion as a sacrifice of praise — you must leave it and be reconciled.

Maybe this is why Paul includes the sins that he does in 1 Cor 6:9-10. “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers (λοιδοροι) nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (NIV).

λοιδορος refers to a person who is a “reviler, [an] abusive person” (BDAG). The cognate λοιδορια refers to speech that is highly insulting, abuse, reproach, reviling.” This person, Paul says, will never go to heaven. Many of us have reflected on these lists of sins, wondering how Paul could put sins like sexual immorality alongside people who say things that are hurtful, cruel, and damaging. And yet he does. I am convinced that the church needs to rethink its understanding of what it is to be a Christian, a rethinking that takes into account both the gate and the path, since true life lies not beyond the gate but beyond the path (Matt 7:14).

Until then, I suspect we will continue to treat people in the church who behave (at least) like they are going to hell (according to Paul) with a Church Nice that refuses to acknowledge that they have hurt us, and the wounding is so great that without repentance there can be no relationship.

How would you respond?