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‘Truth in Love’

by Pastor David McGettigan, (WordAlone board member, Atlantic City, N. J.)

June 12, 2009

The small reform group to which I belong in New Jersey took the name Truth in Love Lutherans long before my coming. I never questioned the name choice, always assuming it followed upon the Scriptural call to seek and proclaim the true Gospel and always with love in both intention and words. I expected we would inevitably meet opposition and even hostility from purveyors of other gospels.

Recent discussions at both a recent WordAlone board meeting and the WordAlone Convention around the strong, direct – some might say – confrontational language in two documents recommended to and adopted by the WA membership, “Usurped Authority” and “The Necessity of Resistance,” got me to thinking – actually examining – conflict, language, and charity.

Where do you start in the Holy Word? It has such a wealth of direction for proclaiming the truth, admonishing in the community, controlling the dangerous tongue and speaking charitably. Well, just a couple of thoughts from Paul and life experience.

Indeed, I am grateful for those brothers and sisters who raised the questions about language and tenor in our public statements, for always – particularly in hot and emotionally charged disagreement over foundational issues – we are in danger of what one brother called “just poking a stick in my opponent’s eye” with language. Such a lack of charity of speech or language would never fully serve the truth.

But sometimes “poking the stick” is in the eye of the beholder and not in the intention or words of the speaker.

In addressing the serious issue of a false gospel being perpetrated on the Galatian community, Paul clearly feels the chill of being offensive to those whom he is addressing: “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (4:16). Not to carry the “poking stick” image too far, Paul in the prior verse says that before he began to confront the community so directly and seemingly became “offensive,” their devotion to him was so great that “you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me” (4:15).

What changed? Paul writes to his beloved church at Galatia what to some of them is the “offensive” truth and he does it in clear, direct and not so happy words. Uncharitable? No!

Indeed, the word of God spoken in its truth is often – well – offensive to those who would rather live by another more self-centered and less demanding, even pagan, way. I remember as a boy, stung by a deserved admonition for misbehavior and complaining about the unfairness of my parent’s “accusation,” hearing my mom say, “Well, the truth often hurts.”

Mom was right the truth could easily offend me!

Many of us are familiar with the rise of the philosophy of “tough love” where frequently the exposure of the truth of misbehaviors and consequences is offensive to the perpetrator!

Uncharitable? No!

In fact, I would make the Gospel case that in response to untruth, the greatest lack of charity is confusing, softened, or somehow compromised words in a misguided effort just to be nice or get along.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His power. Put on the whole armor of God…. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6: 10-11a, 17)

With time on his hands when languishing in prison, Paul writes an exhortation to the Ephesian church encouraging them in their walk with the Lord amid many dangers, not the least of which is the lurking falsehood of pagan teaching and ways of life. He urges his fellow Christians to be “armored” with the fullness of God.

Perhaps observing the armored guards parading back and forth daily before his cell, Paul engages each element of contemporary warrior gear: the belt, the breastplate, the shoes, the shield, the helmet. Somewhere I read that each piece of the warrior gear that Paul enumerates is defensive, except for the sword, which is offensive, and it is that offensive weapon with which Paul images the Word of God.

When the authentic proclamation of the Word of God meets the proclamation of a false gospel, it is mostly received as “offensive” in many senses of the term.

As Mom said: “The truth often hurts.”

Never should this be an excuse for my failing to “keep a tight rein on my tongue.” (James 1:26) Nor for simply seeking to lash out rather than admonish in love those whose proclamation is weak or false. “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.” (1 Th 5:15)

During the discussion of “The Necessity of Resistance” by the assembled WordAlone community, Prof. Jim Nestingen gave sage counsel in warning us not to make this “personal” – about individuals or personalities on either side of the question.

We are about the purity of the proclamation of the Gospel from wherever or whomsoever that proclamation emanates. When “Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them,” (Acts 20:28-30) we must be direct and clear in our language. But always charitable – admonishing the weak and wayward not from motives of personal satisfaction or revenge, but love for them and, in the end, for the truth that saves us all.