I used to really enjoy the AMC original series, Mad Men, but, after a few seasons, I lost interest. I am not sure if the writer’s depiction of the 1960s is perfectly accurate, but one scene resonated with my own imagination of what that era might have been like, and how it differs from our world today.
I do not remember the season, episode, or even the context of the scene, but I do remember thinking how strange it seemed to me in my own context. In short, two men in their office building, during work hours mind you, break out into a pretty serious fistfight. After the scuffle goes on for a while, making a lot of disruptive noise, the boss breaks into the main office room where these two were fighting, and, upon his arrival, they stop.
In our own day, both of these men would be fired on the spot. The company would go into preservation mode as news spread through the community. It would be called an “isolated incident” that does not reflect the nature of the company. One or both of the men that fought might be arrested, and one or both might try to sue the other. It more than certainly would be made into a bigger deal than it started as.
This is not what happens in the show. Instead, the boss asks whether or not they resolved their differences, and everyone gets back to work, the two men shaking hands and going on about their day like nothing happened. This scene reflected something of the truth of modernism and its juxtaposition with postmodernity. We are certainly not who we were in yesteryear.
Evangelism in this day and time was very much like the scene in Mad Men. In that day, people would see evangelical admonition from a yelling preacher as the lesson they had coming to them, just as they saw a fistfight as a way to work out differences. Sure, there are still persons that respond well to a little scuffle and there are persons that respond well to a bit of disciplinary preaching, but overall, it’s just not as effective as it used to be.
Now, I would not jump out of one ditch just to fall headlong into the other, with messages like we get from persons like Joel Osteen. However, as I argued in my last post, we need to be able to prove our side, not through tough love, but through humility and understanding. Meek love is not tough love, but it is strong love. It takes courage to be who you are called to be without being insulted when others aren’t living as they are called. And we not only need to live this example in our private lives. Our nation is having a conversation, and the church has something to say.
We must be submissive vessels of grace before we can be effective vessels for change or correction. In the public sphere, we often see Christians arguing for what they believe to be right. In the political arena, many Christians call for legislation that would either keep the status quo—hindering others from some transgression, real or perceived, that they are wanting to be free to engage in—or would engineer outward social righteousness—which would, in many cases, produce nothing more than white washed tombs.
The debates rise in temperature quickly, and anger ensues rapidly when each side does not get its respective way. Like many objects exposed to extreme heat, those not insulated by grace harden, and rigidity sets in. Their causes becomes cold causes, causes fought out of spite and not love. At all cost, these people will have their way, or they will burn out trying. In this, many have lost all effectiveness.
Have we forgotten that without grace, no change is possible? This is not simply to suggest that we remain humble, forever recognizing that God is sovereign and in control of the situation, but it is also a call to action, a call for us to remember that we have a duty to show grace as our Lord has shown us grace. We are in some sense and by some degree His means of grace in the world. We are His salt and light in a dark, tasteless, and decaying word.
If we want others to be transformed, not simply because we want to control the world and have an engineered, pseudo-peace, but because we actually care for the lost ones, then we will first need to demonstrate grace before we act to see change happen. Grace always goes before. If it does not, any change will not be lasting.
Moreover, this does not simply happen in public, but also happens in the heart first and foremost. Check your heart the next time you see the representative “opponents” of whatever issue or issues it is you are concerned about. Take stock of your feelings as you hear these “others” lobbying for their side on the news channel or social media. What feelings fill your heart? What words come to mind? What is it that you wish for them? Are you filled with compassion or malice? Do you say of them that they are precious souls in need of help, or do you call them fools, or worse? Do you want them to know peace or would you rather see some sort of vendetta visited upon them?
If your heart overflows with negativity, perhaps it is you whom you need to work on. If it is love that you feel, remember how to love them. We, the representatives of Christ in the midst of this present evil age, influence, not by power struggles, but by service. When was the last time you served those who you wish to see transformed?