I've been listening to Michael Horton lead a discussion about the emergent church movement on a recent podcast of The White Horse Inn. I admit that it is over my head. Essentially, it's a group of intellectually sharp men volleying pithy truisms back and forth for a half-hour. It isn't that they are former seminarians. (Frankly, I think seminary degrees are most commonly used for pastors to cover their eyes when they don't want to see the truth about themselves or their churches. ) I think it's that they do what so many of us in this post-modern world won't: They wrestle with difficult ideas until they can understand them. We're too lazy for that most of the time. That's why Starbucks is popular. We like to get our coffee in a paper cup and run back to the car. We don't like to take the time to drink from a proper cup and engage each other in the kind of dialogue coffee shops used to exist to facilitate. (But that's a post for another day.)
What captures me most about this discussion is the idea embraced by the emerging church that we can speak truth to one another freely all the while avoiding it's pesky tendency to offend people. This, my brothers and sisters, is a lie. (In fact, I think it warrants a moniker most commonly identified with bovine excrement and useful for decrying the most asinine kind of un-truth.) The gospel by it's very nature is offensive because it tells us what we innately believe yet don't want to voice. Namely, that we're rotten to the core and unable to save ourselves from these rancid bodies of sin. If we're among the fortunate who can accept that truth about ourselves, chances are, we have a difficult time embracing the rest of the story: that we're infinitely precious to a holy God and can be cleansed from any trace of unrighteousness and made thoroughly, and through no work of our own, worthy of God's favor. (I admit, that's something I have a very hard time coming to terms with myself. Trying to wrap my brain around both of those truths at the same time makes me feel a little nauseated.) When the church attempts to tame the gospel and make it palatable to the masses, it is inevitably watered-down to the point of being false and the church takes on the attributes of a fallen culture. The whole truth is true. A benign version of the same story is a lie.
I want the truth. I want the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth. I don't want spared feelings. I don't want gentle answers at the expense of pith. I want the truth. I recently had a conversation with my family pastor after which I left his office more sincerely repentant for my sin than I have been since my conversion. I came home and lay face down on the floor. The only prayer I could utter was "Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." And He did. I feel it. I feel wrapped in mercy from my head to my feet. I can't escape this ecstasy of God's mercy. I can't untangle myself from the bliss of forgiveness. I can't stop feeling repentant, but the more I repent, the more I am forgiven. The rapture of a soul forgiven is not matched by any of earth's paltry pleasures.
I have to stop and ask myself what would have happened if he had laughed, said something comforting and sent me on my way. He could have been some kind of Holy Santa Claus offering me spiritual ice cream when I was dehydrated to the point of collapse. But he didn't. And I think it might have been one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.
The lesson: speak the truth. Don't hedge. Don't waver. Don't be cowardly. We must speak the truth in love even when the love has to come second. In fact, that's an interesting point. We weren't, after all, commanded to speak the Love in Truth.