Jimmy Buehler: Hi, this is Jimmy. You’re probably intrigued by the title of our podcast today, You’re a Bad Christian If. Today, we discuss a lot of different things that are floating around in the Twittersphere and our culture today. So many things are being said about COVID-19, racism, and the current cultural moment that we are looking at, and it can feel like if we don’t adhere to somebody’s certain viewpoint that we are bad Christians. That’s what we discuss in the main portion of our podcast. We even dig back a couple years ago into the cultural moment of the Me Too Movement in our members podcast. This was a pretty lively conversation that the three of us had. We hope that it will be beneficial to you. We know that it’s going to stir up some conversations so please tune in.
Jon Moffitt: The title of the podcast today is You’re a Bad Christian If. There is a movement, and it’s not new, because of particular issues that are going on today – but they are heightened. There is a concentration of traps that Christians can step in. It seems like I have stepped in every single one of them and I am a bad Christian today because I have stepped in all of these traps that are set by the culture for me.
What’s really going on here is comparative righteousness. “I believe this is how something should be done and you’re a bad Christian if you don’t hold this perspective that I have.” Not only am I going to tell you that you’re a bad Christian if you don’t hold my perspective, but there’s also a works of righteousness that you must perform in order to make yourself acceptable or dig yourself out of the hole that you find yourself in. If I have to live up to the standard that’s being presented to me in the news and by other Christians, that I will never be considered a good or right Christian and that I will be a bad Christian, because I can never live up to everyone’s expectation. It’s on both sides.
Here is what’s sad is that we can’t seem to agree on what is the right answer. This is not one particular topic in our culture. When it comes to COVID-19, abortion, political parties, racism, every single time I turn around I’m failing somebody to live up to whatever standard I need to live up to. If you don’t have the foundation of the gospel propping you up, you can live in massive depression thinking you’re such a horrible Christian because you cannot live up to these standards. That’s what we’re going to talk about today. You’re a Bad Christian If as it relates to the current cultural wars that we’re dealing with today.
Jimmy Buehler: I’ve worked in various churches, went to a Christian college, and attended a large Calvingelical church in college. One of the things that I’ve noticed is that there is a consistent theme within Christianity in that very few times do we actually argue about the substance of the gospel – what it is and what it is not. More so what we seem to spend so much time focusing on is the implications of the gospel.
In fact, the implications of the gospel then in turn become the gospel itself. Here’s an example of that: in light of where we’ve been the past few months, the way that your church or your pastor handles the COVID-19 pandemic sheds light on what they think about the gospel. If they do or don’t require their churches to wear masks, if they do or don’t serve communion digitally – it’s all of these if-then statements that we set the standards. If we believe this about Christ, then we will necessarily behave this way. We give so much attention to them: then we will do this, we will act like this, we will say this, we will think like this, we will read these books, we’ll listen to these podcasts, we’ll watch these documentaries. The applications of the gospel become the massive standard-setter of the faithfulness of the Christian.
Jon Moffitt: You’re basically talking about a new Law.
Justin Perdue: It’s absolutely a new Law. We say it all the time, but it bears repeating that the implications of the gospel are never the gospel. Your observations are entirely right, Jimmy, that we’re not debating one another with respect to the nature of the gospel itself, we’re dividing over and we’re debating one another with respect to our stances on wisdom issues. We’re even debating one another and casting shade on one another based upon how vocal we are or are not, and how active we are in the public sphere and all these various areas: abortion, racism, political parties, COVID-19, and all of these things. What we want to do is stand on the clear truth of Scripture.
We said in a podcast recently that racism is from hell and it’s wicked and its sin. Abortion and murder are sins; the Bible is very clear about these things. But when it comes to our role in the public square, when it comes to even public policy and things like that, well-meaning Christians who confess the same gospel can disagree on some of those things and could make different judgments when it comes to what’s wise and what’s prudent.
A distinction that’s really important for us to remember when it comes to not only life in the public square, but when it comes to various things like wisdom calls and how vocal should we be, and what should we be doing as believers, church members and especially individual Christians can and should be active in all kinds of things in the world; whether that’s the political processes, whether that is being active in causes to end injustice, individual Christians can be involved in all of those things with people of good will. But then the church as an institution is a very different conversation when it comes to the broad mission of the church. We need to be careful in terms of how we define it.
I’ll go ahead and do this; I’m willing to take darts if people were to throw them in my direction: the mission of the church biblically defined is the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments for the salvation of God’s elect. That’s what we concern ourselves with doing as pastors, as the church, and as an institution. So, yes, encourage your people to be involved in anything that they see fit. If someone is passionate about something, great – go for it. We’ll fan that flame. But you’re doing that as a citizen and as a member of the society. That’s a good thing for you to do but the church as an institution is a different thing.
Jon Moffitt: If I were to rephrase our title, you’re a Bad Christian If to what Justin is saying, it is this if God accepts me, and then you fill in the blank.
Jimmy, I want you to answer this correctly: why does God accept you? If what?
Jimmy Buehler: Only because of Jesus Christ.
Jon Moffitt: That’s right. There’s only one answer. Always one answer to that. But what we’re being told today is God accepts me if I hold this perspective and I promote this view of abortion, God accepts me; if I hold this perspective of racism, if I hold this perspective of COVID-19, if I’m democratic or libertarian or whatever. Really what we’re dealing with is assurance; your assurance before God is now tagged to a cultural issue that you must have on this position.
Paul is writing to the church in Colossae in Colossians 2. In the beginning of the chapter, he says to them that he wants to write to reach all the riches of the fullness of understanding of the knowledge and the mystery of Jesus Christ. Everything he is about to write following is so that their assurance would be full of the richest understanding of God’s knowledge.
The next thing that he says, verse eight, “See to it that no one takes you captive,” you can translate captive as being stolen away or having someone rob you, “no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human traditions, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” What should not be stealing you away is anything other than Christ.
I sent you guys a clip of a prominent Christian recently that says if we aren’t actively as a church going after abortion – and he says in the clip that doesn’t mean preaching the gospel, it means more than preaching the gospel. So according to him, the church is failing, you as a Christian are failing, if you aren’t actively involved in suppressing abortion. That is again a “God accepts me if…” statement other than “in Christ alone.”
Jimmy Buehler: I would in a nuanced way say that most guys or gals that are saying things like this wouldn’t use the word “except” but perhaps they would use the word “expect” – God expects this from you, God expects that you go after abortion in this way too. It’s easy for a preacher on a screen or a tweet to say God wants us to actively go after XYZ to then I just want to scream in the comments section, “How much? How do I know that I’ve reached the right amount? How do I know that I’ve gone after your issue enough? Do I need to go march and protest? Do I need to read a book? Do I need to listen to this podcast? Do I need to befriend this kind of person? Do I need to be active in my city council for closing down this clinic?”
What’s enough? How do I know that I’ve reached the enoughness of your issue? That’s when guys immediately begin to kind of walk back and say, “You have to be willing.” Or “You’ve got to have it in your heart.” Which is it? Do I have to be willing or do I actually have to do something? That’s the problem. Justin, I think you mentioned this word: neonomism: adding new laws to the Christian faith. These laws are never enough, or we can never define them succinctly enough.
Again, it’s the idea of making the implications of the gospel the gospel itself. Most of these guys that I know who are saying things like this never tie them to your justification. What often happens is we open the back door into justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Then we let in all sorts of nonsense, of these if-then conditional statements.
Jon Moffitt: To even narrow it down, we are dealing with the doctrine of sin here. Where do racism, abortion, and all the other issues come from? Is it a circumstantial issue where if we fix the circumstance, we fix the problem or is it a heart issue to where these come from the evilness of our heart? If we were to able to shut down every abortion clinic that was out there, and if we were to stop all cultural racism across the planet to a point where it doesn’t exist anymore, would we have really fixed the problem? Because the problem is not in the action. What does Christ say the problem is?
Justin Perdue: It’s from the hearts of men. From the heart come all those evil things.
Jon Moffitt: If you tell me that preaching the gospel isn’t the solution, you’re going to suppress one issue of the heart where another one will pop up. The heart is so desperately wicked and evil that if you assume that you can deal with the suppression of sin and that it will solve the problem of the world, but you do it separate from the gospel and the advancement of the gospel, then you actually are losing. You’re going to be fighting a losing battle.
Justin Perdue: To Jimmy’s observation a second ago, in spite of what everybody would say, if you really press people when they’re heaping all of these requirements on folks, they would be very clear. I’m not saying that that you need to be doing these things in order to be justified in the eyes of God. I think it’s right for us to press back and say that everything that they are saying, in their posture and tone, makes it very clear that all of this is a justification project. We are putting standards out there that that must be met, and if you don’t meet them, then there is penance required in order for us to be in right standing in the eyes of one another; by implication, for us to even be in good favor with the Lord. The heart of the problem here is that these standards are being heaped upon people. As is always the case, when we heap standards upon people that the Scripture doesn’t, nobody can ever define it and answer you how much is enough.
Jimmy, you articulated that really well. Then we have to backpedal and say maybe it’s just a heart posture where you’re willing to be active or vocal in this way. It is a self-justification project in an attempt to be enough in the eyes of one another and we think even before God.
What’s sad is that what this ends up producing in the church is this kind of hierarchical structure where there are some of us who are better than other people. To your point, Jon, the answer and the remedy to all of this is just to continue to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified for wretched sinners such as us. We all need to be reminded that basically we were all far worse off than we could ever imagine. It matters not what your stance is on a particular issue or how vocal or active you are in ending something; we are all in desperate need of a righteousness that we don’t have, we are all in desperate need of atonement that we can never accomplish. What a wonderful message it is in the current cultural moment to look at people based upon the revelation of God and say absolution, forgiveness, and righteousness are yours by faith in Christ Jesus, apart from anything that you could ever do. In our culture right now, atonement is being demanded everywhere over every issue, but forgiveness and absolution are nowhere to be found. What we do every single Sunday is we get up there and offer all of those freely in Christ Jesus, at least us three pastors sitting around these microphones. I’m convinced that my people need to hear that on Sunday when they show up. They’ve been bombarded enough all week long with how they’re failing everywhere and they’re not doing enough. They need Christ on the Lord’s Day.
Jon Moffitt: That’s a big statement and I want to make sure people didn’t miss what you said there, Justin. When you’re saying the culture is requiring atonement for everything, what do you mean by that? Give me an example of what you’re talking about.
Justin Perdue: There are all kinds of things that the culture is telling us that we need to repent of because we’re wrong and we’re guilty and we need to make atonement – meaning we need to make it right; we need to make reparations for things and we need to undo wrongs committed.
The message is if you do enough, if you make enough atonement, if you do enough penance, then you will find forgiveness and you will find absolution; you’ll be absolved of your guilt. But then you do what you think you’re supposed to do, or you say what you think you’re supposed to say, and the goalpost keeps moving. You can’t ever do enough so that there is no real forgiveness or absolution or righteousness to be found.
I think that is just a great illustration of our human predicament and hence the gospel: you can’t ever do it. Therefore you need righteousness and forgiveness and absolution that are provided for you by another.
Jon Moffitt: We even do this in our marriages. You did this to me and I’m going to hold this against you until you can fix it.
Jimmy Buehler: I teach World Religions at the school where I work. At the very first day of class, what I tell them is everybody is extremely religious. Everybody. This is Romans 1-3 and Acts 17, that everybody becomes a law to themselves. What you’re saying, Justin, about the goalposts continuing to move that what we do is we demand people’s blood.
When we were at the 1517 Conference, David Zahl had a wonderful quote in his talk where he basically said that the world is obsessed with religion – just not the confession, forgiveness, and absolution kind. That is where we are. Even in light of the pandemic and racism, and now we have the Supreme Court issuing different decrees about abortion and things like that. We are taking this posture of “if we don’t do this, then we must not believe”. We are just heaping Law on people. We are heaping these conditional statements on people so much so that it’s like American Christianity is hell bent on destroying people’s assurance in Christ.
Jon Moffitt: Let me ask you guys this question, and this is the dangerous question, but which one will damn you more: the sin of self-righteousness or the sin of racism?
It is just as wrong to be self-righteous in the eyes of God as it is to be racist. If you are a Christian, if you believe in Jesus Christ and you trust in him alone as your righteousness, you are a bad Christian. There are no such things as good Christians.
In Hebrews 11:2, God commends the Old Testament saints at the end of their life. He commends them not for their faithfulness but for their faith – and that list of Old Testament was a debaucherous lot. The point of it is that when we start comparing what we love, we as believers do two things: one is we love to compare our sin. We love making sure that my pile isn’t as bad as your pile. We love to compare our righteousness, making sure that my righteousness is more than your righteousness. That’s all horizontal.
What the gospel demands of you and forces you to do is to look vertical because the Law points you to Christ. As you look at that, you should be crushed. You should consider yourself always to be a bad Christian because what it will do is it will never allow you the justification of comparing yourself and being critical of another Christian; it won’t allow you to do it.
That doesn’t mean we don’t judge each other because obviously we have to for the sake of love and concern. There’s church discipline. I’m not up here saying, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” That’s not what I’m saying. When it comes down to comparative righteousness or what I’m going to project you must do and say in order to be accepted by God, if it is not in Scripture, and as Paul says, if they’re pointing you to the traditions or philosophy of men, you are not to allow that to captivate you.
Jimmy Buehler: It’s interesting to note as of late where we stand in 2020. Because of social media and the ways that we are all interconnected, there can’t be an article released without everybody having their own say and thoughts about it. We are just slaves to the urgent and most recent trend and fad.
If your church, preaching, and Christianity are constantly tied to the most recent headline, you are going to be exhausted by the end of the week. There is always going to be something else. There is always going to be the next thing that we should collectively hate and collectively fight against. Eventually, the list is so long that we frustrate people out of the church. We exhaust them out of the church because they’re never doing enough.
Now people are going to hear me, and all sorts of alarm bells are going to go off in their brain. They’re going to ask, “Jimmy does that mean that we never talk about issues?” That’s not at all what it means. But we have to keep the primacy of the gospel, the primacy of what Justin talked about, which is the mission of the church, that we are here on Sunday mornings, on the Lord’s Day, and we are gathered to herald Christ to weary sinners and sufferers. Also, to take the long view of the Christian life that as different things come about in our culture, we do so in a tone of gentleness and quietness that we focus on our people. We focus on the things that are happening in our context, in our church, that we don’t always have to have a say into what’s happening in the broader culture. We focus on the different sins, struggles, and idols that are occurring in our church that we need to address, rather than becoming a place where we teach Christian faithfulness rests upon acting a certain way. There has to be a place where we are a forgiveness outpost. That is our job as a church.
When people come here, what do I want them to walk away with? I want them to walk away with the truth that they’re forgiven in Christ’s name. That’s what I want them to have.
Justin Perdue: I don’t want to be misunderstood either in the way that I define the mission of the church. We do talk about how we are to live and how we’re to interact and how we’re to even live broadly in society. We talk about that underneath the banner of loving our neighbor.
We come, we gather, we behold Jesus Christ, we receive him in the Word, we receive him in the table, we sing and of him and we pray to the Father in his name, and we have our faith confirmed and sustained.
Then we scatter to love one another because Christ gave himself up for us, and we scattered to love our neighbor as ourselves. So we absolutely are concerned with the good of our fellow man. Don’t hear us say that we’re not concerned for that stuff.
Jimmy, you touched on the tendency in evangelicalism for there to always be the next big thing that we needed to do concerning ourselves. There is this hyperfocus on the interior of my life: how I need to be performing and that stuff I need to be doing. We talk about that at an individual level a lot.
I think that there is this corporate reality of a pietistic culture where there’s always more to be done. There’s always the next big thing that we need to be focusing on. It’s that proverbial hamster wheel that the church broadly is always on. The church broadly is always chasing after not just relevancy, but it’s chasing after it kind of its own self-justification and righteousness project to demonstrate that we’re right, we get it, we’re doing enough, and we’re active enough in transforming the culture.
An important thing for us to say in this regular portion of the podcast is as Reformed guys, we hold what’s historically been called a two-kingdom view of the world and the universe. There is the redemptive kingdom: our citizenship is in heaven. This redemptive kingdom that God is building through Christ. Then there is the common kingdom in which every human being lives and dwells and we’re active and we do all kinds of things within it. It’s great for us as citizens and members of the common kingdom to work for the good of our neighbor here. At the same time, we understand that the work of redemption and the work of, dare I say it, transformation is not ours to do. We are not, as David VanDrunen says in his wonderful book, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, it is not as though we are all little Adams running around, transforming the world and transforming the creation, returning it to its Edenic state – that is not what we are called to do, and we’re not capable of doing it. There is great liberation in understanding that we are called to trust Christ and then love our neighbor as best as we are able by God’s grace. Then we will trust God with the work of redemption and the work of restoration and the work of transforming the culture and the world into what is coming: the new heaven and the new earth.
Jimmy Buehler: Everybody’s transformation project is good until sinners get involved.
Jon Moffitt: If you’ll notice in the New Testament, multiple writers call the Christian to live peaceably with those around them. You never hear there to be a call to transform government, transform culture, to abolish culture, to stamp out houses, alcohol, and all the things that we’ve tried to do in the past; it says to care for those within the church who are hurting. Then we are to demonstrate love to those who are around us.
Just to go back there, we always mention that the Christian life should be lived status forward. What’s happening in this particular circumstance is we are working for acceptance instead of working from acceptance – meaning that I am accepted by Christ through faith alone, therefore I work. What I’m being told is I must do this work so that I can be accepted. What happens is that the work is changing all of the time. It depends on who has the loudest voice at the moment.
I just want to read to you that the latter part of Colossians here because I think it summarizes what Justin and Jimmy were saying. It says here in verse 18, “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in details about visions, puffed up without reason about his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with the growth that is from God.”
He is saying what you’re holding on to, what has your attention is Christ. The head of the church is Christ. As you hold on to this, this is what causes the body to grow through the power of God. Paul is not saying all of these other issues in life aren’t of any value – or if they are, we shouldn’t be involved with them. This goes back to the two-kingdom view. But the primary purpose of the Christian life is to hold desperately on to Christ. The body of believers is to be pushing each other to do that. As we do that, we see our lives being transformed into the image of Christ. That is, when you go to church or the person who’s involved in church, or I would even say a Christian, their primary purpose in life is to hold fast onto Jesus Christ.
This is an illustration: when you show up to a grocery store and they have all these advertisements to sit and watch the game, get a massage, or shop for a new pair of shoes. What do you go to a grocery store for? It’s called a grocery store because it’s for groceries. Yet we have the church and it is supposed to be about Christ, yet you hear all of this advertisement coming to you saying that you need to be involved in everything else except for Christ, which is the opposite of Scripture.
Jimmy Buehler: When I prepare my sermons weekend and week out, one of the things at the forefront of my brain is that my people, for the past six days, Monday through Saturday, have spent six days having shackles put on their feet and wrists in terms of the Law and their sin weighing down on them. It is my job, in a primary fashion, when I open up the Scriptures and herald Christ to them, to remind them and point them to the grace and mercy that we see in the gospel of Jesus Christ. What God has demanded of us in his Law is that the standard of good is perfection – then we are toast. What God has demanded of us in his Law freely by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of Christ alone in the gospel.
A lot of people want to get in our face about that. “If you only preach the gospel, if you only preach Christ, your people are going to be lulled to sleep. They’re never going to understand the imperatives of the Christian life.” Absolutely not. That’s nonsense. That is complete and utter nonsense because as we marched through the Scriptures, do we preach those imperatives? Yes, but we do so under the cloud and the tent of God’s grace being magnified in the gospel. My job is to free people every week, because what do freed people do best? They love and they serve. Freed people love and serve. Bondaged people – what do they do best? They hide and they don’t love people because they’re concerned about their justification. They’re concerned about their sanctification. They’re always looking at their navel. They’re always wondering, “Am I good enough? Am I doing it well enough? Am I executing the Christian life right enough?” You’re not. That’s why on Sundays, we proclaim you’re forgiven on account of Christ. If I can free my people, they will serve in love. I know it. I trust it because it’s what God has promised.
Justin Perdue: People who are chasing after their justification, their status, all the time are almost always only concerned with themselves. “I am concerned with me. I’ve got to do enough. I’ve got to demonstrate that I’m doing enough.” Their gaze is firmly fixed upon themselves, not upon Christ and their neighbor. We are set free by Christ unto love and good works. That’s the message that we’re all heralding unless anybody ever gets confused.
One thing that works me up though is in all of the churches across our land, we’re in the United States of America, and I’ve seen stuff on social media in recent days, certainly in recent weeks, where these are clips of church services and gatherings of believers and all kinds of things are being talked about and celebrated and heralded, and you don’t need Jesus Christ for a single one of them.
How in the world have we gotten here where we’re gathering as saints on the Lord’s Day and we’re talking about things that we do not need Jesus for. I would much rather concern myself as a pastor and as a Christian with the saints that gathered at Covenant Baptist Church. Let’s concern ourselves with the things that uniquely we must have Christ for. This is his church that’s called by his name; let’s make this about him.
Then as you said, Jimmy, underneath the banner of Christ and the gospel, we talk a lot about loving neighbor and how we can be good for not just our brothers and sisters in the church, but just good for our fellow man in general. That’s the way that God works. People will often uphold examples of Christians who have done great things in the world and in society – and I want to applaud those and uphold those as well. We have members of our church who were involved in politics and the judicial system, in medicine, and all kinds of things; all of these are common grace, common kingdom pursuits that are worthwhile. Yet when we gather on the Lord’s Day, we gather for Christ because we’ve been bombarded by our sin and by the Law all week, and even by the fallenness of the world. We need a haven where we, along with all the other sin-sick wretches, can lay at the foot of the cross and confess our sin and repent and trust Christ anew.
Jon Moffitt: This comes back to a big word, your hamartiology, or your understanding of the doctrine of sin. If you understand that there is no fixing the human heart on this planet, what we’re being told is to put our hope in a utopia, if we can fix all of these issues – racism, COVID-19, abortion, political divides – then the world will be better, the pressure is on you to perform and fix this. How many thousands of years of history have we observed, and no one has got it right yet? You would assume some culture would have figured it out by now. We’re smart people. But the problem is that the problem is not in our actions – the problem lies within our heart.
What we are saying is that Christians offer something that is otherworldly, that is outside of the world and outside of their circumstances and outside of their capacities; their hope is in Christ.
This is going to lead us into our conversation in our members’ podcast. I’ve had so many conversations about race and so many conversations about COVID-19. We love to point out the problem: here’s the problem and it’s your fault. One question that I always ask is what is the solution? How do you fix it? We love pointing out the problems and the solutions vary, but I think there’s a clear solution – we’re going to dive into this a little bit more and be more pointed and open. I have felt you guys holding back a little bit.
Jimmy Buehler: Thank you for listening to this portion of the podcast. We’re so grateful for your love and support.
We are going to head over into our members’ podcast now. If you want more information about that, you can head to theocast.org. Becoming a member entitles you to all sorts of awesome things. You can get different resources, have access to past podcasts, and you get to hang out with us just a little bit more – trust me, that is fun.
We’re going to head over into our members’ podcast. Thank you for listening. We hope that this conversation was helpful and beneficial to you. We’ll see you guys next week.