Melbourne, Australia

Recent years have seen a lot of division among Christians. It’s especially sad as Jesus specifically prayed that we would be one (John 17:20-21).

We probably shouldn’t be that surprised at such division. Whenever and wherever people gather, there is going to be disagreement. And that, on its own, is not unhealthy. After all, Jesus gathered the most motley bunch of characters you could imagine and gave them the not insignificant task of working together to help bring the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven.  

John 146

PICTURE: Tim Wildsmith/Unsplash

 

"According to John’s Gospel, Truth is a Person. Truth has personality, empathy, love, grace, and, yes, standing up for what is right in a society that has largely lost its moral compass."

Just think for a moment how different Jesus’ disciples were to each other. You had Simon, from the Zealots, a group who hated the occupying Romans so much that they were convinced they had to be overthrown, most likely with violence. Then you had Matthew, one of the tax collectors, people who were hated intensely due to their compliance with the Romans in ripping off the common people and getting rich in the process. Jesus deliberately brought people as different as this into the same group and expected them to be one. It was like having a Christian anti-vaxxer working hand-in-hand with someone imploring people to get vaccinated. You couldn’t get more extreme opposite ends of the spectrum.

It’s a lot like this in the church today. While Christian anti-vaxxers are in the minority, there is much division between them and Christians who are convinced that it is an act of loving our neighbour for us all to be vaccinated. From my interactions with people on both sides of the debate, there is generally much sincerity. Both sides want to stand up for truth.

There's a lot of talk amongst Christians about truth at the moment. It isn’t just to do with the vaccine question. Groups like the Australian Christian Lobby talk about standing up for truth when they discuss moral issues like abortion and the level of religious freedoms that we are apparently having gradually removed from us.

While a lot of this talk is well-intentioned, I am convinced that a lot of it is also misguided. Invariably, when I read articles and other information about the need for Christians to stand up for truth in our society, I don't see a lot of the love of Jesus in what is being said.

So, what is truth? Such was the question that Pilate asked Jesus, and it is a question that Christians today need to ask, particularly Christians of the evangelical persuasion. 

John's Gospel says Jesus came in grace and truth. It is always both. What we need to understand is that truth is not a concept as we tend to see it in our Western way of thinking. According to John’s Gospel, Truth is a Person. Truth has personality, empathy, love, grace, and, yes, standing up for what is right in a society that has largely lost its moral compass.

When Christians talk about standing up for truth, they generally mean standing up for a concept of morality. We talk about the idea that there must be absolute truth, an absolute standard of morality to test our behaviour by. That is largely a Western construct coming out of Enlightenment thinking where rational thought became the order of the day. What if we thought through the lens of Jesus, though?

How did Jesus relate to His society? Whenever He spoke about truth, He was referring to Himself. He said He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). He also said that the truth will set us free in the sense that when we come to Him as the Son, we will be free indeed from our unChristlike ways (John 8:36). 

When Christians of any persuasion want to stand up for truth, it is admirable. Our society today needs truth more than ever. What I find, though, when Christians today are strong on standing up for truth is that it comes across as judgmental and ‘holier than thou’. It is more Pharisaical than Jesus-like. The Pharisees were condemned by Jesus for sticking to the letter of the law as they saw it in the Torah (the first five books of our Old Testament) at the expense of the spirit of the law, which is love. So, they reacted vehemently when Jesus would rather show love to someone on the Sabbath than strictly keep the Sabbath law.



And so we have the same today. There are Christians, for example, who will refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 because the vaccine was partially developed using the foetal cells of aborted children. Where I differ with such Christians is that the vaccine was developed from trials that took place on some aborted foetal cells in the 1970s. According to ethicist Denise Cooper-Clarke, the COVID-19 vaccine did not require the use of any new foetal cells. The use of foetal cell lines does not require any new abortions to take place. Denise Cooper-Clarke also points out that there are no foetal cells in the vaccine. That means that, by refusing to be vaccinated, no unborn babies are being saved. Yet, the lives of many people are being put at risk by people who refuse to be vaccinated. 

Abortion is a tragedy. In this case however, the fact that the initial trials of a vaccine developed so long ago from aborted foetal cells have resulted in a vaccine that has saved millions of lives from COVID-19 is a story of redemption and one to be celebrated. As Denise Cooper-Clarke again points out, as Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis 45, what was originally meant for evil, God meant for good in order to save many lives. I see this as standing for truth as it is an expression of loving our neighbour and therefore being like Jesus, who is the Truth.

Whether it is disagreements over the vaccine, or abortion or anything else, standing up for truth must never condemn other people. Jesus never condemned ordinary people who were just going about living their lives. He rarely spoke ill of society at large. His harshest words were for the people of God who stuck to the literal letter of the law rather than being loving.

Standing up for truth is always walking in the way of Jesus. That means it is always walking in the way of love of neighbour. When Jesus spoke of and to ordinary people, He had compassion on them. He was for them and never condemned them. For Jesus, life is about denying ourselves and living a life of sacrificial love. This is what it means to stand up for truth as a Christian.