Grace and Truth – The Church in Times of Social Change

| September 13, 2015

Businessman pulling rusty iron chains broken with dark concrete wallJune 26, 2015 was a landmark day of the social change in America, when the Supreme Court declared that a constitutional right exists for same sex marriage.  In the midst of celebration by some and condemnation by others, the decision raises an important question for Christians and Churches:  How do we respond to social change, and particularly change that we do not agree with?

We can begin to find an answer by remembering that Jesus of Nazareth also lived and taught in a fast changing world, where established social mores were being challenged.

Roman Judea and Galilee was one of the great crossroads of history.  Spreading through the world was the Greek, Hellenistic culture , with a worldview and lifestyle that were secular, worldly, and humanistic.  It rolled like an irresistible wave, carried by the armies of Alexander the Great and then institutionalized by Roman power.  And now in Judea and Galilee that irresistible wave of social change was crashing against the immovable rock of Jewish religion and law.

In that world of change and social conflict, Jesus Christ proclaimed a new way unto God of salvation by faith; and He taught a new way for we who follow Him to live – so that we are neither washed away in the waves of a changing world; nor are we marooned alone on the rock island of God’s Law.

We read of Jesus that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth….  And of His fullness we have all received … For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  (John 1: 14, 17)

The two words that John uses to describe the ministry, the message, and the glory of Jesus Christ are grace and truth; and that Jesus Himself was full of grace and truth.  He is not an amalgamation of grace and truth, or a compromise of grace and truth.  He is all grace and He is all truth.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not truth that makes allowances in grace; nor is it grace that accommodates truth.  It is all grace and all truth.

On issues of social change, there are many Christians, and many churches (all zealous for God and all wanting to do the right thing) who seem to see grace and truth as competing virtues.  They might not say it that way, but as you drill down, they see grace and truth like the opposite ends of a spectrum, or the two goal lines on a football field.

We all want to extend grace; but somewhere there is a line.  We will extend grace only so far, then truth takes over, and we have to stand for the truth.

Or, we are going to preach the truth, but at some point we are going make necessary allowances for grace.

I submit that there are many churches (zealous for God) who in matters of social change seek to emphasize grace.  They see the mission of the Gospel as a mission of grace: a mission of acceptance, social allowance, inclusion, enlightened progressive understanding.  They are right and so we should, because Jesus did.

Jesus said that you cannot put an old patch on a new garment, you cannot pour new wine into old wineskins.  Jesus extended His mercies and miracles to Gentiles with whom Jews would have no dealings.  He let prostitutes wash his feet; He ate with tax collectors and sinners.   So should we.

But some, in their emphasis on grace, are willing to, or they find it intellectually necessary to, rationalize away the truth of Scripture.  They don’t know what to do with those words on the pages of the Bible, or they would rather not listen to them, and so they push truth far down the field.

Other Christians and other churches (also zealous for God) really want to emphasize truth.  They understand that truth does not change, it was once for all was delivered to us in the Scriptures.  They are right, because Jesus saw it the same way.

Jesus said that not one jot or tittle of the Law would pass away; and He told Pilate that He had come into the world as a witness of the truth, and everyone who is of the truth hears His voice.

But some, in their emphasis on standing for the truth, can push grace into a corner.  Their message sounds like they are condemning the world, which Jesus expressly said He did not come to do.  They will condition grace on repentance or conformity; and react to social change by putting up barricades to protect the Gospel inside the church, rather than building roads to take it out.

Jesus Christ was (and is today) full of grace and He is full of truth.  There was no time and to no person where He preached the truth where He did not also extend grace; and there was no time or no person to whom He extended grace where He compromised the truth.

Strong, vibrant, and relevant churches, like we all desire to be and I trust to God that we are and will remain, must likewise be full of grace and truth.   Grace should not have any limits, it should cover the field and be extended to every person who God wants to save.  And truth should never be rationalized away; truth also should cover the field.  As John wrote: of His fullness we have all received.

There is neither contradiction nor competition between grace and truth.  The more we are honest about the truth, then the more we are aware of the grace we have received.

With all the emphasis on the decision of the Supreme Court, it can be easy to overlook another milestone in social change that happened in the past 90 days.

On July 10, 2015 Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina signed the bill passed by the South Carolina legislature removing the Confederate Battle Flag from the grounds of the State Capitol, which had been put up in 1961 in defiance of  the Civil Rights movement.

It had been said that the removal of the Confederate Battle flag was sparked by the terrible Charleston shooting in the Mother Emmanuel AME church on June 17,  that killed 9 people.  Governor Haley, who is a Christian and has been public about her faith in Jesus Christ and her conversion, did not see the change across South Carolina being the result of the murders, but as a result of the response of the families that suffered loss.

On July 10, when she signed the bill, she spoke about grace.  In her words:

Nine people took in someone that did not look like them or act like them, and with true love and true faith and true acceptance, they sat and prayed with him for an hour.

That love and faith was so strong that it brought grace to their families.  It showed them how to forgive.

So then we saw the action of forgiveness.  We saw the families show the world what true forgiveness and grace look like.

That forgiveness and grace set off another action – an action of compassion by people all across South Carolina and all across this country. … So you then take that compassion and that compassion motivated action … and that action is that the Confederate flag is coming off the grounds of the South Carolina State House.

Governor Haley then signed the bill using nine pens, which were given to the families of Emanuel Nine, whose Christian acts of grace and truth brought about an honorable and peaceful end to a deeply social divisive issue.

As Christians, we are the heirs of the greatest force for good that there has ever been in the world.  We are the caretakers of the greatest engine for positive social change in history.   We, each one of us who by faith know Jesus Christ, should be honored to have the Lord Himself include us in His words spoken so long ago:

You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5: 13 – 16).

Category: Faith

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Email | Website | Thomas Schetelich is a founding principal in the law firm of Ferguson, Schetelich & Ballew in Baltimore, Maryland, and a member of the United States Supreme Court Bar. He heads both the firm’s corporate/ business law practice and its personal legal services department. He is an AV rated attorney awarded for highest standards of professional skill and ethical practice. Mr. Schetelich devotes much of his practice to assisting charitable and religious organizations, and is the President of The Christian Professional Network. He is a frequent speaker on Biblical and legal matters throughout the United States.