We live in a pluralistic world where there is freedom of speech and religion. Tolerance is the highest virtue. “Anything Goes” is more than the title of a song by Cole Porter. Any attempt to assert an absolute truth is condemned unless that truth is that there is no such truth except respect for the opinion of others. We are told that we cannot say that one faith is wrong and the other is right. There is the story of the King of Benares who entertained himself and his court by putting an elephant in the midst of half-a-dozen blind men and asking them to tell him what it was. One got hold of the trunk and said it was a rope; one of the leg and said it was a tree; one of the ear and said that it was a winnowing fan – and so on. The point being made that dispute about religious truth is a dispute of blind men about an elephant. All religious views are seen as just groping after a reality which they cannot fully understand. The wise man will not take sides but will be tolerant of all. What is not noticed is that this tale implies either a stupendous claim on the part of the narrator or a confession of total agnosticism. Either it implies that the narrator is in the position of the king among the blind men: he knows the reality after which the religions of the world blindly grope. In that case we must ask him to share this knowledge with us, and allow us to test its claims. Or else it implies total agnosticism: the reality after which religions grope is unknowable. In that case we must observe his conduct and see whether it reveals commitments which he is not willing explicitly to acknowledge. (Lesslie Newbigin, The Finality of Christ, p.16f.)
Christianity is a missionary faith. Barnabas and Saul are called by the Holy Spirit and sent out by the church at Antioch to proclaim the Gospel (Acts 13:1-12). They began in Cyprus and are invited by the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paulus, to teach him about the Lord. His court wizard or wise man was Elymas the sorcerer who felt threatened by these Christian missionaries. He opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul against them and the faith they were proclaiming. What would you do in such circumstances? You would try to avoid getting defensive, not allowing this man to upset you. You would try to remain cool by listening and responding calmly. You would not get angry. You would be tempted to walk away and to avoid confrontation. You don’t want to make enemies or to provoke an unpleasant scene. Surely this is what we are counseled to do today! When threatened by an aggressor we retreat and take cover. We do not call a spade a spade and stand our ground. We don’t want trouble, so we avoid it.
But Saul is not threatened by this man. Remember that he had been on the other side of this debate. He had been the aggressor against the Christians. He had taken them prisoner and voted for their death sentence in court. He was a man of conviction and gave no ground to others. His life had been changed by his conversion to Christ, and the same energy that he gave to his persecution of Christians he now dedicated to his missionary work. He had been called by the Holy Spirit to this work and was not about to be stopped from fulfilling his calling by this false prophet. So when he was interrupted in instructing the Roman proconsul by Elymas he was filled by the Holy Spirit to confront him with some unwelcome truths. He looked straight at him and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.”
Now that is counter-cultural. Paul is identifying the source of Elymas’s opposition to the truth of Christ. He is not going to waste time trying to reason with this man, attempting dialogue or a conversation with him. There are some people, who are so filled with evil, who do the devil’s work, that you cannot trust. I have met some in my time and I have had to confront them. Sweetness and light will not change them. They set out to intimidate you by deceit and trickery. They are often wind-bags who have been bullies all their lives and gotten away with it. They need for you to hold your ground and witness to the truth of Christ. That is often called tough love.
Jesus used the same language when he was confronting the religious leaders of his day – the Pharisees. They were the highest and best theologians of their day, holy men, yet Jesus called them blind guides, snakes and brood of vipers (Matthew 18). Jesus said to them, “You belong to your father the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
When is it loving to confront evil? You would have no hesitation confronting a drug-dealer who was trying to sell to your child. You would not try to enter into a discussion with him on the merits or demerits of drug use, or politely request him to peddle his product elsewhere. You would take urgent and decisive action. If you see poisoned candy being distributed you would not calmly confiscate it. You would do something about it. If you discover a fire in a hotel and the alarm has not be activated, and you know hundreds might be killed, you do not ignore it and walk away to safety on your own because you don’t want to disturb them. If we will take drastic action for these sort of problems, how about problems that have to do with the truth of Christ and eternal salvation? If you love people you will not calmly stand by and allow the lies of false teachers, who influence the culture and who want to gag Christian witness, to silence you by intimidation.
In our generation it has become increasingly difficult to disagree without being deemed disagreeable. Ben Domenech writes that “The base measure of dialogue in America today is to grant respect to the legitimacy of all positions at all times, no matter how absurd, amoral, or ill-informed, so long as they are popular and acceptable and favored by the majority of Tweeted responses….Today open-mindedness and impartiality are the highest calling for us all. Believing there is a Truth above all Truths – about who we are and who God is – is extremely inconsiderate, harsh, and divisive. Is there anything, after all, more divisive than insisting that there is but one, true God? But as G.K.Chesterton wrote: ‘Why should they be impartial, what is being impartial, when the whole world is at war about whether one thing is a devouring superstition or a divine hope?’” (www.thefederalist.com, September 24, 2015)
Jesus confronted evil. Jesus was a witness to the truth of God. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except by me” (John 14:6). Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). That is no relative truth. It is either true or not. If it is true then it is true for all people, everywhere, for all time.