Christians should be different. We should be distinctive. And one of the ways for us to be most distinctive is in the way we disagree with one another. But that’s hard in an age of outrage. We live in a world of SHOUTED text messages and media posts. In a world where might is right. Where the belittling withering put down is applauded and the deliverer of such lines admired. Where revenge is a dish best served cold but also as publicly as possible via ever medium and platform you can.
One of the great sadnesses for the over the last few years has been watching Christianity ape society in this area. Humility, gentleness, considerateness and self control all seem have been jettisoned as relics, quaint antiques from a bygone era. Discourse between Christians increasingly happens in an echo chamber of likes and friendly follows, to the in our own tribes and those who air an opinion or thought we disagree with are pummelled via our keyboards, disliked, unfollowed and black listed.
That tragically has been the tone of so much of the discourse about church opening and reopening. Differing tribes with differing views assuming the worst of others, seeing only deficient ecclesiology and failing to imagine that their may be good motives and tender consciences behind decisions. I fear that we’re going to see the same division about the vaccine and whether Christians should have it or not. Is it unloving to your neighbours to risk not having it or a failure to stand up for the rights of the unborn and the sanctity of life God has created? It seems for some you are anathema if you disagree with them.
Debate is good. Airing different views is good. Sharing with others what has shaped our conscience ad therefore our actions is good but attacking, belittling and catastrophizing is not.
Our conscience is like plasticine. It can and is being moulded, shaped and reshaped all the time. From generation to generation conscience changes. From culture to culture conscience differs. From person to person conscience differs. We all have a conscience, but it is unique. Our society, our family, our parents, our peers, the media and our education all seek to shape our conscience. To remould it into its image, with it’s values. That can be good or bad.
The Bible warns of 4 dangers for our conscience in a fallen world:
1. Weak/wounded conscience (1 Corinthians 8v7, 12)
A weak conscience is too quick to accuse us and find us guilty over things that aren’t wrong. In Corinth it’s over eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul says it’s OK to eat meat sacrificed to idols but for some people in the church their conscience still feels it’s wrong. They mustn’t ignore their conscience, instead over time it needs teaching gently. But in the meantime others must be careful to avoid wounding them by their actions in eating such meat. And both sides must avoid being judgemental of the other, instead they are to love each other and bear with each other.
We need to think carefully about this on every issue and especially when engaging on social media.
2. Defiled Conscience (Titus 1v15)
This is a misfiring conscience. It calls good what God calls evil and evil what God calls good. The false teachers in Titus don’t know God and the freedom that is ours to be enjoyed in Christ and so they create all sorts of rules and limits and actions that aren’t God given and produce a joylessness.
3. A guilty conscience (Hebrews 10v22)
In context of Hebrews a guilty conscience is one that convicts us of sin rightly. But instead of repenting and turning to Jesus for forgiveness the guilty conscience does nothing with that guilt. Whether by common grace or the Spirit you feel guilt but you do nothing with it waiting for it to pass, distracting yourself, pricked only for a moment but then carrying on sinning. We know its wrong, we feel its wrong, but we just keep on doing it.
4. A seared conscience (1 Timothy 4v2)
Ultimately this is where an ignored guilty conscience leads. This is the cauterised conscience where there is no sense or feeling. If we ignore our consciences warnings over and over and over and keep on sinning in going against our conscience this is where it leads us. Our conscience becomes desensitised and deadened until there is no feeling left and we unthinkingly do what is wrong without any twinge from our conscience at all.
Our conscience is a God given gift but in a fallen world it can be weak and wounded, defiled, guilty and seared. It is moulded and shaped by what we listen to and how we respond to it.
As Christians we are called to cooperate daily with the Spirit in reshaping our conscience in line with God’s word to us. Why? Because God is eternal and unchangeable, his word and his wisdom is not reshaped generation by generation it is eternally true. As those who follow Jesus our call is to be increasingly becoming like him, for our conscience to be more and more like his.
But we live in a world that is hostile to God and wants to reshape our conscience in its image. None of us are immune to that. We also tend to adopt the world’s hectoring tone. None of us have a conscience that is perfectly in line with God’s. Where is your conscience weak? Where is your conscience defiled, saying something is wrong or dirty that God says is not, or where does it say something is good which God says is not? Where is your conscience guilty? Where are there sins that you know are wrong, repeated patters of behaviour that leave you feeling shame or guilt but where you still keep on doing them? Where you keep on squashing your guilt down, denying your conscience the oxygen it so desperately needs? Where is your conscience seared, cauterised so that you no longer feel guilt?
How do we deal with such feelings? As Christians we are not perfect, we know that, but what do we do with our guilt when our conscience pricks us or lays siege to our hearts? Our conscience is God given to drive us to Jesus for forgiveness because only in the gospel is there grace to deal with a guilty conscience. I can’t help thinking if we remember this the we will be more careful in our tone, we are dealing with our brothers consciences and we ought to deal with them tenderly.