Is it possible to join forces with someone you disagree with very strongly? Suppose you are at two ends of the theological spectrum? What about being chief antagonists in partisan politics? Is it possible to find common ground on which to stand?
This particular conversation is one I have been having with myself for a couple of years now. Later I will tell you what brought it on. For now, though I’d like to test the waters.
Putting to Light My Convictions…
A little bit about myself in case you haven’t figured it out yet. (Figuring it out shouldn’t be that hard, if you’ve taken the time to read my bio, and my beliefs pages). I am what you would call theologically conservative. I am a Reformed Christian that takes the Holy Bible as the only consistent rule of faith for living a god-honoring life. What does that mean? Namely, what the Bible says about any area of life it does so authoritatively.
This means that I am not a “red-letter” Christian or a “New Testament” Christian, but one that is concerned about the whole counsel of God—Both Testaments/covenants (cf. Acts 20.27). In other words, God’s Law applies to life as well as a righteous ethical standard given to guide the moral practices of all living; in particular, those who profess to be His people. All people will be judged by this Law of God in light of its chief standard bearer Jesus Christ.
There will be those in this life who will find His sacrifice necessary, others who do not. Those who do will have supplied to them eternal life—an eternal relationship with the Holy Creator, in a holy state. Those who do not, they too will receive an eternal reward but of the negative sort. Wanting nothing to do with God in this life, they will find themselves forever separated from His light cast into outer darkness in a tortuous state where weeping will be a common occurrence, gnashing teeth in anguish and anger with be continual, along with loneliness and despair without end.
**Knowing these things, it would seem that I’d have little in common with an ardent atheist, who denies all of the things I have just mentioned above.
With me so far? Good. Suppose for a moment that the following scenario took place.
One day in a local pub stooping over a pint of ale I notice in a darkened corner, out of the way of prying eyes a person about to be attacked. The individual in question could be a young lady being come upon by some lecherous men. Or it might be a lanky dude with big engineering glasses and a pocket protector full of pens just trying to ease the stress of a long work day trapped in an office by eating some tasting pub fried delicacies washed down with a cold one, but is about to be attacked by some drunk, abusive thugs.
The Appropriate Response…
Now depending on the type of individual you are, you might be spending your time wondering right now why I would be in such an establishment if I’m a professing Christian that believes in the Bible, Jesus, and all that other jazz? If you are…stop it. That is not the issue. It might be an issue for you, and I’d be happy to discuss it at another time, but not now. The issue is “What should my response be as a Christian?”
According to the Law of God…
The law of God says I am supposed to love my neighbor, but what does that look like in this scenario? The law also says I am not to “murder,” or “rob” my neighbor either, which conversely means that I am called to protecting life and property (primarily in my own sphere—“I don’t kill,” and “I don’t steal”). Therefore, in the scenario presented above I am called to protect my neighbor’s well-being and their wallet from those who mean them harm.
Instinctively, I know this. Being a sincere student of the Word of God (a.k.a. the Holy Bible) affords you this knowledge:
“Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psa 82.4).
Back to the Hypothetical…
Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against me. I can handle myself in a tussle, but a safer bet would be to have some aid. (Sorry, I’m not Keanu Reeves in one of his mythical action roles—i.e., Neo, or John Wick). Seeing that the situation is escalating, I push my personal fears aside and act on behalf of the abused.
Regrettably, my earlier hesitation allowed things to get physical. Their victim is still reeling on the floor dazed. And while I am concerned for their welfare, I can’t really focus on them as I am now in a fight for my own life.
I shove one of the guys out of the way and grab the other dude by the back of his long greasy hair. Their prey has now been forgotten; they’ve got a new pest to be concerned about. I slug the greaser in his teeth and as he is falling back the fellar I’d shoved off-balance earlier attempts to sucker punch me from behind. I lean slightly forward and offer a short but powerful rear kick (ushiro geri for those in the know) into his lower abdomen. Unfortunately, there was a third perp lurking in the shadows that I had somehow missed. (Maybe he was returning from the restroom, I don’t know). He is on me like a stealthy mosquito. The crack in the back of my skull makes a brilliant light show behind my eyes. I fall back a step…but just when his arcing haymaker is about to finish its flight he is violently struck from the side and drove to the floor.
As the other two guys begin to advance on me several flashlights beam through the shadowy haze. I notice that the music has stopped, and I hear an insistent yell to “FREEZE…KEEP YOUR HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!” Behind me, I notice that a couple of fellow patrons are helping the previously beaten victim up from the floor.
The Question at Hand
Now, I could go on with my whimsical scenario, but I think I’ll go ahead and stop right there. Suppose, I find out later that the person who came to my rescue was an ardent atheist, or perhaps even a Muslim. Should I as a biblically faithful Christian accept their aide? Should I be thankful? In this case, it appears I had little choice, but what if I did? What then?
Trying Not to Get Sidetracked…
Now I realize that some of you are hung up on possibly two things from my scenario. The first is probably that you are convinced that a Christian would never in his/her life been seen in a pub having a drink. “Those are places where good old holy people don’t go.” You’d be wrong on three different accounts (biblically, historically, and culturally). The second for a smaller number of you would be that a Muslim would never go to a bar, a pub, or any other place that alcohol is served since, like the Fundamentalist and my Baptist brethren, they don’t drink. To do so would be an egregious sin. (I must admit that my knowledge of Islam and the differing sects within it is apt to none. I know the basic fundamentals of their faith, their pillars, from various comparative religious texts, but I am not in the know as someone like Dr. James White at Alpha and Omega Ministries might be).
Regardless of how you might feel about either subject they are side issues. If you’d like to discuss them, drop a comment and I’ll see what I can work up. If not, let’s not get sidetracked.
The Answer to the Question…
The concern here is whether or not it is right for a Christian to accept the aide of someone who is not? Is there ever a circumstance where I might be found working with a non-believer?
The answer is “YES.” When it comes to the preservation of life. When it comes to matters of righteousness and justice. Then, the answer is unequivocally “YES.”
As Christians we are called to love our neighbors. This is not only a mandate from God, but it is a desire from God. All people are made in God’s image, although not all people are God’s children.
Suppose we change the scenario to the Pro-Life arena. There are members of other faiths that agree that the life in the womb is sacred. That it should not be snuffed out in terms of convenience, or as an act of self-worship. If an atheist or a Muslim or whomever wants to help me (us) in stopping the murdering of unborn babies, then I say “thank you Lord!” I can say that, because I am blissfully aware of various truths in Scripture that come to bear on this issue.
How we come to the Correct Answer…
First, you have the question of numbers. I decided long ago that I would not fall to the whims of peer pressure. This commitment was tested on several fronts throughout my younger years as a child. Within the past decade this has been tested some more. If I must go it alone to do right, then I will. But, let’s not be foolish. There is strength in numbers:
“And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl 4.12).
Second, Jesus speaks on whether or not those whom we might perceive as non-believers can offer aide to a fellow image bearer in a time of need. The story of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 17.29-37) offers some important insight for the observant reader. Parables are interesting literary devices. They have one intended meaning within a given context, but like many other biblical texts there, at times, differing applications one might draw from them.
Contextually, Jesus is answering a probing question as to “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 17.29). The person in question wanted to justify himself. He was a self-righteous bigot that looked down on other members of humanity. To challenge him Jesus uses someone that was thought of as unclean—a Samaritan. Their view of the Bible was grossly distorted as they only retained a small portion of it (i.e., the Pentateuch), which made their theological understanding of God, of worship, etc. defunct. I suppose (I’ve never heard anyone label it this way) we might call them a “cult” in today’s language. Biblical Judaism (as opposed to Pharisee/Sadducee/scribal Judaism) was the only true way to know God and worship Him (cf. John 4.22). And so, for Jesus to use them as an illustration of rebuke is very telling.
In the parable, it is not the Jews that help a man who has been beaten and robbed (Luke 17.30). For a priest and a Levite when they saw the man “passed by on the other side” of the road (Luke 17.31). These were supposed to be godly people. These men were supposed to be believers and therefore lovers of fellow man. But they weren’t. The only person who gave a care in the world about the beaten/robbed Jew was a Samaritan non-believer. “…He had compassion” (Luke 17.33) on the Jew.
“He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then set him on his own animal [while he walked the road] and brought him to an inn and took care of him [at his own expense!]. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back’” (Luke 17.34-35; Brackets added for clarity)
The point being that even a non-believer can sometimes give good gifts (Matt 7.11). There are times when even they will show “love to their enemy” (Matt 5.44) as their own consciences prick them since they too are made in the image of God (Rom 2.15). There are various biblical examples where we might draw inferences from that substantiate this position. I won’t be developing them today, nor dealing with the possible objections that may arise (that will be for another day), but I also don’t want you to think that I am merely drawing these things from the thin air.
An Example given…
Joseph worked alongside fellow slaves in Potiphar’s house. He likewise served the jailer when in chains. And eventually, he worked with Pharaoh as vice-regent to save Egyptians and others (including his brothers that wanted him dead) from the great famine that swept through the land for seven years. All three ungodly individuals treated Joseph with kindness. Though the two former instances might be seen in a limited fashion, the latter was the king of Egypt that had given Joseph authority unsurpassed except for the throne on which he sat. This latter co-working was a part of the Pro-Life movement (Gen 45.5; 50.20). Both Pharaoh (a non-believer) and Joseph (a believer) sought to preserve life from that which endangered it.
Christians are called on by the Lord above to…
“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Prov 24.11).
If this means we may be joined in this fight by those that do not hold our theological convictions, then so be it. We fight for life because in our hearts we know it is God who gives it. The non-believer knows this too, even if he/she denies the foundation from which this springs. Let them act inconsistently with their faith-commitment as we act consistently with ours. And when the time presents itself to highlight our distinctive’s in the faith, we do so boldly, unashamedly, with great conviction and love in the hope that God might use this too to open their eyes. For whether they know it or not, the soul that sins…dies. And so, they need rescuing too.
 This will probably come to light in a future post.
 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).
 The accounting of Joseph’s life, son of Jacob/Israel, is found in Genesis 37-50. His birth record is earlier in the account. See Gen 30:25; 33:2-7.