(This article is about Christian decorum. I will not permit some replies for a couple of reasons. One, I detest debates. In this day of offense, they are a worthless expenditure of time and effort. Thus, argumentative replies will be deleted. Two, I intend to explain what I believe without someone making it into something it is not. I welcome replies but attempts to make this about something or someone else will be deleted.)
I want to begin by relating an experience. Years ago I was in a meeting where some individuals became very emotional. One woman danced about frenziedly and then fell on the floor with legs spread and dress up over her waist.
An old minister remarked to me, “That’s not the Holy Spirit.”
“How do you know?” I replied.
“Because the Holy Spirit is a Gentleman,” was his answer.
I understood that the consummate “Gentleman” is dwelling inside of me and teaching me how to be a gentleman. The definition of “gentleman” is a chivalrous, courteous, or honorable man.
I didn’t begin my Christian life as a gentleman. My upbringing as one of 6 siblings, no father, and no male role model, plus the years I spent in deep darkness, conditioned me to be anything other than a gentleman. However, I was willing to be taught, chastised and broken if necessary, to be changed into Christ-likeness. Currently, I comport myself as best I can to be chivalrous, courteous, and honorable. I confess that I have a long way to go (and grow), but I’m changing daily.
The fact is that it will not matter how much I grow spiritually, or in the knowledge of God’s word, if I do not express myself with propriety I will be ineffective. Even when harsh truth must be spoken it must be done without anger, arrogance, or another fleshly trait. In this day of offense no matter how gentle my heart is and how lovingly I speak the truth, people accuse me of hatred and worse. Why give them cause to legitimize their claims?
There are some assertions one may make inopportunely and it will not matter how much truth is in the statement, one may as well be speaking to the wind. For example, I remember a time when it was considered crass to speak ill of the dead. If one broke that rule he or she would have been rebuked and rejected. It is just as crass for a preacher to stand in the pulpit towering over a casket and lambast a deceased sinner. Even in this day of ill manners and lack of common courtesy most people still believe that Westboro Baptist Church crosses the line. When they attend funerals to shout damnation and hurl insults at people burying their homosexual loved one, their message is dead. Consequently, they have no moral authority within Christianity or secular society.
Is it any different when Christian launches charges of heresy against a deceased Christian when the family is mourning? No, it is tactless and makes the individual who does so appear daft, ill-bred, and uncouth. Verbally assailing a dead person when loved ones are in mourning does not have any good purpose. Instead, it punishes the family and friends mourning the passing of their loved one. Once propriety is ignored and one crosses that line no one cares what he or she has to say. How can we inform anyone when our insensitivity repulses them? How does it help us if people will not listen to anything else we have to say—ever?
A memory is embedded forever of my daughter when she was a toddler and suffered the wrath of a deacon who disagreed with me. He leaned down close to her face and said, “I hate your Daddy.” His feelings toward me were real, he thought he had a good reason(s) to hate me, he believed my daughter should know how he felt, but his main purpose was to punish me by hurting my daughter.
I have made mistakes in the past including berating the dead for their wicked lifestyles while friends and family are in mourning. I won’t make that mistake again because the “Gentleman” corrected me. Considering all my past mistakes, what if when I died a microscope of scrutiny was held over my life? What if scores of professing Christians, with no regard for my family and under the guise of warning people, publically held up all my foibles and sins as proof that I went to hell? No doubt my wife, daughters, granddaughters, other family members, friends, and people I have ministered to, would have to endure the inexpressible and deep pain from a litany of accusations and denunciations.
I could plead from my deathbed for people to allow my loved ones a period to mourn and for their hearts to heal. However, they might think it more important to list all my flaws and sins when it can cause the most and greatest pain and yet have the least effect on the alleged target audience. I do not wish it on my family or anyone’s family.
“But I passionately believe in defending the truth,” someone may say. Okay, then instead of berating a dead man while his family is in mourning, which is ineffective and unproductive, why not just present a case against the issue itself. In other words, expose the heresy without lambasting the deceased individual. That shows propriety, wisdom, and maturity. Otherwise, detractors can hurl charges of “hater”, “judgmental”, “Pharisee”, et cetera, and their accusations appear valid. You will appear as an indecorous individual who pours extra suffering and pain in the wounds of a family mourning their loved one?
Never doubt the effectiveness of exercising Christian decorum or the ramifications of abandoning it. We should always be willing to grow, to mature, to become more effective in ministry. It begins by submitting to the Holy Spirit’s finishing school and becoming a Christian lady or gentleman.
“…but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—” Ephesians 4:15
“…having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” – 1 Peter 2:12