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The Courage of Our Convictions

Barbara Buzzard

The Fear Factor

“Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”[1] Which is to say, all other virtues are dependent on courage; if you don’t have courage, the other virtues do not operate well. We have to deal with this fear factor.

I am not writing this paper as an expert on courage but as one who has recognized her cowardice in the past. It is good to recognize a fault (and this one is most common among us). Nothing gets corrected unless it is recognized and named. The failure which I am addressing here is to do with our confession of faith. There is a not-so-pretty cowardice in all of us, when it concerns what we might look like to others. We guard our reputations most carefully; it is extremely unpleasant to be thought to be stupid or to be a member of a cult. But we have this confidence from Almighty God: “He will neither fail you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6) and this is a confidence which we should exercise. God often blesses us with second chances. Very often a poor or incomplete witness can be addressed at a later time. In fact I have found that a second opportunity to speak to someone can come as a result of recognizing a missed chance. So let’s have a look at this commodity called courage and try and figure it out. Where do we get it? When do we need it? Is there more to it than we have perceived? Do we have more courage now than that we were born with? Can you learn/acquire it

We Need to Stop Muting Ourselves.

The point of this paper is an attempt to encourage us to get into the conversation, whether it be by internet or one on one or any other way you can think of to do it. We all know that God could in one fell swoop convert the world and correct and dismiss all false teaching. But for some reason, He seems to want us to have a part in that. A lady of 89 who was brought up in church very humbly said, “Only recently did I realize that I was supposed to do something with my faith!” She is making amends fast and is doing all she can. She is not alone. We need a paradigm shift. We need to stop muting ourselves. This is a fear tactic used by the Evil One to silence us. In our area there is a warning siren for tornados. The loudspeaker announces in an explosive voice: “This is a test.” What a good idea for church! And for after church, for the entire week. Are we not required to put boots on the ground?

If we agree that sharing our faith is required, rather than optional, then let’s get going! (Or do we need, as someone said, another confessional organization where we stand and say, “Hi, My name is Barbara and I haven’t been sharing my faith.”)

I think that there are about 500 verses telling us not to fear in the Scriptures. There is in fact, a handicapping effect of fear.

2 Pet. 2:19b “For you are a slave to whatever controls you.”

Isa. 8:13 “Do not fear anything except the LORD Almighty. He alone is the Holy One. If you fear Him, you need fear nothing else.”

2 Tim. 4:5b “Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord.”

Acts prayer for courage: “Make us brave enough to speak your message.” (Acts 4:29)

“Courage for the sake of truth is better than silence for the sake of unity.”[2]

Do we not have a predisposition towards cowardice? Peter certainly displayed that in denying Jesus. And yet his change from coward to stalwart is amazing. This is more than a common foible and this is so not a female issue. In fact, it is sometimes said that the women cave in last; that once the women cave and crumple, so goes society.

“The fear of human opinion disables.”

It does not matter how high up the ladder you are — this weakness of character shows itself in every possible economic or academic level — and perhaps it’s even worse the higher in those brackets you go as you then have more to lose. I am convinced that theologians have no better handle on courage or on character than do the rest of us. The big guns in theology cover themselves so as not to lose standing, reputation, salary, etc. At home we refer to this as “Nod, nod, wink, wink theology.” They know, but they’re not telling!

Cowardice is so very very different from the example of Jesus who allowed himself to be spat on. How do you do that? To allow yourself to be treated like scum of the earth? How do you do the things we are supposed to do without courage? It is simply not possible. Our job description states that we must be productive (parable of the talents). We cannot be productive with fear as a motivating factor. Fear paralyzes, inhibits, and excuses us from doing what we should. Is fear a sin? Yes, because it is cowardice; it is wrong because it is broken fellowship. God did not give us a spirit of cowardice: 2 Tim. 1:7. It comes from that other source!

Below are several translations of Pro. 29:25. Note well the Message version.

Pro. 29:25 “The fear of man brings a snare. But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.” “The fear of what man may do is a trap.” “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but to trust the Lord means safety” (NLT). “People are trapped by their fear of others; those who trust the LORD are secure” (CEB). “It is dangerous to be concerned with what others think of you, but if you trust the Lord, you are safe” (GNT). “The fear of human opinion disables” (The Message).

1 Cor. 9:10 “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” Not to speak is to exclude yourself from the Great Commission. And, of course, the most serious aspect of fear of man is that it is idolatry.

Notice that cowards are listed first in this passage from Rev. 21:8: “But cowards who turn away from me, and unbelievers, and the corrupt, and murderers, and the immoral…”

“If there is anything that links the human to the divine, it is the courage to stand by a principle when everybody else rejects it.” Abraham Lincoln.

To believe something and be ashamed of it at the same time is absurd.

Eric Chang’s book The Only True God is one of the most honest, forthright and super-courageous books I know. If you read nothing else, read his first chapter (free online at theonlytruegod.org).

“Apart from this difficult problem of practically having to re-learn how to read the Bible in a new light, that of monotheism, there is also the demotivating factor of reckoning with the external pressures of being labeled a ‘heretic,’ which is intimidating for most Christians. That someone who proclaims that the Bible is monotheistic because it is the word of ‘the only true God’ can be labeled a ‘heretic’ by the Gentile church shows just how far the church has strayed from the word of God. Only the God-given courage to face up to the truth, indeed to love the truth at all costs, will enable us to go forward to know Him who is the God of truth.”[3]

Consider this: to believe something and be ashamed of it at the same time is absurd.

Along with apathy, a case could be made for the opposite of courage being shame. And we all know this: “If a person is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, I, the Son of Man, will be ashamed of that person when I return in the glory of my Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

I am in the Life Saving Business

And I hope you are too! We are meant to be defenders of the faith. And here’s the thing: we protect what we love. We protect what we fall in love with, and courageously face the consequences. Is it possible that our silence screams another message?! That it doesn’t really matter, that we allow error to stand uncorrected, that we allow tradition to trump Truth. Remember that abounding in the work of the Lord is only one step away from not abounding in the work of the Lord. Jude 3: “…I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” We cannot and will not contend for something unless it is most precious to us, unless we see the difference between it and an imitation, unless we see the difference between the true story and a false narrative. Hasn’t the church going public been fed a false narrative? 2 Tim. 2:15 is a great job description for us: “Work hard so God can approve you. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of Truth.”

Convictions

If you have understanding — you must have convictions. Convictions have power. They are a force. They hem you in. They do not allow you to give the same respect to both Truth and error. Convictions restrain us from blessing error and constrain us to stand for what we believe is Truth. In the judgment, will it not be a matter of how we valued the Truth? There is a time when we either stand or we will be swallowed up/crumpled. Jesus really was a rock! It seems that in essence He said: you can do what you will to me but I am not moving. So too Servetus who when he was being accompanied to his funeral pyre was urged just to recant on one word. In the South, the saying “Jesus is God” is required for being part of the religious system. If you won’t say it, you cannot play, you cannot be a part of the system. Will it ever be necessary to say it to save one’s life? There is probably more at stake here than any of us can imagine. What if it’s an adult version of “will this be on the test?” What if Jesus asks us what we have done for his Father’s cause?

Pressure can increase our faith. We all know about resistance training and how valuable it can be. How about the wrong sort of resistance? Is it possible that we avoid at all costs the very thing which would be best for us, the very thing which would cause us to grow? It would, of course, be the threat of persecution which we would resist and avoid. But that quality of courage will enable one to stalwartly defend and to stand up to possible pain, danger, etc.

Our convictions should be examined from time to time — the unexamined life has repercussions! I can tell you honestly that one of the most common phone or email messages we get is to say: we still agree with you as to what Scripture teaches; we haven’t changed our beliefs but we now attend a church which teaches the opposite — how do we keep our children from absorbing this? Perhaps convictions in these cases are not in line with one’s practices?

You have heard the expression “standing on your scruples.” What are scruples? Hesitation, doubt, or uneasiness arising from difficulty in deciding what is right, proper, ethical. Actually, in old or middle English scruples are small sharp stones. This expression comes about through the idea of being bothered by the nuisance of a small stone in your shoe. Sometimes these were even used as reminders of how one was to behave. By placing a small stone or scruple in one’s shoes, with tender feet and sensitivity, one should stand firm; one should stand on his scruples. That small stone may feel problematic, but you stand anyway. You stand faithfully. You stand even though you have tender feet. Jesus teaches a kind of walk through life that involves that kind of sensitivity. Mat. 5, 6, and 7 & Rom. 12 provide us a good set of scruples.

The World Changes

People don’t always listen. They are not always grateful when challenged. But it is when you pose the question of the trinity that the world changes. I have experienced “The Look”! If you have not experienced this, do try it. You can be perfectly OK one minute and almost a total pervert the next, for having questioned the trinity. When people hear truth they think heresy. This is the way the world is set up. What are we going to do about it? Do we hide and treat our priceless Biblical Unitarian heritage as a dirty little secret? I can absolutely promise that it changes you — this collision with those who defend orthodoxy — and it changes you for the better. You have to grow. Like riding a bicycle, in order to stay on you have to keep moving.

I should probably mention that there are some pretty significant differences in male/female reactions to hate mail or persecution. My husband will be snoozing away after a particularly nasty attack (not many, but doozies when they come) while my heart is racing and keeping me from sleep. It is almost an insult that he is sleeping. Why should he not get up and worry with me?

The state of theology cries out for revolution. Most people are denied access to the truth of Who God is, whether it is by being dumb sheep, by faith in tradition/in a pastor/in a church, biased translations, or the weight of history. (Or perhaps because we didn’t speak to them?) As we would react to violent persecution which we witness with our own eyes, so should we react to this deprivation. The desire to share Truth should bubble up from within us as would anger against injustice.

Not to Stand Is a Violation

As Chang says: “Trinitarian Christians like to rank themselves among Jews and Muslims as monotheists. The problem is that neither Judaism nor Islam recognizes Trinitarian Christianity as truly monotheistic, regardless of Christian claims.”[4]

Pascal: “Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.”

I have had the privilege of viewing the “greats” in the theological world close up. What I have seen all too often are cover-ups, retractions, explaining away, dismissing, giving with one hand and taking away with another. To me, these are all acts of cowardice. I could read to you from multiple sources quotations that come from the same author but are saying the opposite thing, trying to please and wanting to be a part of the establishment.

Is there any valid reason for violating our faith?! Not to stand is a violation. To understand Truth and not to share it — is that not like witnessing an accident and not coming forward as a witness?

Spiritual Profiles in Courage

We must consider and examine who we regard as heroes and heroines. I do not think it is safe to contradict Pro. 17:15: “One who justifies the wicked and one who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.” So practically speaking, how does this affect us? Some of Luther’s statements seem to contradict flatly the spirit of the Bible. Many recognize a very dark spirit there, and certainly a spirit of anti-Semitism. It appears proven that Calvin was an unrepentant murderer, not just of one, but of several.{5} I then deduce that it would not be safe to take part in a church which defends and exalts these men. We need to look at the lives and beliefs of men and women before we make them models or heroes in any way. Prov. 13:20: he who walks with the wise grows wise.

We must go further, for ourselves and for our children, to find real heroes. Mary Dana is one such brave soul.[6]

We should all be familiar with the Servetus story and our children should be so familiar with it that they are able to tell it to others. Imagine the courage it took to go to the flames when by the reversal of two words he might have saved his life. It is a tragedy that church goers are ignorant of this man’s name and his contributions to medicine, to free speech, and to the courage of his convictions.

It would be hardly possible to speak of courage without mentioning Churchill and I learned a new fact in doing this research. Although Churchill inspired hundreds of thousands to courageous acts, all the while he would not go into a 2nd story room with a balcony — he was so afraid that he would throw himself over the side. His courage came at a price!

We believe because of the faith and courage of the apostles — our faith is built on theirs. The boldness of the disciples is a fantastic model for us in the Book of Acts.

David and Goliath

Certainly David is and should be a spiritual hero to us and to our children. There is a fantastic recent book out entitled David and Goliath, Underdogs, Misfits, And the Art of Battling Giants,[7] by Malcolm Gladwell. I love the subtitle and the message and I thought it very appropriate to our cause as well. Let me tell you a few true stories from this book. Did you know that ballistics experts with the Israeli Defense Forces have done calculations showing that a typical size stone hurled by an expert slinger at a distance of 35 meters would have hit Goliath’s head with a velocity of 34 meters per second — more than enough to penetrate his skull and render him dead. In terms of power, this would be equivalent to a fair size modern handgun. The studies showed that David could have slung and hit Goliath in little more than one second, allowing Goliath no time for protecting himself. (David was a teenager and Goliath, say the researchers, was at least 6’9”!)

In the book of Judges, slingers, which was what David was, are described as being accurate within a “hair’s breadth.” The sling was a devastating weapon. There is apparently, in the scientific world, no doubt whatsoever that David could have done what he did. And as was pointed out, David ran toward Goliath shouting a battle cry, defending the faith, certainly anything but mute. And his name has become synonymous with the most improbable of actions.

____________________

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

[2] Ariel Schneider, Israel Today, Apr. 2012

[3] The Only True God, A Study of Biblical Monotheism, Eric H. H. Chang, p. 27, emphasis added.

[4] The Only True God, p. 19

[5] Did Calvin Murder Servetus?, Standford Rives

[6] Letters Addressed to Relatives and Friends, Chiefly in Reply to Arguments in Support of the Doctrine of the Trinity, Mary Dana, 1845. “It has become my solemn duty to make you an announcement, which, I fear, will fill your hearts with sorrow. Would to God that I could save you from the pain, which, from my knowledge of your views and feelings, I am sure awaits you; but I believe, as God is my judge, that truth is dearer to me than life itself, and I dare no longer disavow the sentiments, which, after thorough, and honest, and prayerful deliberation, I have at length adopted. I will keep you no longer in suspense, but will proceed to declare that I do not now believe that my blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is the Supreme God. I believe that there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things. I believe that ‘all power’ was given unto him in Heaven and on earth; that he was the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament writers, who, in the fullness of time, came into the world with a commission from God, and full power and authority to do the work which God gave him to do. In other words, after long and earnest deliberation, much diligent study of the Holy Scriptures, and fervent prayer to God for the assistance of his spirit, I conscientiously and firmly reject the doctrine of the Trinity.”

[7] David and Goliath, Underdogs, Misfits, And the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell

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