“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.”
2 Timothy 4:3
As summer unofficially eases into fall, the students are back in school and the church is back to its regular activities and programs. Having been a student myself for so long, I often take stock of what has changed over the summer. For one thing, when we go back to school, we are (usually) in a different grade: new room, new teacher, new classmates. There is some disorientation until we adjust to our new surroundings and expectations.
As a pastor, I appreciate the slower pace of the church during the summer months. Technically, I take two weeks of vacation so Sue and I can revisit old friends and places in Ohio, but it feels sometimes as if I really have the whole summer off, except for Sundays and crises.
So as we return to our normal pace, I similarly take stock of the church – not so much the programs and missions as the context in which we minister. It feels to me that the culture has become even more polarized and conflicted since we took our summer break. It seems that every day there are reports of rallies, protests, demonstrations or marches, and every one draws a counter group to oppose their views and values. Almost invariably there is violence. I am feeling some disorientation and the need to adjust to new realities.
Admittedly, this is nothing new, and it’s been growing for some time. But as I take stock of things this time around, the verse above leaped out at me. In the past, I’ve looked at this section of 2 Timothy 4 with a focus on “Preach the Word” (v. 2), the “itching ears” mentioned in v. 3 and the “fight the fight, finish the race, keep the faith” (v. 7). I’ve connected “not putting up with sound doctrine” to mean people will be less receptive to the gospel.
But I’ve come to see a bigger picture here. “Sound doctrine” is just an example (an appropriate one, to be sure) of what goes by the boards with the increase of intolerance, impatience and incivility we are seeing. People will no longer “put up” with anything they don’t like. This is the same sort of statement Jesus makes about the end times in Matthew 24:12, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”
So how do we witness and work in such divisive times? St. Augustine is credited with the wise statement, “In essential things, unity; in disputable things, liberty; in all things, charity.” You may have heard some variation of that saying. I might update it this way: “Find the things we can agree on; in other things, agree to disagree; and in all things, don’t be disagreeable.”
I don’t know what the coming year holds for the church, the country or the world. I do know that God calls us to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). If we can do that, I believe light will begin to break into the darkness and the way forward will become clear.
Joyful in Hope,
Pastor Malcolm Hall