Watchman Nee, the Chinese house church leader, refused the newly ascended communist regime’s invitation to head their efforts to assimilate Christianity. In retaliation, they published a full page editorial cartoon which depicted a cutaway view of a two story building. On the top story, hapless church members poured their money into a funnel on which was written, “Render Up!” referring to a sermon Brother Nee had given about rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Below them, on the first story, sat Watchman in a pile of money, holding a bottle of booze, with a prostitute on his lap.
When his wife saw the cartoon, she exclaimed, “You’ve got to do something!” To which he responded, “When I am praised I am still Watchman Nee. When I am slandered I am still Watchman Nee.”¹
How could he be so nonchalant in the face of such brutal, public defamation? He believed the gospel which taught him two immovable truths: 1. No amount of positive regard could change the fact that his sins had sent Christ to the cross. 2. No accusation could change the fact that he’d been justified by grace.
Every church goer claims to believe the gospel, but faith is like strength – it can only be measured by what it enables a person to do. You can know the degree to which you believe the gospel by how you handle blame. A person who never can say, “I was wrong,” or one who constantly works as their own PR rep is counting on their own merit to save them. They might mentally agree to orthodox Christian creeds, but their hearts have yet to fully receive the truth.
The tendency among “Christians” to retain their personal merit while claiming the blood of Jesus has been so prevalent that we’ve even made it a virtue. I remember church people admonishing me to be careful to “protect my witness,” and by that they meant I shouldn’t hang out with people of ill repute. Could any advice be more opposed to Christ’s call? How could we claim to follow the “friend of sinners” who died a criminal’s death between two criminals by trying to maintain appearances?
If we believe the gospel, what people say about us won’t matter. We’ll be able to fearlessly assess and confess our own failures. We’ll even be able to praise God when we’re lied about.² If we can’t do these things, we need to repent of our self-righteousness and unbelief right now. Go to the cross. Imagine him suffering and dying there. Was that really for your sin? Go to the empty tomb. Meet him in the garden. See his loving smile as his life announces that the sacrifice was enough to save you for good.
- Kinnear, Angus. Against the Tide
- Matthew 5:11-12