Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Christian Manhood: Oh, Brother Who Art Thou?

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” - C.S. Lewis

One of the things we don't do particularly well in the Advent Movement is build strong male circles of friends.  Perhaps it's because we are a movement and don't settle long enough in one place to build strong friendships.  I imagine being a pastor is a pretty lonely business.  I know teaching in SDA schools certainly was. It's hard to build friendships with co-workers anyway.  You try to build friendships with your kids, but they all hit that age between 15 and 25 during which you lose dozens of IQ points to become as Mark Twain once described his own father "the stupidest man in the world".

If you persevere and are patient, you do get those IQ points back when the kid gets his own family going, but too often the friendship gets lost in the process. Brotherly love is a mysterious process and one that, I think is being attacked in the final days of Earth's history.  Too often these days, friendships between guys gets dismissed as a "bro-mance" or hints are made that there is something unseemly about two guys who hang out and do stuff together. The specter of being charged with having homosexual feelings is always there in a world where everything worthwhile is being reduced to some sort of hidden sexual urge by the pop psychologists that seem to spring up everywhere.

C.S. Lewis, noted 20th century Christian apologist, faced the same problem himself.  He had a close-knit circle of friends that included fellow author J.R.R. Tolkien.  Lewis was, himself, not a Christian, when The Inklings (the name the group gave itself) formed for informal talk sessions in Lewis' chambers at Oxford.  They were just a bunch of Oxford dons, writers, a physician, the odd philosopher and Lewis' brother who all got together to read each others' manuscripts and talk away a Thursday evening.  It was Tolkien and fellow Inkling Hugo Dyson who influenced Lewis' conversion to Christianity.

I wonder sometimes whether we Adventist men don't tend avoid some natural friendships with men who are not Adventist for fear that awkward situations will develop or that we might be tempted to some sin or other.  If so, it would be a shame, because becoming friends with nonbelievers is the surest way I know of to bring them, if not into the church, at least into sympathy with Adventists.

Saving souls is not some sort of baseball game with the score being totted up on a heavenly scoreboard.  Introducing a human soul to Christ is not a pitching duel. Too often we pride ourselves on our skill at out-debating the Philistines and only succeed at making them more entrenched enemies in the process. There's an expression development officers in nonprofit organizations, schools and churches use.  "It's not fund-raising," they say, "but friend-raising." The same could be said of soul winning.  Perhaps it's not soul-winning, but friend-winning we should focus on.  Perhaps we should introduce Christ first and let Him win the soul.

We could all take a lesson from Andrew, Peter's brother.  Almost every time you see Andrew in the Bible, he's bringing someone to Christ to introduce them to Him.  In fact, it was Andrew that introduced his brother to Jesus in the first place. You don't see Andrew doing a lot of speeches. You do see him telling people, "Come and see." 

There is no more effective way to bring a soul to Christ than through the witness of your own life. I once had a neighbor comment that my wife and I were the nicest, most Christian people he had ever known.  I was stunned.  I'd made no effort to impress him with our Christianity or to argue theological points with him. I'd been a friend to him in the only way I knew how.  I helped him with projects he was working on. We sat out on his porch on many a summer evening just shooting the breeze.  I even helped him work on his house a few times when he was building it.  We did talk about God some, shared opinions.  No flaming debates. No calls to repentance.  Just two friends talking.  I think we both became better Christians because of it.

I've long thought that men in our church should work a bit harder on making friendships themselves.  Often it is our wives who make the initial contact with others and the husbands get thrown together by default.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it shouldn't be the only way we form friendships. We shouldn't wait for our wives to get together with some other guy's wife.  Simply invite a potential friend to go fishing, canoeing, sailing or golfing with you. Ask him to join a church league softball team. Invite him to a backyard barbecue.  Don't worry about the food.  You won't go to hell if a few of the hot dogs are beef.

Brotherly love is an important element of the Christian life.  In C.S. Lewis' lecture series, "The Four Loves" he describes it this way.  “In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others....In a perfect Friendship … each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest… each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.”

If you are blessed with friendships, by all means nurture them, for in true friendships we may find the strength to survive and thrive in a world which is doing it's best to divide us and piecemeal to conquer us.

Tom King (c) 2013