The apostle Paul urges Christians not to be ashamed of the gospel, but many people want us to feel ashamed of it.
So, when Pastor James McConnell was found ‘not guilty’ of ‘grossly offensive’ remarks about Islam (see Pastor McConnell acquitted ), it was no surprise to hear the spin some put on the verdict.
In a statement, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said: ‘It was clear from the judgement that the court considered Pastor McConnell had a case to answer and that the decision on whether the comment was offensive or grossly offensive was not only finely balanced, but one for the court and the court alone to take’.
In spite of such lofty words, Christians should not feel shamed by:
Preachers should not set out to hurt people’s feelings and it appears that Pastor McConnell was not setting out to offend. But sometimes feelings will get hurt!
The evangelicalism of the Bible is exclusive, and so other religious claimants cannot be from the same God. The most clinical statement of this fact can sound offensive to devout adherents of other religions.
When I was younger, it was possible to discuss sharp differences of viewpoint about salvation with Roman Catholic or Muslim colleagues in an amicable way, even if some offence was unavoidable. In each situation, wisdom in the choice of words is necessary, but ultimately the message is the same: if there is only one way of salvation, then wrong ways cannot be from the true God.
The Bible makes it clear that they are from a dark enemy of men’s souls and will lead to damnation. Love demands that Christians are forthright about this; sinners need to know!
The PPS says the ‘not guilty’ verdict showed Pastor McConnell did have a case to answer. The logic of this view is that the innocent are fair game for prosecution, because some lawyer might manage to nudge them over some threshold, even though nobody in the country knows where the threshold is. It is like receiving a speeding fine for exceeding an undisclosed speed limit!
But Pastor McConnell had no case to answer, as he had not used grossly offensive language. The McConnell case shows that our lawmakers must not hide behind vague phrases, but accept responsibility to be precise about what the law is. This point is also relevant to Extremist Disruption Orders.
Atheists claim there is no God, but want their say about God all the same! Boyd Sleator of Atheist Northern Ireland said Pastor McConnell’s comments were ‘idiotic’ and ‘utterly senseless’. The judge said they were not ‘grossly offensive’.
People do find the gospel offensive. They resent being called sinners and feel confident about facing the Judge of all mankind. But they are in for a shock: God’s standards are perfect, and ‘every mouth will be stopped’ and all found guilty before God.
Being called a sinner and being urged to repent and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation may be unpalatable, but it is not ‘idiotic’. And Christ’s claim ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ is exclusive, but certainly not ‘idiotic’.
What is idiotic and senseless is to claim that two religious systems — Christianity and Islam — are compatible, when one system affirms justification by faith in Christ and the other teaches justification by human works. They are exact opposites.
We can be thankful that there is still a measure of fairness and sanity to be found in our judicial system, though Pastor McConnell should never have had to face trial in the first place.