Theology of Niceness

Recently a friend told me that the church has been indoctrinated with a theology of niceness. This means that a lot of people expect the people in church to be 'nice' to them and anyone who shows 'coldness' or 'hardened heart' is considered 'not nice'. In fact, there was this girl whom I was counselling some time back who was uncomfortable how one of her friends sets boundaries with her family, which caused her some distress.

But is being nice part of Christianity? Standard answer seems to suggest 'yes.' Very often, people quote from the Scripture on how Jesus was surrounded by the sinners and prostitutes to explain why Christians should be nice. Since we are Christ followers, so we ought to follow Him. (Disclaimer: no one tends to explain that along that line but the connotation is implicit). But how about this:
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” - John 2:13-16
33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? - Matthew 23:33
Following the same logic, should we flip table then? Of course, Jesus has a context to say what He said and to do what He did, but assuming the same context today, He would have been driven out of the churches, condemned by some of my friends and been branded as an anti-Christ. But Jesus is not a nice person to be with when His boundaries are being crossed.

How about the apostles? This was what Paul wrote in Galatians (which I posted sometime back):
11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! - Gal 5:11-12
And this was what Peter and John said to the Sanhedrin:
18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” - Acts 4:18-20
My point is this, that there are points in time when it was recorded that Jesus or His apostles were not nice by our modern standards. Most of us know it, but yet expect Christians to be nice. Even if one can construe an argument to explain that the apostles made mistakes in their dealings, one still cannot explain away what Jesus did or said.

Upon reflecting, I believe that this pervasiveness of niceness has partly to do with the legalistic landscape of the churches in the 20th century when people attend churches to hear messages of fire and brimstones. The counter-movement, as exemplified by a certain author called Philip Yancey, is to move away from 'laws' and to move towards grace. Nothing wrong with that, since grace was what Jesus gave and what we received from grace. But very often, we mistook grace to niceness or the need to appear to be nice. Hence, we became door mats. I know, because a lot of Christians suffer burnout from not being able to draw boundaries against the demands of their work (aka bosses). And most are unable to draw boundaries as it will appear 'not nice' and hence becoming a 'bad testimony' to their boss.

Just a side track, I firmly believe that I would rather be a good testimony to my family (or future family) than be a good testimony to my boss, if I have to choose. As I have said many times, our work won't love us back, but not so for our family. It might therefore be better to choose to draw boundaries so that our times with our families are not compromised even though it may not appear nice to our bosses or colleagues.

Another reason, that I perceived why this is the case, is because the church, in the words of my former senior pastor, has been 'sissified' which is a direct result of men not rising up and women being forced to take on additional roles of leadership in church (which logically extends to discipleship). Since women tend to be more relational, men are also discipled that way and any deviation is considered 'unsanctified.' And the nail on the coffin, for me, was not being hammered by a guy but a fellow sister-in-Christ, who was my former leader. After reading up on biblical manhood (in hope to guide the guys in her group in relationships), she shared to me that she felt that guys are being discipled in church as women because the women are discipling the guys! This, coming from a woman, makes me feel more indignant with my own kind, who somehow have been unable to rise to the occasions (and hence this became one of my pet topics and pet peeves about discipleship in church today). The key result of what I just said is that men are not allowed to be their rugged selves.

There are a lot of literatures on this topic and one of the classics is 'No More Christian Nice Guy' which made a very good read. Of course, there were others. Mark Driscoll used to be one of the sources I look to but there are other preachers who are preaching the same thing as well.

To qualify what I said - the Scripture tells us that we need to cloth ourselves with love and humility. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love joy peace etc. We have to acknowledge that these are the fruits we ought to aim towards. All these, I must say, are 'not to be held in balance' but be integrative in our Christian living. Too often, when we said things need to be 'balanced', we are assuming that the ideas are not reconcilable or mutually exclusive. But this is not the case in the economy of God. If the first can be the last and the weak can be the strong, and God uses the foolish to shame the wise, then we need to accept that our Christian life is an integrative one, not one that is holding many ideas in 'balance.'

So what do you think?

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