“What’s wrong with the church today? Have we all gone soft?”
I hear that rhetorical question a lot lately. Usually in response to a controversial cultural issue that the commenter feels we haven’t expressed enough anger about.
Every time I read something like that, my gut reaction is “Has the church gone soft? I wish!”
The Language We Use
Our words matter.
When we say the church shouldn’t be soft, we may be communicating something that we don’t fully intend.
Soft is a relative word. Wood is soft compared to steel, but it’s hard compared to drywall.
So when we ask “is the church getting soft?” what are we contrasting it to? Most likely, the user intends it as the antonym to strong. But that’s a problem because while hard and soft are antonyms, strong and soft are not.
The church can be both soft and strong. In fact, we’re called to be both.The church can be both soft and strong. In fact, we're called to be both. Click To Tweet
So, when we ask, “has the church gone soft?” we’re also asking, “shouldn’t the church be harder?” whether we intend to ask that or not.
So, should the church be harder? Never.
The Strength Of Softness
This is one of the characteristics of Christ’s upside-down kingdom.
Christ taught us to “turn the other cheek”, that “the humble shall be exalted”, and “the last shall be first.” We’re called to demonstrate the strength of soft-heartedness. We’re supposed to be strong and soft, never hard.
Why do so many of us want the church to be hard? And why do we have such a problem with being soft? After all, hardness is universally condemned in the Bible, while softness is applauded and encouraged.
Here are just a few examples:
Hard Hearts Condemned
Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? (1 Samuel 6:6)
For they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:52)
Being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart. (Ephesians 4:18)
Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts. (Hebrews 4:7)
Soft, Strong Hearts
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26)
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.” Joel 2:12)
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (1 Peter 3:8)
Anger Without Sin
Anger is natural. It’s normal. It’s not a sin. Jesus got angry.
But hardness is always wrong. In our anger, we must not commit the sin of hardness.In our anger, we must not commit the sin of hardness. Click To Tweet
In the kingdom of God:
- Softness is not weakness, and hardness is not strength
- Meekness is not cowardice, and meanness is not courage
- Kindness is not a character flaw, it is a Fruit of the Spirit
Softness, Hardness And The Potter’s Hands
So why has “I wish!” become my gut response when people ask “has the church gone soft?” Because softness is not the loss of strength, it is one of the great expressions of Christ’s power working through us.
In Jeremiah 18 & 19, we read two illustrations that demonstrate the difference between softness and hardness:
First, the prophet is instructed to watch a potter turn a soft lump of clay on his wheel as God tells him, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.” (Jeremiah 18:6)
Then God instructs Jeremiah to buy a finished, hardened clay jar. God directs the prophet to smash it, declaring, “I will smash this nation and this city just as this potter’s jar is smashed and cannot be repaired.” (Jeremiah 19:11)
Softness is difficult. It may even feel weak, but it’s not. It makes us malleable in God’s hands. That’s always where our strength lies. “In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)
Hardness is easier. But it’s static. It locks us in to our previously-held assumptions even when they’re wrong and need to be changed by what God is doing in us and others.
Calling All Soft Hearts!
Recently my friend, Doug Bursch, wrote about this on Facebook. He may have addressed it better in 51 words than I have in 900+ words, so I’ll leave you with this:
“Hey you with the soft heart. We need you. The world is full of hard-hearted people. They crush precious things under their feet, they wound tender souls with their words. We need your tender heart to reveal the fullness of God. Do not despair, you’re not alone, and not forgotten.”
(Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi | Unsplash)