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95-stellingenWhen Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses, he picked a fight.  It was a good fight, and he won.  He won not only because his arguments were more biblical but also because he manfully took responsibility for challenging the status quo.  It was a public challenge, right out in the open.  His courage added moral authority to his arguments.

Mature Christian leaders know the difference between petty issues that deserve zero passion, and burning issues worth dying for, and the various gradations in between.  But mature Christians leaders are willing to say hard things out loud in public, willing to face the past rather than sweep it under the rug, willing to create an awkward moment because something more important than saving face and remaining comfortable is on the line.  God is so real to men and women like this, that they will do whatever his Word clearly requires, no matter what.

Thabiti did that today on his blog.  He put something significant right out on the table so that the rest of us have to face it, think about it, feel it, and that does all of us nothing but good.  Thabiti is not one of those cruel bloggers who are more eager to vent than to serve, more eager to embarrass than to build up.  Thabiti is a mature Christian leader.

The striking thing, to me, is how rare among us is his admirable forthrightness.  I wonder how thoroughly we have applied the gospel to this aspect of our life together.  Here are two guiding principles — complementary, not contradictory — that come to mind right away, for starters:

1.  “Give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).  That which is honorable, that which is morally elegant, is our standard always.  Will a reasonable person, including a reasonable unbeliever, look at what we are saying and doing and admire it as honorable?  Self-serving moral fervor comes across as ugly. Selfless restraint comes across as noble.

2.  “To them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Galatians 2:5).  Sometimes, in order to preserve the integrity of the gospel for others, the gospel in both principle and practice, in both doctrine and culture, we must resist. We must protest. And we must offer a positive alternative for the sake of the future.  But as my saintly and gentle dad once said to me, “You can’t always be nice.”

Thank you, Thabiti, for not being nice.

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10 thoughts on ““You can’t always be nice””

  1. Thank you, Ray, for drawing attention to a sensitive issue and our need for courage.

  2. John says:

    So “you can’t always be nice”? – but you can certainly be foolish – you are seriously comparing Luther’s bold Biblical stand against “religion” with TA’s fear-induced, faithless hand-wringing non-Biblical self-indulgent histrionics that he is afraid to bring his son to The US because some white racist is going to shoot his child – really? Does that sound like “mature Christian leadership”? sounds more like his fear is greater than his faith and trust in God – Try being a Christian in Iraq, then he might have something to worry about – both of your musings are an insult to the call and commitment of so many martyrs and missionaries who have gone to the ends of the earth with the gospel at great “real” risk to themselves and their family – if the US is so frightening – maybe TA should have stayed in his island paradise…where his son is not thought of as “black” as he states…write about something real or give it up

    1. brad says:

      Amen John.

      1. Todd Wilkinson says:

        Amen to which part Brad? To the part where TA’s post was concerned over his child dying and it doesn’t matter who was behind the trigger? Or Amen to the story of Big Mike who lost his child? Or is it Amen to Mike reading things into TA’s post, WHICH TA NEVER SAID?

        I literally do not know what you are saying amen too.

        By the way, we just held a funeral service for a Caucasian 10 year old girl who died of a severe asthma attack. The threat of dead children and dead children, rather in Iraq or Istanbul, rather white, black, or purple is always writing about something that is real.

        Unless you disagree…..

        1. brad says:


          The “Amen” was to what John wrote. As I wrote “Amen John” I thought it would have been understood I was agreeing to what John wrote. I thought that corresponded with the common usage of the term.

          I can’t really comment on any of TA’s posts because he has made the very brave decision to turn off the comments. Not exactly congruent with the Martin Luther comparison…

          The threat of dead children is very real to me since I have 5 of them. Hopefully the Lord will give the grace to raise them in such a way that they will not commit strong arm robberies and disregard the ministers he has instituted for good. The Lord is sovereign over all events, the power of death and life are in his hand. So I will commit my children to his care as I seek to raise them in his nurture and admonition. “Hopefully” they will walk in wisdom and not expose themselves to unnecessary risk by engaging in foolish and lawless behavior.

          So, “literally” I am saying “Amen” to pretty much everything John wrote. All of the sentences. I hope that helps. Sorry for the confusion.

          1. Todd Wilkinson says:

            Thank you. You didn’t have to respond. That explains perfectly where you are at. I don’t know if it was a brave decision to turn off the comments but I do know from reading John’s comments and his complete misrepresentation of what TA wrote that his comments would not have added anything of value to that particular post.
            I’m praying for the way you raise your children also. It appears that strong arm robbery, disregarding ministers God has instituted for good, and engaging in foolish and lawless behavior is a serious threat in your household. Since, TA, Ray or even John didn’t mention any of those things but you did say you were praying that your children stay away from that lifestyle, I join in your prayer.

            Thanks for taking the time to respond

    2. Todd Wilkinson says:

      Have you read TA’s post? At what point did he refer to as you put it “he is afraid to bring his son to The US because some white racist is going to shoot his child”. Notice I had to put your words in quotations because I couldn’t find it in his.

      By the way, I have a brother in the Service. He has served two tours and has been shot in an excavation mission. AND I WOULD DARE COMPARE HIS BRAVERY TO LUTHER!!!! The context maybe different, the reasoning maybe different but I’m thankful for brave people.

      If reading Thabiti’s post only led to disgust, anguish and the need for you to tell him and ray to write something “real or give it up”. If you could read the post about the man big mike and him losing his son and you are not moved to appreciate your children, your wife or your family more…… Then I say this with all sincerity…….. I’m praying for you, and your children, and your family and I am praying that despite your sentiments that you will never have to experience the tragedy of violently losing a child. As T.A. asserted “no matter who is behind the trigger”.

      Again, this can be a difficult forum to convey sincerity, but let me reiterate, that by no means am I being sarcastic and I will pray for you, even before I press post. May the Lord be merciful to us all.

      3rd John 2

  3. Tim Mallon says:

    Thank you for this post, Ray. It is a gift to see what you and Thabiti see, even when others call it foolish. Wisdom is indeed justified by her children. The Lord sees.

  4. Well said, Tim. Anyone who would purport
    that Thabiti’s topic is not “something real” is at best naive, if not delusional.

  5. Jake Phillips says:

    Excellent. As was Thabiti’s post.

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Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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