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Dane Skelton is the Pastor of Faith Community Church and the author of Jungle Flight: Spiritual Adventures at the Ends of the Earth, a book of true stories from the ministry of JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service). His second book, Papua Pilot: Flying the Bible to the Last Lost Peoples, co-authored with the late Paul Westlund, is now available on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear (reverence) during the time of your stay upon earth …(1 Peter 1:17 NASB).
“There is no such thing as true objectivity, for every man’s opinion is tainted by his life experience as well as his sin nature. We therefore should seek to express ourselves with reverence and civility.”
L. Reginald Barnard. Th. D.
I’ll never forget hearing my favorite professor speak those words. It was such a shock to think that our prof might be disagreeing with us. I was in seminary at the time, in a room full of rabid theological conservatives overcome with righteous indignation at the theological doublespeak that was leading our denomination down the garden path. The mood of the hour was not unlike the McCarthyism of the 1950’s, and the young men of the seminary were quick to pounce on the slightest whiff of theological liberalism, ready to hound the speaker into a corner and, if necessary, out of the school.
Dr. Barnard, who had been a street preacher in his native Australia, a chaplain in His Majesty’s service during WWII, and a Baptist pastor in the UK for twenty-five years before most of us were born, had forgotten more theology than any of us would ever know. He had instructed students from “the continent” (Europe) in theological English, had a ring-side seat to the fundamentalist / liberal debates of the mid twentieth century, and finished his Th D at a respected U.S. school – typically a three year proposition – in eighteen months. He had had about enough of our baying and barking and in his imminently civil style was telling us so.
Maybe that’s why 1 Peter 1:17 keeps holding me up as I meditate my way through the book. Impartiality coupled with reverent civility is the heart of the verse as it was the heart of the man I call “my dear professor.” I consider him as one of my “Fathers,” one of the desperately needed mentors God provided for me in the first decade of my walk with Christ. I still find it difficult to be impartial and civil with those with whom I disagree. But I want to be like Dr. Barnard, and even more like my Father in heaven.
Perhaps you too, in our deeply divided era, find it difficult to be impartial and civil in your disagreements. If that is the case let me encourage you to keep in mind the message of the rest of the verse. Our time on this planet is short. Our words and our works will be judged impartially. And the Father who knows all, who has redeemed us with the precious blood of his Son, will one day reveal who was right and who was wrong.
I imagine all of us are in for a surprise.