Just as Daniel apologized for his countrymen, though he himself had little share, so Ronald J. Sider bemoans America’s evangelicals, saying it all in his 2005 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Sure, they believe the Bible, as they are quick to tell you. But they don’t practice the Bible. They don’t apply it in their personal lives. Some do, of course. Some are upright, but no greater a percentage than is true of people in general.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way, a point which chapter two, The Biblical Vision, makes painfully clear. That chapter is as concise and comprehensive a discussion of the subject as you will see anywhere. Taking each NT book in succession, Mr. Sider highlights scripture after scripture to show that Christians were (and are) expected to live under Christ’s law, and that doing so would produce a people who lived so decently that their lives, not just their words, would be a drawing card for the faith.
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1 Peter 2:12 NIV
Here is Paul at Gal 5:19-21: The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
“If Paul is even close to being right about what it means to be a Christian, one can only weep at he scandalous behavior of Christians today,” Mr. Sider states. “….How many preachers today speak that clearly about the sins of greed, adultery, and slander?”
He cites Peter as well: For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 1 Pet 4:3-4
Apparently, the countercultural lifestyle of these early Christians was obvious to outsiders, notes Mr. Sider. Not so today among the evangelical community. “Our disobedient lifestyles crucify our Lord anew.” Pg 96
After reviewing the evidence, “we have seen the stunning contrast between what Jesus and the early church said and did and what so many evangelicals do today. Hopefully that contrast will drive us to our knees, first to repent and then to ask God to help us understand the causes of this scandalous failure and the steps we can take to correct it.” (pg 53) Mr. Sider has done just that and offers some remedies. You cannot read these remedies without noting they are the very building blocks integral to the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. And they do, to a considerable degree, solve the woes Mr. Sider describes. Alas, they earn us ridicule, particularly the ones having to do with obedience and submission. Don't many evangelicals join in the ridicule?
First, says Mr. Sider, the Western world’s obsession with independence must end, to be replaced with recognition that Christians are a community belonging to, and having responsibility for, each other. Paul goes so far as to say Christians ought to be slaves to one another. Galatians 5:13 literally reads “be slaves to each other,” yet most popular translations, Mr. Sider notes, dilute the verse to a more independence-savoring “serve one another in love.” (but not so the New World Translation, used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. It reads “through love slave for one another.”)
Many churches today trumpet that they are “independent Bible believing,” yet the very notion is “heretical,” says Mr. Sider. To be part of the body of Christ, a church must align itself with a larger structure to give “guidance, supervision, direction, and accountability.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses have exactly such a structure in their governing body. Soreheads and malcontents rail against such organization as “mind control.”
Second, Mr. Sider suggests, any congregation with over fifty members ought to arrange its people into small groups, where oversight and encouragement can more effectively be offered.
They’re called book studies. Since as long as anyone can remember, perhaps from their outset, Witness congregations have made use of such small groups.
Make it harder to join, is a third suggestion. Evangelical Conscience points to early Anabaptists and Wesleyans, as if no modern examples existed. These groups took their time in admitting new members, ensuring that their conduct as well as words lined up with Christ’s teachings. They did not just settle for the silly and surface “confess the Lord and be saved.” Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known for requiring an extensive period of Bible study as a prerequisite to baptism..
Lastly, “parachurch” organizations, groups like Youth for Christ that transcend the larger church structure, have, by definition, no accountability to anybody. “Many of the worst, most disgraceful actions that embarrass and discredit the evangelical world come from this radical autonomy,” says Evangelical Conscience. Somehow such groups have to be brought into tow, though the author admits that he has no clue as to how to accomplish this.
Jehovah’s Witnesses do. They strongly discourage any such activity not under the oversight of the central governing body. You should hear guys like Barfendogs carry onabout such “strong-arm” methods! But one can’t help feeling Mr. Sider would approve.
To be sure, Mr. Sider and Jehovah's Witnesses are poles apart doctrinally, yet organizationally we are his dream come true - a peculiar irony, if ever there was one.