As a child, my parents always admonished, “Choose your friends wisely.” At other times, they would remind me, “You are known by the company you keep.”
As I grew and learned for myself, I came to understand their words of advice were another way of teaching me consequences of guilt by association. It is not unusual to be judged according to the company you keep. Who strives to be found guilty by association? Usually, if you are guilty, you would prefer to be caught red-handed, in the act so to speak, rather than accused because of a mere association. However, guilt by association is a reality for all, and I dare say, it is a reality for the Church, for ministry, and for the Christian life, based on the choices we make. I cannot help but remember my parent’s advice, but with a slight variation: What is wrong with being found guilty by association, if it is the right association?
In the Acts of the Apostles, both Stephen (Acts 6 & 7) and Jason (Acts 17:1-9) were found guilty by association. Both chose to align themselves with a person and a movement that was unpopular, resulting in accusations and even persecution. Stephen was noted as a man who was full of wisdom, faith, and the Holy Spirit. Although synagogue leaders tried hard to malign his reputation as one who spoke blasphemous words, he spoke with eloquence and authority declaring his knowledge and allegiance to the Christ. Jason was accused of being a sympathizer to Paul and Silas and their claims of Jesus as King. In both instances, these men had to choose if they wanted to be found guilty by association or deny their associations and be found “innocent.”
We face the same decision as the Church. The church is called to proclaim the same Spirit that Jesus declared in Luke 4 as he quoted the proclamation of the prophet Isaiah (chapter 61). This same Spirit has been given to the Church:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19, NIV).
Through Compassionate Ministries and social justice, the Church associates itself with Christ’s compassion for the poor, oppressed, and the marginalized. The association is not only for giving voice to the voiceless, but also to work on behalf of those who suffer at the peril of unjust systems and to declare liberation—the year of the Lord’s favor.
As we begin another year—and the first year in the denomination’s second centennial—it is time to reflect and ask, “What associations will we be found guilty of keeping?” Let’s consider a few.
- Will we stay with the masses and do little to address the needs of those who are often overlooked in our society?
- Will we passively sit on the sidelines when it is convenient and less threatening because speaking out would risk association with an unpopular view?
- Will we not only feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but also ask why they are hungry and naked?
- Will we not only visit the sick, but also ask why why they do not have adequate health insurance?
- Will we not only visit the prisoner, but also ask if anyone has been imprisoned unjustly?
- Has the system treated people unjustly or will we turn away and leave them at the mercy of a system like the one almost used against the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-11)?
- Will we speak and defend the stranger in our gates or will we wait in silence to see what the popular voice clamors for?
- Will we advocate for those treated as modern day lepers—i.e., those infected with HIV/AIDS? Moreover, will we grasp the serious realization that women in our North American cities are being infected at pandemic rates? Will we ask, “Why is this happening?”
- Will we, through education and advocacy, help to recover sight for those who are blinded by the complacent attitudes of the masses?
Jim Collins, in his book, Good to Great, says, “Good is the enemy of great.” Will we settle for good, when God is calling us to be great? According to Collins, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness, it turns out, is largely a matter of conscious choice, and discipline.”
I dream of compassionate ministries in the Church of the Nazarene as an integral part of every church, regardless of size. Compassion is a condition of the heart. It is not based on the size of your church or the amount of resources you have. God has given each of us the ability to show love and compassion for each other. I find myself asking why we designate some of our churches, “Good Samaritan churches,” as if it is an option. We are all called to love our neighbors and those in need, and hence, we should all be Good Samaritans. Like discipleship, being compassionate is not intended to be an option or an upgrade to the Christian life.
I envision a Church that will speak truth boldly to power, like Stephen did in Acts 7. The Church who engages in social justice will be required to speak God’s standard of justice in the marketplace. Surely, if we engage in these matters, we will be found guilty by association, but whether we are or not, I am sure we will still have the same outcome. For in the end, we will all be found guilty by association.
The question then becomes this: With whom will you choose to associate? As we turn the corner to a new day, a new year, and a new century, we must be deliberate. It will not happen by chance. For the Church to live out the meaning of Luke 4:18-19, we must be intentional whether by region, district, or local church. Our leaders and laity will need to imbibe the same virtues given in Acts 6, versus 3 and 5: To be full of the Spirit, wisdom, and faith. What remains is when and how we will begin. I am ready, are you? I welcome your thoughts. I invite you to engage in courageous conversations online at my blog at http:// nazareneblogs.org/courageousconversations/.
by Althea C. Taylor
Nazarene Compassionate Ministries USA/Canada