As Magdi Allam recounted, on his road to conversion, the challenge that Pope Benedict XVI offered to Islam in his September 2006 address at Regensburg was “undoubtedly the most extraordinary and important encounter in my decision to convert“. Osama bin Laden recently accused Benedict of plotting a new crusade against Islam, and instead finds something far more threatening: faith the size of a mustard seed that can move mountains. Before Benedict’s election, I summarized his position as “I have a mustard seed and I’m not afraid to use it.” Now the mustard seed has earned pride of place in global affairs.
There are those who argue that the best way for the church to spread its message is to embrace the largest number of people and to work with them where they are,” said John-Peter Pham, a professor at James Madison University and a former Vatican envoy. “And at the opposite end are those who would argue that actually the same message is much more credible when it’s propounded by a smaller group of individuals who live it more intensely.”
“I don’t get any sense of him wanting to purge or anything,” said Christopher Ruddy, an assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. “But I think he is willing to say what he thinks are hard truths, or unpopular truths.”
In an interview published in 1997 in “Salt of the Earth” (Ignatius Press), then Cardinal Ratzinger explained it this way: “Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intense struggle against evil and bring good into the world – that let God in.”
Some day, Cardinal Ratzinger once wrote, the West will tire of secularism and spiritual loneliness. “And they will discover the little community of believers as something quite new,” he wrote. “As a hope that is there for them, as the answer they have always been looking for.”
Clearly Pope Benedict XVI is a man, not only of great faith, but an expert in “Salvation History,” with its endless accounts of how God continuously prefers to build on the “rock” of a few (Anawim) who are preciously obedient, rather than build on the sandy soil of a compromising and rebellious horde seeking comfort and coddling more than the cross.
Even the “Prince of Preachers,” who some would say is the father of the mega-church movement, C. H. Spurgeon, understood the necessity to raise truth as a priority over the fear of offending:
“Jesus Christ had spoken certain truths which were highly objectionable to the Pharisees. Some of his loving disciples were in great fright, and they came to him and said, “Knowest thou not that the Pharisees are offended?” Now, our Savior, instead of making any apology for having offended the Pharisees, took it as a matter of course, and replied in a sentence which is well worthy to be called a proverb, — “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.” Now we have oftentimes, as Mathew Henry very tritely remarks, a number of good and affectionate but very weak hearers. They are always afraid that we shall offend other hearers. Hence, if the truth be spoken in a plain and pointed manner, and seems to come close home to the conscience, they think that surely it ought not to have been spoken, because So-and-so, and So-and-so, and So-and-so took offense at it.
Truly, my brethren, we are not all slow to answer in this matter. If we never offended, it would be proof positive that we did not preach the gospel. They who can please man will find it quite another thing to have pleased God. Do you suppose that men will love those who faithfully rebuke them? If you make the sinner’s heart to groan, and waken his conscience, do you think he will pay you court and thank you for it? Nay, not so; in fact, this ought to be one aim of our ministry, not to offend, but to test men and make them offended with themselves, so that their hearts may be exposed to their own inspection. Their being offended will discover of what sort they are. A ministry that never uproots will never water; a ministry that does not put down will never build up. He who knoweth not how to pluck up the plants which God hath not planted, scarcely understandeth how to be a worker of God in his vineyard. Our ministry ought always to be a killing as well as a healing one, — a ministry which kills all false hopes, blights all wrong confidences, and weeds out all foolish trusts, while at the same time it trains up the feeblest shoot of real hope, and tends comfort and encouragement even to the weakest of the sincere followers of Christ.
Do not, then, be needlessly alarmed about our ministry. Just give us plenty of elbowroom to strike right and left. Let not our friends encumber us. Whether they be friends or foes, when we have to strike for God and his truth, we cannot spare whoever may stand in our way. To our own Master we stand or fall, but to no one else in heaven or on earth.”
From a sermon entitled “The Weeding of the Garden,” delivered December 8, 1861.