I have heard a lot of talk about "credibility" in our Convention over the past year. Here are my thoughts. Credibility is essentially believability. It means that a person is trustworthy - at least within a particular context. Credibility really matters when we want people to hear us, and perhaps be persuaded by what we are saying. It matters to me as a Christian who seeks to tell my community about the gospel; as a pastor to my church; as a father to my children; as a theologian when talking with other believers about the nature of God, truth and his word.
I believe credibility is ultimately the fruit of a person's character and conduct. It can be built through consistency, integrity, honesty, faithfulness, truthfulness, effectiveness and love. As a Christian my credibility with others ultimately hangs on all of these things. How can a man be believable if he does not do what he says he will do, practice righteousness when no one else is looking, admit who he really is (faults and all), remain devoted to his word, friends and family, speak the truth, produce results in keeping with his calling and gifts, and love like Jesus? These things, when observed by others, are the means by which we become believable. And yet, even when all of this is present and observable, it does not guarantee that a man will be trusted. This is especially true within a Christian subculture.
Some people have different standards by which they find a man credible; standards which, in the end, carry more weight than those things I have listed above. Jesus faced this sort of thing throughout his ministry. Though he was blameless in all things, fulfilled the law, loved unconditionally and sacrificed himself for the undeserving the religious establishment found him to lack believability. Jesus was not to be trusted because he challenged the beliefs and traditions of his elders and refused to tow any party line. He kept the law of God perfectly, but he did not meet the expectations of the Pharisees. Jesus had credibility in an objective sense by remaining faithful, truthful, righteous, etc. He should have been trusted. Yet he had no credibility in a subjective sense because he did not conform to the unbiblical expectations of many in his religious community. He was therefore dismissed as an irreligious, renegade, blasphemer. Jesus was working for the good of Israel, and yet Israel's leadership could not see it. His way was too different from what was then normative and would result in too much change. His way was too closely tied to Scripture, too distant from tradition, too loud when opposing hypocrisy and inconsistency, too gracious to those outside of the Kingdom, too demanding in personal holiness and too counter-cultural to both the world and the wayward church.
One's credibility can be a fragile thing, for much of it rests in the hands of others. I believe we should seek to build credibility in our lives, churches and ministries through godly character and conduct, but whether people receive it or not is up to them. If I lose credibility in the eyes of some by following the word and example of Jesus than so be it. I'm okay with that. What I am not okay with is seeking to maintain a peculiar form of credibility with anyone based on avoiding certain peccadilloes and keeping sacred traditions.
Where there is need of reformation and revival, where God calls his people to work for the glory of Christ, the spread of the gospel and the health of the church, I believe we will have to risk losing our credibility with some in order to remain faithful to God.