Moved to action by an excellent post at Light and Salt by David U. – Intolerant of Intolerance – I think I went too far. My frustration and exasperation came out as anger against someone kind enough to converse with me online over some points on which we disagree. (That, on the heels of posting a response one blogger called subversive – I looked it up; he’s right – to a document with which I disagree. It was subversive; I wanted the signers of the document to know what it felt like to encounter one with which I felt they should not disagree – posted on the Internet for the whole world and God to see.)
I started to make the rounds of the usual suspects … the sites that I knew would be roundly condemning to hell anything they saw as contrary to God’s will within the fellowship that I count myself a part of. Finding little or nothing, I wandered to other sites, nerves raw and ready to argue any points on any site. (No URL requests, please.) I began to wonder if I was becoming one of the folks I perceived as People Who Are Always Right About Absolutely Everything.
I guess what convicted me most was something I perceived as a compliment; when one blog linked to my Affirmation and said I was “inspired” to write it.
But I had to ask myself: if I was inspired to write the things I’d been writing, was my inspiration coming from the right source?
I decided it was time to back off and see if my spiritual zipper was open.
I started posting a series on the Holy Spirit that I had taught as an adult elective class last summer at my church. It was probably too long for most folks who read my blog to get into; and I apologize for that. Sometimes you post things on your blog mainly to benefit yourself, and this was one of them.
Because – like my pal Fajita – I’ve been feeling compelled to tackle some things that are on my heart, and I didn’t want to get taken to the woodshed by someone whom the Spirit had truly inspired.
Chief among the things I’ve wanted to address: the correctors. The usual suspects I mentioned above. The “anti-everything-but-up’s”, as folks called ’em when I was a kid. I used to read their sites for entertainment; for a good chuckle and a snort and a shrug.
Having dipped way too far in their mindset – and, thankfully, having held most of my silence – I’ve had to realize that these folks probably originally started with a zeal and fervor for the Word, for serving the Lord and helping maintain the purity of His church and its doctrine (as they perceived it). Just like me, they’ve gone too far. Way, way, way too far.
Someone needs to call them back. The brother who was willing to converse with me about the Affirmation showed me how it can be done.
So I just want to ask some of the questions that I think need answering before any of us dip into the venom and start shooting the darts:
A Brother Who Sins Against You: Matthew 18:15-20 – Jesus tells us, if anyone sins against us (or has something against us), “go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” Does it say start by writing him (or her) up in a bulletin or post it on the Internet? Or even by sending a private letter? Does it not say “go”? Is it legitimate to say this doesn’t apply to us if a brother has sinned against God instead of us? Jesus continues, “If he listens you have won him over.” Does He say, “if he reads”? Or does it guarantee that you’ve won him over just by going to him? Obviously not; the next verse says “if he does not listen, take one or two others along” and he quotes Deuteronomy 9:15 about the need for two or more agreeing witnesses. Then if he refuses to listen (not “repent!” – it just says “listen!”) tell it to the church, and if not then, treat him like he doesn’t belong. (Literally “as a pagan or tax collector.” And wouldn’t we, as Christians, still owe it to a pagan or tax collector to continue praying for their souls?
This seems to be a four-step process when carried to the extreme. Have we been guilty of skipping a step or two or three?
Has anyone ever followed this advice from Jesus? Except for Priscilla and Aquila? In Acts 18:24-31 (while Paul is out of town), Apollos comes to Ephesus and speaks accurately about Jesus. He isn’t an evil man with bad intentions. He’s just not up-to-date doctrinally; he only knows about John’s baptism. Aquila and Priscilla don’t seem to embarrass him in the synagogue where he’s teaching – or reduce his powerful influence; they invite him to their home to explain to him the way of God more adequately. Isn’t that the essence of …
Speaking the Truth in Love: Ephesians 4:11-16 – This passage speaks of building each other up; of preparing God’s people for works of service; of maturing together. Admittedly, it is not talking specifically about correcting others, but it is speaking generally of dialogue and communication in love. Is it loving to condemn or rail against someone we don’t even know because we disagree with them, doctrinally or otherwise? Is that “tough love” – correcting them from a safe distance – because of our concern for their soul? Is it loving to call to witness every infraction that person has ever committed? Is that what’s meant by …
Maintaining the Spirit of Unity in the Bond of Peace: Ephesians 4:3 – Does it cause peace to air the laundry of others in public -dirty laundry or clean? In publications which get passed around? On the Internet, where anyone can read it? Is that, as in the previous verses, being completely humble and gentle; patient, bearing with one another in love? Is that the spirit of …
The Golden Rule: Luke 6:31 – If others determined that we were in the wrong, would we want them to treat us the way we’ve been treating them? Do we even have the right to judge them?
Judging Each Other: Matthew 7:1-3 – Are actions being judged? Or people? In Luke 12:57, Jesus suggests, “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” If people are being judged, are we willing to be judged by the same standards? If actions are being judged, is it necessary to involve names called out publicly? Since some might justify the practice by scripture, let’s examine a few of those who are called out by name there:
- Hymenaeus and Alexander – I Timothy 1:20: Guilty of blasphemy
- Hymenaeus and Philetus – II Timothy 2:16-18: Leading believers astray by teaching that Christ had already returned
- Peter’s Bad Table Manners – Galatians 2:11-21: Would not eat with Gentiles – was acting like a racist! (This was one of three times we know of that God had to convince Peter that He would accept Gentiles as believers!)
- Diotrephes – III John 1:9: Loved to be first, would not fellowship the church
- Jezebel – Revelation 2:20: By her teaching she misled God’s servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols; the name might be symbolic rather than accurate, calling to mind Israel’s idolatrous queen
- Nicolai/Nicolaitans – Revelation 2:14-16: Enticed others to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality
- A few others are worth a mention: Ananias and Sapphira, who were slain for lying to the Holy Spirit; Simon and Elymas were sorcerers who misspoke about gifts of the Spirit. One repented; the other was struck blind.
Is anyone in the fellowship of believers today guilty of anything approaching the level of sin these people were committing in the church of century one? The book of Galatians, addressed to all of the churches in that region and very corrective in nature, only “calls out” as a bad example Peter’s hypocrisy; as an example of the racism affecting Galatian churches. No one else is corrected by name. As far as I can tell, there is no evidence that letters in which a local troublemaker might have been named and delivered to a church in that city were ever read in another city. They would not have known those people named!
- Euodia and Syntyche: Philippians 4:2 They disagreed with each other, not the one who called them by name in his letter. Paul urged them to agree with each other. He didn’t dictate terms on what they should agree upon. He praised them as fellow workers and begged others in Philippi to help them whose names are in the book of life
Do we season our corrective missives with such pleas and compliments? Or are we condemnatory toward those with whom we disagree?
- Archippus: Colossians 4:17: “Tell him to complete the work that the Lord gave him.” Possibly not even a rebuke; just an encouragement.
Are we as supportive in our corrections; are we encouraging rather than discouraging?
On the other hand, the New Testament is full of unnamed people who made bad choices. They might be described (a “rich young ruler,” for instance) but are not named. There was no point in embarrassing them. They might have turned to Christ later, but their stories were germinal to the point at hand. In the case of others, their actions and teachings were identified (“false teachers” and “false prophets”), but the reader of century one was left to identify them by their fruits. That was enough.
And that’s probably more than enough for one post. If I feel compelled to ask some more questions about the Old Testament scriptures that we correctors sometimes dredge up in defense of our ways, I might post some of them another time.
God is righteous, but he is also loving. My dad used to speak of God’s dual nature as His “arms” – His arm of justice and His arm of mercy; His arm of law and His arm of grace. If we concentrate on only one aspect of His divine nature, we preach a one-armed God.
Now I incite you. Are there people you know to whom you could go in person and confront them about overly-zealous corrective ways? Can you do so firmly, gently, lovingly, face-to-face, reasonably, tactfully, prayerfully? Can you do it with concern for their souls? Can you do it without judging or condeming?
It’s a tough calling. No wonder there are so many of us who get sucked into going too far with our corrective fervor.
And so few to call us back in line.