Yep, we have all encountered them. They are a real worry, and they seem to be everywhere of late. They are utterly convinced of their various pet beliefs, and will challenge everyone about them. These are folks who just love to argue, to pick a fight, to have the last word, and to insist that they are right. They are argumentative trolls.
But even worse than that, they often pick the most idiotic things to argue about. They will take some inane issue, or some secondary issue, and turn it into a matter of first importance – a major test of Christian orthodoxy. And then they will argue to the death over it, no matter how obnoxious, ungracious and unChristlike they become in the process. They are cultic trolls as well.
They are usually Christians, and are often OK on some of the basic Christian teachings, but because they will run with bizarre and extraneous matters, they actually become quite cultic. It is as if their pet peeve is the only thing worth making a stink about, and everyone must submit to their agenda or be treated like the devil incarnate.
Such arguments and debates and discussions have always been occurring, but it seems that the social media has resulted in them growing exponentially in number and intensity. One can hardly get on to the social media without encountering these cultic Christians ready to go to war over their little agenda items on a daily basis.
Examples of cultism
So what are some of these topics? There would be plenty to choose from. And of course to simply list a few of these will result in those who run with them flying off into yet another rage, seeking to do battle with me because I dare to suggest these are just not issues worth wasting time on, and they are often just plain wrong about them as well.
Let me offer just three common topics where the cultists will come out in full force, on search and destroy missions, seeking to devour anyone who does not hold to their distorted version of events. One is the KJV-Only crowd. They are an embarrassment and can be downright cultic – at least those who hold to the more extreme versions of this.
Another group is the ‘Christmas and Easter are of the devil’ camp. These Scrooges come out every Christmas and Easter condemning any believer who dares to celebrate the birth or death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Never mind the clear commands of Paul that we should NOT be passing judgment on such folks (see Colossians 2:16-17 for starters).
A third group – believe it or not – is flat earth Christians. Yes I am embarrassed to even say it, but there do actually exist Christians who really believe the earth is flat! They are absolute fruit loops when it comes to this issue, delighting in ignorance and conspiracy theories (they usually also claim the moon landings were faked, and so on).
What Scripture says about those who thrive on vain arguments and endless debates
Having just finished reading the New Testament again, I was surprised at how often it warns about those who spend their lives with endless disputes and arguments, wasting time on useless questions. Let me offer some of these clear injunctions against this sort of behaviour, beginning with a few Old Testament passages:
Proverbs 15:18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
Proverbs 17:14 Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;
so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
Proverbs 20:3 It is to one’s honor to avoid strife,
but every fool is quick to quarrel.
Proverbs 26:17 Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears
is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.
1 Timothy 1:3-4 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith.
1 Timothy 3:2-3 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
1 Timothy 4:6-7 If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.
1 Timothy 6:3-5 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
1 Timothy 6:20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge.
2 Timothy 2:15-16 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.
2 Timothy 2:23-24 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.
Titus 3:9-10 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.
Five problems with Christian trolls
What can be said about such cultic Christian trolls? Well, there are at least five areas of concern that can be mentioned:
-Lack of humility. One of the hallmarks of the biblical Christian is genuine humility, a teachable spirit, and an openness to learn. But these folks are in the exact opposite camp: they are arrogant, they think they know it all, and they refuse to listen to anyone else.
Thus by their very behaviour they show how far off they are from being true disciples of Jesus Christ. It is not just faulty doctrine that helps us identify a bogus believer, but faulty behaviour as well. When a person is arrogant, proud, pugilistic, and treats every other believer like dirt because they don’t go along with their pet issue, then you know all you need to know about their faith, or lack thereof.
-Lack of intelligence. One thing you find over and over again with these folks is that they really do not seem all that bright. Many are certainly not loving God with their minds as Jesus commanded us to do. And worse yet, you will hear these guys say so often, ‘I have studied this matter long and hard.’
Yeah right. In most cases that means they have watched a few dopey videos on the Internet by some nutter cultist and conspiracy theorist and now they think they have become an authority on the issue. They have not undertaken any serious study into various key fields, be it theology, biblical studies, church history, and so on. And they often have zero knowledge of the biblical languages.
In fact, they will even exult in how anti-theological and unlearned they are. They pride themselves in not being well read or informed, and seem to prefer revelling in their ignorance. These of course are all the characteristics of those so easily sucked into cults: they have checked their brains at the door and delight in being gullible, and easily led by others.
-Lack of focus. These folks are clearly majoring in minors, and seeking to fight to the death over something which even if they are right on (and usually they are not), is just a secondary matter at best. It is not something to go to the wall over, but these folks will do just that.
They take something that all believers should be allowed to agree to disagree over, and make it a fundamental test of orthodoxy. Instead of dealing with key doctrinal issues like the deity of Christ or the triune Godhead, they take some obscure and often inconsequential matter and turn it into the most important article of belief there is.
As but one shocking example, I know of one guy who is so obsessed with pushing the flat earth foolishness that he did so over the entire Christmas period! I kid you not. Instead of loving Jesus and celebrating his birth and being with family, he seemed to spend his entire time on the social media fighting to the death this silliness.
But I have written often about this dangerous habit of majoring in minors, eg: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/09/21/the-madness-of-majoring-in-minors/
-Lack of orthodoxy. On some of these things they have moved straight into cult-land. They have become full-fledged Pharisees and legalists, condemning and attacking anyone and everyone who does not see eye to eye with their loopy and cultic positions.
Instead of concentrating on the key biblical indicators of orthodoxy, they have fixated on and become obsessed with some archaic and trivial matter, and made it the centre of their focus and energy. That is always an indication of cultism, not of biblical orthodoxy.
-Lack of Christian grace. These folks are simply trolls. They love to argue for the sake of arguing, ignoring all the passages I cite above. They show no Christian love and grace, and they exist only to prove themselves right on their foolish pet peeves.
As such they do tremendous damage to the cause of Christ. They really become just like the Pharisees that Jesus spent so much time criticising. Instead of loving the brethren they effectively hate on them, all because they do not run with their little obsessions.
Am I saying there is no place for having firm convictions on various matters? Of course not. One can certainly defend one’s positions in a firm and cogent fashion. What I am warning against here are those folks who will take some secondary matter and treat it like vital gospel truth, and treat all those who dare to differ as arch heretics who should be put to the sword.
They demonstrate their lack of priorities, their lack of Christian love and grace, and their lack of discernment. They are proud, argumentative and arrogant. In that sense they act just like cultists, and just like pagan trolls. Christians are called to be better than this.
We must pick our battles carefully. We need to exercise some biblical discernment in knowing which battles are worth running with and which are not. By all means, you are welcome to have opinions on all sorts of secondary matters, but please do not turn them into tests of Christian orthodoxy.
Feel free to argue your case on things such as eschatology, or baptism, or styles of worship, or church government, but do not let them become major battle fields where you hurl anathemas at everyone who might have a different take on such matters.
As always, keeping on our knees with a teachable spirit and an attitude of humility is the best way to proceed here.