Just being ‘nice’ is not enough:
Anyone who stands up for biblical truth in this age of relativism, emotivism and political correctness knows full well that the critics will come out attacking you fast and furious. And here I have in mind the legion of Christian critics who will always jump on you, claiming you are not being loving, not being Christlike, not being nice., etc.
I get these folks all the time. Now, are there Christians who are rather unloving, rude, crude and mean? Yes. But too often those of us who seek to defend biblical truth in the public arena are called all this and more by other believers who think that Christianity is all about being ‘nice’ and not offending anyone. I have already penned a number of pieces on this matter, eg.: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/04/08/no-more-mr-nice-guy/
But I still get the critics writing in, concerned about my ‘tone’ and the like. As if tone is all that matters. And as if none of the people we read about in the Bible ever had a strong and forceful tone! But the spirit of the age is so often what seems to drive these folks, not biblical truth.
I again recently had another person sharing his concerns with me about this matter. He thought I was being far too ‘forceful’ and asked what good I was accomplishing. He also asked if it was not ‘better to love than to be right?’ These are common criticisms that I get quite often. In this case I replied to this guy as follows:
Thanks *****. But I prefer the biblical path which of course never pits love against truth. Both are vitally important and both must be pursued simultaneously. The most loving thing we can do is share truth, challenge lies and deception, and prevent those with false views from deceiving others, and heading to a lost eternity. And if you are opposed to “forceful” rebuttals of error, then you must think the prophets, Jesus and Paul, to name but a few, are all to be condemned. Consider a few “forceful” and very public words from Christ from just one gospel:
Matthew 12:34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Matthew 12:39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
Matthew 15:7 You hypocrites!
Matthew 15:14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.
Matthew 15:16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them.
Matthew 16:23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Matthew 17:17 “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied,
Matthew 23:16 Woe to you, blind guides!
Matthew 23:19 You blind men!
Matthew 23:27 You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs!
Matthew 23:33 You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
But by your way of thinking, he was far too unloving and un-Christlike, and turned people off. Sorry, but I will side with Jesus here on this one! Truth matters, and not responding to error endangers the person holding to the error. There is nothing loving or Christian about just winking at error or ignoring it, all in the name of being ‘nice’.
As I just read in 1 Timothy 2:24-26: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” Paul got it right. And he could be VERY forceful in correcting others, mincing no words. But thanks for your thoughts.
Indeed, there are hundreds of such examples in Scripture of God’s servants using very forceful and even at times derogatory and harsh language as they oppose error and rebuke those who are opposing the will and work of God. As mentioned, the prophets did it routinely. So did Jesus. So did the disciples. And so often these were very public rebukes and confrontations. Yet many Christians find this far too off-putting.
Well, I prefer to run with how these biblical folks operated, instead of how so many modern believers do. “Open rebuke is better than secret love” we are told in Proverbs 27:5. And the biblical principle is this: private sin should usually result in private rebuke, while public sin should usually result in public rebuke.
Given that false teaching is almost always public (and just think of all the bad theology and false doctrine flooding the internet nowadays), that means that there will often be the need for public correction. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/08/16/on-public-rebuke/
But another verse I read after posting my response to this fellow especially stood out to me. Titus 1:10-14 says this:
For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth.
Hmm, this is yet another case of a very ‘forceful’ response by a Christian – the sort of response my critic thought was quite inappropriate for any believer. For some it seems that not only was Jesus quite wrong in how he went about doing things, but the Apostle Paul as well.
Let me offer a few quick remarks about this passage. Doriani and Phillips remind us of how important the matter of truth and error is:
We may see Satan’s strategies against the church in two main directions. We most often think of persecution from outside the church, both from the surrounding culture and from anti-Christian governments. The New Testament often remarks on this threat and warns of our need to show courage in the face of suffering. But the other attack arises from within the church in the form of false teaching. This is an even more deadly threat to God’s people. For while persecution has the tendency to strengthen believers and even increase the size of the church, doctrinal corruption leaves Christ’s people weak, scattered, and confused. If Christians ever have to choose between persecution and false teaching, the perspective of the bible encourages us to dread heresy above all other plagues.
And Hughes and Chapell offer this comment about the text in Titus:
Paul simply and stridently says about those carrying such a message, “They must be silenced” (v. 11). The word for “silenced” can also mean “controlled” or “Muzzled” and reflects the apostle’s identification of his opponents as those who are not subject to control – i.e., “insubordinate” (v. 10). To modern sensibilities this does not seem like a very tolerant attitude, but the reason for the apostle’s imperative explains his zeal. He alerts us not only to what we should be concerned about (i.e., damaged doctrine) but also about who should be the focus of our concern.
As one meme making the rounds on the social media says, “If your entire theology is God is love and Do not judge then you don’t have biblical Christianity, you have Oprah.” Yep, time to get back to the Bible and leave the spirit of the age behind.
As I have said so often elsewhere, we are indeed to speak the truth in love. And getting the biblical balance right is always crucial. As John Stott put it:
“This combination is rare in the contemporary church. Some leaders are great champions of the truth and anxious to fight for it, but display little love. Others are great advocates of love, but have no equal commitment to truth, as Jesus and his apostles had. Truth is hard if it is not softened by love, and love is soft if it is not strengthened by the truth.”
I for one need to keep working on this. In fact, as I was writing this article I was also involved in some discussion on the social media. A Christian fellow started a rather unhelpful and unedifying thread under one of my posts. As we were going back and forth it suddenly disappeared.
I thought that was a good move of him to pull it, and I was going to tell him that and thank him in a private message. But then I discovered he did not remove it – he unfriended me, and blocked me to boot! Oh dear. So here is a word of advice: there is nothing virtuous or Christlike in being a grumpy old man (something he admitted to being). Instead it is a sin to be repented of.
There is a fine line between standing strong for truth and growing a thick skin in order to be a strong soldier, and just being a belligerent old grump. I know, since I am a grumpy old man as well, and God is dealing with me in this. I hope I am slowly learning to become a real ambassador for Christ in this regard. (As for this fellow all I can do is keep him in my prayers. Hmm, no wonder life was so peaceful during those six months in Fakebook Gulag!)