Dear everyone going after leaders/public voices in the Charismatic/Continuationist/Cessationist debate,
In the light of the Strange Fire goings on, everyone is getting riled up; pastors, evangelical celebrities, professors apologists, journalists, and most of all bloggers of little to no consequence (like me). I know you are offended, impassioned and downright angry about all the things you perceive to be an affront to the Scriptures, the Trinity, or your theology about the Cessationism/Continuationism; you probably even have some sort of reason to be (though a fair amount of people have confused the first two with the third). The reason I’m writing you all though is because I fear that all the open letters, Facebook and Twitter assaults are producing a thick fog of annoyance/exhaustion that is permeating much of the current efforts of discussion.
Namely, the majority of you are not making yourself part of the solution.
For your concern (I hope), I present the following four concerns:
1. Legitimate biblical concerns must be addressed biblically.
The Bible doesn’t only speak of truth, but also how to go about addressing the truth, correcting those who are confused about it, and dealing with those who reject it. Many of the texts that people throw out as justification for their endeavors are simply misunderstood or misapplied scripture:
– Some people are writing letters and waging public assaults against charismatic/cessationist leaders, and are appealing to Matthew 18:15-17 for justification, but Matthew 18:15-17 deals with personal sin between individuals. This doesn’t apply to disagreement with what’s said by a public figure you don’t know personally and have never had actual contact with (someone you have never even met probably hasn’t sinned against you). I would say that 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 fits in this category of “misapplication” as well.
– Others are appealing to Galatians 2:11-14 and Peter and Paul’s confrontation about Peter’s public sin. This passage has more direct application, but I’d also like to point out that Paul was the one in the position of authority and credibility to address Peter; Paul was someone that Peter knew well and Paul was a spiritual authority in the early church that everyone listened to because the Lord had given him his role of authority. It’s worth noting that the rebuke of Peter didn’t come from half the church in the form of anonymous notes and murmuring.
– Others are appealing to Titus 1:9-13, but again, that passage is a command to the elders of the church. It’s their job to defend the doctrine of the church, and chances are that next to none of the open letters and Facebook/Twitter assaults are coming from church elders on behalf of their church. I haven’t read a letter yet that is written by one elder addressing a fellow elder. This misapplication of elder directives to non-elders is coming up in the application of other texts as well (1 1 Timothy 5:19-20; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Titus 3:10-11, etc.)
– Others are appealing to judgment texts like Matthew 7:21-23 to justify their assaults; I’ve heard the line “I’m not judging you but Christ will, and I’m just telling you in advance what he’s going to say”. The issue with judgment texts (like this one) is that Christ is the one doing the judging. That’s not a chair that is ever vacant and needing to be kept warm by anyone else.
Rather, here’s a passage that Paul wrote to the church in Rome:
– “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” – Romans 16:17-20
Here’s also directives that Paul wrote TItus to inform the church in Crete:
– “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. ” – Titus 2:11-3:1-8
Very different idea in these texts, and not one that supports chasing down false teachers/divisive persons and straightening them out. As you get frustrated about whatever it is that frustrates you and study the scriptures for clues on how to handle your frustration, make sure to pay attention to who is being addressed in the passage.
2. Defending the truth via a sinful process harms the truth in the process and compromises the integrity of the defender (and the defense).
This basically applies to the preceding passages, but also to passages like:
– “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:25-32
– “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” – Colossians 4:5-6
When you sin in defending what’s true, you give your opponent legitimate grounds to be suspicious of your biblical convictions. That doesn’t get your opponents off the hook for his sin, but it only places you alongside them, hanging on another different hook for another, different sin.
3. Personal assaults and challenges don’t actually address errant ideas/teaching/doctrine.
This is a fairly simple idea: proving someone is sinful/stupid/foolish doesn’t necessarily prove that a specific idea is wrong; even the most ignorant atheist says true things from time to time.
I’d point out that most of the time in the New Testament, we see the writers of scripture responding to ideas and not people. Now it’s true that we see Paul and the apostles talking about people who troubled the church and naming them by name:
– Hymenaeus, Alexander, Philetus, and Alexander the metalworker (1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 2:16-18, 4:14-15).
– It’s worth noting that 1 Timothy 1:20 gives me reason to think that Hymenaeus and Alexander were under church discipline since Paul claims that they have been “handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme”.
– It’s also worth noting that 2 Timothy 2:16-18 suggests that Hymenaeus and Philetus were troublemakers in Ephesus (and Hymenaeus was still at it after the warning in 1 Timothy but had now picked up a different sidekick), and in 2 Timothy 2:16 Paul simply advises Timothy to “avoid irreverent babble” and then gives Hymenaeus and Philetus as examples of irreverent babblers who said that the resurrection had already occurred. Not much more than a passing reference.
– It’s also worth noticing that 2 Timothy 4:14-15 only says “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.” Paul doesn’t list his heresies or say anything beyond “beware” because he’s an active opponent of the gospel.
– I’d make a point of saying that Paul and Timothy knew the details of those situations, but Paul doesn’t trot it out in front of the whole church in gruesome detail, likely because it’s not the business of those who aren’t in leadership to be informed and making judgment calls with the grizzly facts. That’s certainly not edifying for the church!
But, we also see Paul and the apostles talking about how “certain people have crept in unnoticed” (Jude 1:4) and then he never names them in the rest of Jude, but rather calls them “these people” (Jude 1:8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 19) while warning the saints by describing the conduct and teaching of “these people”. In 2 Corinthians 11-12, Paul never names the “super apostles” (2 Corinthians 12:11) that were troubling the church in Corinth, but he does describe their error in detail. In Romans 16:17-20, Paul again warns the church in Rome of “those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught” but he never names anyone, but rather rebuts them via the preceding 15 chapters of the epistle to the Romans. I’d suggest that “the doctrine that you have been taught” refers to the body of doctrine that the church in Rome had received in the very letter they were reading from the apostle Paul (though it wouldn’t be limited to just the epistle they had received). We see similar patterns in Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, Colossians, etc. We know what the errors are that are being addressed, but we don’t know who was peddling them in those churches.
The best way to deal with errant people is to correct the error, not the person because the “who is wrong” changes, but the “what is wrong” doesn’t.
4. Random rebukes from random strangers almost always produce the opposite of the intended effect.
This is just a point that everyone knows but many occasionally forget.
Imagine if you were in a supermarket and someone came up to you and said “I saw how you were shopping with your wife/husband and I’m really concerned for your soul. You made them push the cart and that’s not loving/submissive and is something unbecoming of one who claims to be a Christian.”
What would you do? Break down in tearful conviction?
I doubt it.
You don’t have a clue who the person is. If this is the first interaction between you two ever, and they don’t even know if your a Christian or not (but are guessing because you’re wearing nice clothes and it’s a Sunday), you’d likely be somewhat offended at their sheer audacity, but smile and thank them for their thoughts, and walk away (while thinking they were a few fries short of a happy-meal, if you know what I mean).
But imagine if they followed you out to your car and kept at it, eventually raising their voice and yelling at you to repent as you tried to ignore them, load your groceries and family, and drive away.
Would you be willing to listen?
Of course not. They’d be a weirdo just making wild accusations that they knew nothing about, and acting crazy.
That’s what it feels like to evangelical leaders, on either side of the debate, when you write them open letters and demand answers to accusations, or try to lure them into a rhetorical trap on Facebook/Twitter to get them to say whatever horrible thing it is that you want them to say so you can point at it and yell “AHA! SO YOU ADMIT IT!”
They don’t know you at all, and they’ve got plenty of things going on that you don’t know about. They’re busier than you (hence you have time to hunt them down and post youtube clips on their Facebook & Twitter feeds). They enter the conversation without any real context to who you are, and they most likely are being blindsided by something that they may or may not even be aware of (i.e. “are you aware that so-and-so, whom you once spoke positively about, has said THIS at some point in history?”). When you enter the conversation with accusations instead of introductions, you immediately place anyone on the defensive, and they’re far more likely to defend themselves.
They’re most likely gracious with you (or more likely, the interns that manage their Facebook/Twitter/Blogs/whatever are gracious with you), but they’re already not likely open to rebuke and, let’s face it, don’t answer to you or owe you anything. They don’t work on your time frame, know who you are, or have time to respond to your asking them questions/calling them to defend a statement made at some point (that they may not even remember). They have jobs that don’t involve you in any immediate way and they most likely won’t be affected if you’re in a different time zone and furious about something.
You’re not a part of their world and cannot demand to be when you have the need to correct them. Chances are, once you’ve spent your week(s) pursuing them, you’ll exit their lives as quickly as you entered their lives.
So everyone, think a little about what’s going on before you start drafting up a scorcher and tossing it online for the whole world.
Pray a lot and ask the Lord to give you grace and love for the person you’re about to go after.
Read the scriptures and ask yourself if this is even a role that your church has you in.
Ask your pastor if there’s something around your church you could help with that would be a better investment of your time than a Blog/Twitter/Facebook crusade “for the sake of the church (universal)”. Chances are, the church you’re attending needs your service more than the churches you don’t.
Come to think of it, I probably have to go back and ask a few individuals for forgiveness myself, and I am a pastor and I am serving in my church.
I pray that the Lord will give you the strength to remember that he is the one who will protect his bride, and he’ll do it in according to his protection program as laid out in his word. That may not involve your blog, Twitter, or Facebook.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “וְאָֽהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמֹוךָ” Unger