What’s the cardinal social faux pas these days?
What’s the one thing that you absolutely cannot do without incurring the wrath of your entire FB timeline?
What the quickest way to become a social pariah and get branded an “internet troll”?
It’s standing for right in a world gone wrong.
Think about it—anytime someone takes an absolute, God-honoring stance for or against an issue, person or controversial idea they are going to hear about it. Whether it’s Lecrae speaking out about the dignity of all lives, including Black lives or someone posting a YouTube video that shows just how alive babies in the womb are—holding high your Godly convictions can get you in hot water.
Today, having absolute convictions is for “extremists” unless of course, your convictions affirm the validity of everyone else’s viewpoint. I mean—sure, everyone has a right to have their own opinions but since when does that mean that every opinion is equally valid or sensible. Why can’t we stand up and say: “That’s not just a bad idea—that’s a wrong idea.”
If “Sam” believes that putting sand in the gas tank of your car is a good idea but “John” rightly knows that is a terrible idea, is Sam entitled to his opinion? Absolutely. But if Sam publicly shares that opinion with another person, is John entitled to publicly speak against that opinion? Absolutely!
But what about matters of Christian doctrine…uh-oh.
When I was growing up you dared not speak against a preacher or anything a preacher said. It was considered disrespectful and a touch prideful so it just didn’t happen much in my context. But, when I got into my college years, I read a few books and fell into the trap of thinking I had discovered the most excellent way about everything. I became convinced that 99% of everything I had known prior to then was wrong. About that time I learned a new word, “heretic!”
A good definition will help here. For our discussion, a “heretic” is someone who chooses to hold to a position that is contrary to the broadly accepted truths of Scripture as held by the Church Universal.
We’re talking here about core tenets of the Christian faith that one HAS to accept to be a Christian such as:
- Jesus is God. Jesus died for the sins of the world but was raised by the power of God and lives today.
- Salvation is by faith in the substitutionary life and death of Jesus through grace alone (not works of man).
- There is only one God and He exists eternally as Father, Son and Holy Spirit (a.k.a. “The Trinity”).
We’re not talking about “open-handed” issues like:
- Do we baptize “In Jesus Name” or “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”?
- Are tongues still for today? If so, should tongues be spoken in public or only in private worship?
- Should women be pastors?
- What is the role of the prophet today?
These open-handed issues, though important, are things that faithful Christians can and do disagree about. Nevertheless, we’re all still Christians.
But what if a person’s views slander the very character of God? I have in mind the ongoing conflict between prosperity teachers and those who abhor their teaching on the character of God as it relates to money. Are either of these camps “heretics?” If so, should we be about calling them out so they don’t defame and contort the character of God?
I don’t believe the Bible gives a one-size fits all answer to this difficult issue. In some places, Paul speaks generally about false teachers (See Romans 16:17-18, Colossians 2:8, 2 Corinthians 11:13-15). At other times, he calls people by name (See 2 Timothy 1:15, 2:17, 3:8, 4:10 and 4:14). So, how do you decide when to call someone out and when to speak more generally?
Here are 5 tips to help you defend the faith in a way that is edifying for you and those you seek to protect from harmful false teaching:
1. Be motivated by love. If you are out here trying to show that you are smarter than the next man or prove you’ve read more books than then next man, you’re the one that’s out of order.
2. Be humble. Bringing correction, privately or publicly, should not be a moment for beating your chest or putting someone in check. You bring correction because you have to—there’s no other option. Like a parent who has to whip their child, there’s no joy in it but only a deep sense of responsibility and most of the time, profound sadness that things have come to this.
3. Be selective. Every battle is not worth fighting. Is this an open-handed issue or is this a core doctrine that must be preserved? Is this the best time, place and forum to challenge this doctrine or person?
4. Be sure. Are you sure you have sought to fully understand the other person’s position? Don’t listen to one soundbite and think you know a person’s position. They may have changed their mind since then or they may have spoken in a way that they later recanted.
5. Be courageous. It’s easy to spout angry words on Facebook against people you’ll never meet. It’s more difficult and more important to address the doctrinal missteps among the people you know and love. Are you willing to schedule a one-on-one meeting with your pastor to address a recurring theme you’ve heard him mention that seems to cut against a clear teaching of the Bible? Are you willing to watch your own life and doctrine closely? And, if and when it comes to it, are you willing to share the reproach that will come with speaking against a person or doctrine that is clearly in error?
I guess what I’m trying to say is this—before you get your Batman cape out and start flashing the “Holy Heretic” flashlight on everybody, be sure you go about it the right way.