In recent days famous Christians (particularly in the SBC) have been arguing about various issues within the church. Issues range from the nature of the atonement to the role of women in the church to how much poetic license we should allow in worship music. Before you read any further, I have no intention of solving those issues in this blog post. I only want to address the manner in which we are discussing these things. To be clear, I do not always do these things well.
Necessary disclosure: Sovereign Grace Fellowship of Brazoria (the church I serve) is a member of our local SBC Association (the GCBA) and we are a part of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention (the state convention.) We associated when we planted in 2016 with the confidence that God was leading us to do so and we have not regretted that association. As a church that strives to be a healthy gospel-centered church, we believe this to be a valuable association to enable us to do more Kingdom work than we could accomplish on our own.
But, as of late, I have personally been disappointed by our famous representatives. They have given into snippy argumentation rather than loving engagement with one another. So, in this post, I intend to line out some bad habits we have developed as a Christian culture in America (this is not exhaustive, I promise I’ll keep it brief). Then I’d like to lay out a few ways I hope people would approach me when I write something or preach something that people believe is in error. You can feel free to skim as I put stuff in bold for easy reading. Ready: let’s go!
- We lack charity: In response to each other, there has been little charity. Sadly, it has become a rare occasion to grant someone the benefit of the doubt. Rather than asking for clarification, we lash out in twitter-storms at our accusers or post passive-aggressive comments on our social media platforms. This is not helpful. In this way, we are behaving much like junior high students who have yet to learn how to engage in honest, thoughtful dialogue. 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 admonishes us to “stand firm as men” AND to “let all be done in love!” The mark of a Christian is love, or charity, (John 13:35) particularly “agape” love – love that is self-sacrificing. We must consider what we say and do in the context of this defining marker.
- We’ve embraced sound bites: Much of what has been spoken is based on hearsay and short comments captured in sound bite formats. This should not surprise us as our culture thrives on the sound bite. Our news is boiled down to 145 characters and much of our opinions are formulated on the basis of short pithy phrases caught on cell phone video. The problem with this is that sound-bites lack clarity. 1 Peter 3:15 admonishes us to “be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us!” The word here for “answer” can be rendered defense or the classical definition – apology. It implies a well thought out response. Sound-bites are rarely well thought out.
- We don’t finish books: One of the most troubling realities I have witnessed in my work as a pastor is that most leaders do not finish the books they start. This is troubling in the sense that it indicates a lack of full engagement with the author’s ideas. Most pastors I know have copious books on their shelves and seldom finish or read all of them. In the same way, our Christian culture seldom investigates the sound bites in a thorough manner. Yet Paul exhorts Timothy to “consider all that I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7). The exhortation to “consider ALL” seems to indicate that you should listen to the full argument before formulating your response. In our culture, however, the sound bite is accepted as if it is the complete and authoritative response of the speaker. This leads to tragic misunderstandings and demonization of ideas. Finish the book!
How I would like people to respond to me (take note- each of these assume that I have communicated poorly or I am actually wrong. I am placing myself as the errant brother in these examples.) –
- Assume that I am simply not clear enough or that I did not mean to express heresy. I have yet to meet a Christian teacher who purposely accepts heresy. The genuine believers that I know are trying their best to teach well. More often than not, if they are shown in Scripture where the error of their teaching is, they often do a 180. If you ever catch me in error, please assume that I did not intentionally venture into error. I may be utterly convinced that I am right, but I also may have just failed to communicate clearly.
- Ask for clarification: As a pastor, clarity is something that is extremely important and I am sad to say that I am not always clear. Sometimes that is because I don’t have the grasp that I should on linguistic nuance. Sometimes it is because I have not been able to crystallize the concept in my head. Sometimes it is because I am wrong. But, it is NEVER because I am intentionally trying to be false. Ask me to clarify the position I am taking and then go from there.
- Grant that I can be a Christ-follower and be wrong. Christians don’t always get everything right. Peter had to be confronted by Paul in Galatians 2, Paul had to be confronted by Barnabas in Acts 15, and even Timothy required some admonition from Paul! Christians do not always do what is right and they do not always get everything correct. I can be devoted to Jesus and still get some things wrong. Please consider this before condemning me as anathema.
- Present to me a thorough argument from Scripture and trust the Spirit to open my eyes if I’m wrong. Being a pastor invites critique from theologically minded brothers. Indeed, often people who have started to study at a deep level are quick to critique the pastor’s work and sermons. When you need to challenge something I say, please do so thoroughly. Many people ask a question with a larger/underlying question hidden behind the first. (Example: one man asks, “what do you think about famous Christian X?” Famous Christian X just wrote an article endorsing avocados. What they really want to know is what you think about avocados. But they didn’t ask about avocados, they asked about famous person X, who just endorsed Avocados… their real question is about avocados but I have no way of knowing that.) Give the entire context of your argument and grant me the privilege of struggling with a complete discussion.
- Be willing to accept that I may not be ready to go where you are yet. I may be the weaker brother in this discussion (as I have assumed I am for all these examples). Please grant me grace and recognize that I am still growing in Christ. I may not be ready to accept your position as viable or Biblical. If your view is correct, then the Spirit will work in me (potentially through your discussions) to correct my error. Be patient, I may not be where you are, but we’re following the same King and He will lead us.
Are there anythings you would add? How would you want someone to confront you if you were errant?