Scan the Internet horizon and I’m sure you’ll see a controversy or two. Someone in high profile church leadership fails morally. Someone else endorses a book written by an author on the fringes. Someone with a church platform questions the biblical teaching on an issue like gender roles, or marriage.
We’ve all seen it happen. We’ve thrown our hat into the ring of a heated debate in a comment thread or two or written our own blog posts about the individual in question. But before the next internet explosion, let’s drag this pattern under the microscope of God’s Word together and see what we find.
Know this, my beloved brothers
In his practical book to fellow-believers (a.k.a. us) James writes this: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).
I may not know you personally, but we are family, adopted by the same Heavenly Father—but no one would know it with how we trash talk each other online. If James’ words of wisdom made it into modern paraphrase, they might read, “Be quick to hear, slow to blog, and slow to type with all caps.” The world is watching us. What possible good could it do for the gospel for us to heave our own under every bus?
James’ second point is worth hovering over for awhile: “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” As just as it often feels, and though there are appropriate times for it, our anger usually works in the opposite way we intend. But what will please God in the midst of the outrage of the Internet?
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psa. 51:17).
Do we cry out to God with hearts broken by the brokenness of our fellow image bearers before we post? Are our hearts contrite, bent low by the sin of our fellow-believers or more often puffed up because we’re not the one who misstepped?
We have a plan for this
God’s Word never leaves us to flail. Our fellow Christians will sin. Pull out the manual and you’ll see, we have a plan for this.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matt. 18:15-17).
Do we have permission to speak into each other’s sin? Yes. Part of the reason God designed the church was to create a safety net for sinners to fall into. But are we to deal with every Christian’s sin? I hope not.
This model is for dealing with those who sin against us personally. The method is clear. First, we confront our Christian brother or sister. If that doesn’t work, we involve some other Christian brothers and sisters. If that doesn’t work we involve our church leadership. If that doesn’t work, we separate (for a time).
When do we get to the part where we publically criticize each other? How about the part where we use someone as a poster child for right or wrong theology? Where’s the part where we’re told to get involved in things that have nothing to do with us?
Church discipline is always messy, as is the sin it is necessary to counteract. I won’t attempt to oversimplify it here. But I do know this: we do not say things about our Christian brothers and sisters that we do not say to them. If the individual everyone seems to be blogging/tweeting/talking about went to my church, if they co-labored with me for the gospel in my community, if they bore my burdens and allowed me to bear theirs, if they celebrated life’s highs and grieved life’s lows physically beside me and were in sin or clinging to false doctrine, you bet your bottom dollar I’d speak up. I’d do my best to model the grit and grace I see in Jesus. I hope and pray they’d do the same for me.
But if I do not know them personally, I will not skewer them publically. Why? Because I love the Body of Christ with every fiber of my being. I want her to be the healthy, bright shining light Christ calls her to be. And because the culture has run amuck for a lack of holding on to God’s Truth. The harvest is truly ready and the workers are truly few. We simply don’t have time for friendly fire.
The ickiest of them all
Confession: as I look at this trend to publically criticize each other in the church, I see my own sin on full display. I want to write about these things, because I know that as someone else’s star plummets, mine is prone to rise. Drama drives blog traffic and I’m as tempted to perform for the metrics as anyone else.
This is not why God has given me these gifts. Instead, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace” (1 Pet. 4:10).
Our fellow believers will continue to disappoint us. They will misstep and misrepresent God’s Truth. This is not a sign that they’re not one of us. The opposite is true. It is our broken, rebellious nature that causes us to need Jesus as our Savior so desperately. Our two cents isn’t nearly enough to cause others to course correct. Aren’t you grateful Jesus’s sacrifice is? His Spirit and his Word are in the 24-7 business of changing hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. No blog post can accomplish the same.
So, for the love of God (literally) stop it. Stop crucifying each other. Our Savior has already paid that price. Stop lifting high the banner of division and criticism. The banner over us is love.
There is a gospel to preach. A world to reach. May we learn to push back the darkness by loving our own better.