Some want nothing more than to see others hang.
Increasingly the Christian blogosphere is being populated with bloggers outing heretics. I've blogged on this before (here, here, and here) and I'm not going to rehash old posts. What I want to discuss is something I hope all of us will consider whenever any of us takes on a pastor, speaker, preacher, ministry, or trend in the Church. I understand that there are people out there who are trying to corrupt the Gospel and that grieves me, but there are just as many people out there who are simply not understood by others and wind up bullied by well-meaning heresy hunters. Not only do godly men and women discern the difference, but act correctly when the worst is suspected.
That is what this post is about. I hope what follows edifies the Body and serves as a template for confronting others in the manner of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Remove the Log
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
—Matthew 7:2-5 ESV
Anyone who wishes to confront heresy needs to have an exceedingly well-ordered house with nary a pane of glass in sight. Jesus used a strong word here—hypocrite—and He means it. This necessitates great humility on the part of anyone confronting another because we must come to grips with our own sinfulness before we confront a lapsed brother. In other words, a gleeful slashing at an opponent is sinful. No one who confronts heretics should do so if they find it to be enjoyable or a source of self-worth. Too many times that is the spirit I see at work in those who seek to topple heretics. Remember that the criteria used against heretics will be the criteria used against those who confront them.
My personal belief on this issue, in light of what the Lord is saying in this passage, is there are enough issues confronting biblically-solid and doctrinally-correct churches that we have better works to be doing for the Kingdom than looking for heretics under this rock and that. I believe what Jesus is saying is that it's hard enough for us to keep the logs out of our own eyes than to be devoting our time to worrying about the specks in others. I can hate the practices of the 21st century Nicolaitans, but I don't have to spend every waking moment looking for them.
2. Bear True Witness
And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us."
—Acts 6:12-14 ESV
Before Stephen was smashed to death by stones, the people who opposed him rounded up a crew to bear false witness against him, dragging him before the Sanhedrin at the temple. I find the text of their false accusation fascinating. Why? Because their accusation is exactly what they understood. In other words, the false nature of their testimony came not because they were lying but because they failed to comprehend what they heard.
What exactly had Jesus said to those who confronted Him after driving the moneychangers out of the temple?
So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
—John 2:18-21 ESV
Note the context given by John in that last sentence so no one would be confused.
The Sanhedrin had already heard similar witness against Jesus, so Stephen had another strike against him because the Sanhedrin had a special distaste for the line of accusation the witnesses used. Hearing the same argument probably emboldened them further despite having less personal knowledge of Stephen than the more prominent Jesus.
But the point here is that the lack of understanding on the part of the witnesses is what made them false, not the fact that they were fabricating lies to get their way.
The upshot of this is if we go off half-cocked, lacking understanding as to what our opponents are saying exactly, then we bear false witness against them when we accuse them of impropriety. But too often our accusations are just that—uninformed. A wise man listens, understands, then speaks. A fool speaks without understanding.
Are we spending any time truly understanding what potential heretics are saying or do we shoot first and ask questions later? If the latter, then we are no better than those we accuse because we are bearing false witness against them.
This plays into the next issue, too.
3. Stifle Gossip
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.
—Proverbs 18:8 ESV
God hates gossip. Gossip is unsubstantiated, unreliable, or comes from second or third-hand sources. Those sources of gossip are usually ungodly, too. God's people should never engage in gossip, yet we so often use gossip to slander those we view as enemies.
Recently, I counted at least four blogs I read that cited a mainstream newspaper article profiling a well-known pastor in Michigan. Those blogs tore into that pastor based on what was in the newspaper article. One of those blogs even slammed the pastor because the newspaper reporter elected to refer to him as "the hottest preacher in Michigan," as if the pastor had any control over the editorial license of the reporter!
The problem with newspapers and other forms of the mainstream media (MSM) is—and unless your name is "Rip Van Winkle" you should know this—they are not always reliable sources. How many times in the last five years has an award-winning reporter fudged the facts on a story or twisted them to make the story more compelling? Do we remember the recent editorial bloodletting at The New York Times?
We now know that newspapers can be sources of gossip just like our next-door neighbor. What sense is shown by any Christian who assassinates the character or ministry of a fellow Christian based on what a newspaper article says? Worse still, anyone who's been a Christian for a while and has any contact with the MSM knows that whenever it covers anything related to the Church it usually interprets incorrectly or out of context! Christians cannot pick and choose their allegiance to newspapers by loving them when they tear into a supposed heretic, but then turn around and scream bloody murder when their own church or favorite Christian leader winds up on the wrong side of some reporter's misplaced ire or outright ignorance.
In short, if we don't check our facts from multiple reputable sources before we say anything about a suspected heretic, we are nothing more than gossips.
4. Confront the Wayward Personally
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.
—Matthew 18:15-17 ESV
I find it staggering that the folks most charged up about church discipline are never willing to confront the people they write about in their blogs face-to-face. It is gossip to talk about someone behind their back, refusing to bring the charges to them in person. This is one of the reasons that I shy away from naming names and prefer to talk about general trends that are troubling in the church rather than discussing an individual. Because if I name that individual who has sinned against me or others by their heretical beliefs they have shared with me, I owe it to them to confront them in a manner befitting true Christian brotherhood. How easy it is to snipe at others remotely!
Now someone might argue that the passage I selected above pertains to a personal affront. But I would argue that anyone who perverts the truth of God—especially because they have an incomplete understanding, as many do—has sinned against me because I am part of the Church as a whole. It is my responsibility to go to him or her and set things straight. If they refuse to hear me, then I do have some complaint. However, as I mentioned above in #1, our complaint is done tearfully and with humility.
Personal confrontation also has a sharpening quality. The famous "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another" from Proverbs 27:17 implies that there is some dullness to begin with. If we do not confront personally, how will they be sharpened? Even more so, how will we be sharpened if we fail to faithfully bring that personal confrontation?
5. Practice the "Golden Rule"
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
—Luke 6:31 ESV
Who here wishes to suffer the brickbats of someone accusing you of heresy? If not, why should we dole out the vitriol on them?
There is always a way of correction that follows the way of Christ, reproving wisely and under the right circumstances. And for every person who will come back with Jesus driving out the moneychangers, I say, You are not a member of the Godhead. If anger is called for, we must be very careful that we do not violate Eph. 4:26. Not many of us are adept at righteous anger. Those that are rarely need to use it because they understand the implications:
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.
—Matthew 5:22 ESV
We are liable for our anger one way or the other. Are we using it wisely?
6. Observe the Samaritan
Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.' Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." And Jesus said to him, "You go, and do likewise."
—Luke 10:30-37 ESV
I want to look sideways at this familiar passage, at what Jesus is implying here in His parable. As the storyteller, He is observing the Samaritan, that outcast race, showing us what that man is doing right.
We know from John 4:9 that the righteous people of God, the Jews, have no dealings with the unwashed Samaritans. They were rejected because of their incorrect beliefs. Yet Jesus used the example of someone who was incorrect in everything else he did, though right in one crucial area.
I have said in other places on Cerulean Sanctum that those we find to be in error are often so because they are reacting badly to something we ourselves did wrong or failed to do at all. The way that some pervert the Gospel also shows us where we have failed to defend the portion being perverted. This is to our shame as much as it is to theirs.
So just like the Samaritan, real heretics may have something to teach us, for rarely does any heretic do everything wrong. There may be one thing they do exactly right that may prove us to have fallen down in our own faith. God often uses heathens to correct His wayward people. The hard way is for them to overpower us. The better way is to observe them and learn from what they do right, just as the Jews in Jesus story of the Good Samaritan needed to learn something from that hated heretic Samaritan.
Wise men and women understand this and realize that judgment begins with the House of God. (1 Peter 4:17)
7. Pray Psalm 51
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
—Psalms 51:1b-13 ESV
From where we started, we come full circle to here. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; you, me, and all the heretics of the world. Before we confront anyone, we should repeat Psalm 51. Think of it as a way of "counting to ten" before we accuse someone of anything. And pay close attention to that last verse, verse 13: Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Is that our aim when we confront heretics? Do we really wish to see them abandon their heresy and return to God, or do we wish to see them consigned to hell? I know which one gives the Lord more pleasure.
And that is the way I pray that all of us will pursue.