I don’t enjoy debating Christian living with other Christians. But I’ve recorded the tos and fros here for the benefit of those who are also uncomfortable with the dissonance between Christian love and grace, and unrestrained and personal public attack on each other over relatively insignificant matters. Not unimportant, but certainly less significant than the explicit command of our Lord and Master to display love for each other as evidence of being His disciples for all men to see. I’ve also written this in the (eventually) mature and appropriate effort to explain and teach what I believe is a significantly more Scriptural posture regarding public rebukes for those prone to indulge in the opposite.

Stoning Of St Stephen

Stoning Of St Stephen

I’ve just had another opportunity to witness the very sad sight of believers tearing shreds off a minister. It matters not whether the minister is an international ministry or a simple street preacher without the trappings of global recognition: it is upsetting to see.

I intended on writing this with full disclosure on the context, but the other people in this discussion seemed to think I was being hypocritical by pointing out the error of their pointing out another believer’s error, which is probably a good point. So I’ll try to keep this as generic as possible, and copy and paste, rather than deliberately reference & link.

It all starts around the movie Noah, whose self described atheist director proudly boasts is the least Biblical Biblical film ever made. We agree. But then (we’ll call him “Bob”) Bob posts on his Facebook page that Pastor “John Smith”, who has apparently endorsed the movie, “This sadly is exactly what we would expect him to say – zero biblical discernment,” accompanied by a photo of the enthusiastic yet qualified endorsement.

Then, oh my, didn’t the fur start flying!  Facebook commenters hurled stones like, “You know he has never read the Bible when you listen to his sermons,” “My garden rocks have more Christian credibility than John “Money bags” Smith!!…Can’t stand him!”, “apostate,” “John Smith is being completely consistent as an apostate. The leopard can’t change its spots,” and “the pastor who wrote that probably thinks “Piss Christ” is just art as well. He’s an idiot who should be excommunicated until he comes to his senses.

Not cool guys!  What happened to the grace and mercy we’ve each been such needful beneficiaries of, and commanded to reflect?  So I posted, “Guys, I can’t believe you are all so freely and gleefully castigating a Christian brother with complete condemnation. Seriously, stop it. I can’t begin to count how many Scriptures you have to ignore in order to behave in such a way, but I pray God’s mercy on you for your aptness at rationalising it. And there’s the example. If you genuinely find fault in a brother, talk to him about it, pray that God forgives him, & never ever publicly revel in what you perceive is his error.”

Another chap argued, “We are called upon as well to exhort and rebuke, Dave. Heresy cannot be allowed to stand. Weigh the Scriptures and use the one that fits the situation. We expose the unfruitful works of darkness. If he had said this in front of me, do you think I would’ve let him get away with it? Think again.

Invitation accepted! (This may be the part where I should have exited graciously, but I’ll do better next time.)  So here’s how I “weighed the Scriptures and used the ones that fitted the situation:

Use the Scripture that fits the situation? Exhort & rebuke? Okay. Let’s see if I’m picking one verse out of context, or finding a pattern of Biblical doctrine. Let’s see which spirit is manifest: pharisaical self-righteousness, or love, grace, mercy and “my yoke is easy & my burden light” (contrasting to the religiosity of the burden givers, the Pharisees). All verses in NKJV.

Romans 14:4
Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

Romans 14:10-13
But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written:
“As I live, says the Lord,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.

The context of Romans 14 is largely about food, but is a profound truth easily applicable to anything consumed, such as a movie.

John 13:34-35
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

James 2:12-13
So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 4:11-12
Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

In Matthew 5:20 through 7:6, Jesus warns his disciples against following the traditions and practices of the Pharisees, who judged others as if they themselves were beyond judgment. What’s more, they judged people by the letter, not the spirit, of the law.

Matthew 7:1-5
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I really, really, really hate this misuse of Matthew 7, especially by unbelievers who have no context. But this fits it to a T. That’s at least 5 different scriptures exhorting you to hold your peace and your judgement. The poor people above calling our brother “apostate” require a lot of mercy, and are failing to demonstrate it.

1 Samuel 24:5-7 “Now it happened afterward that David’s heart troubled him because he had cut Saul’s robe. And he said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord.” So David restrained his servants with these words, and did not allow them to rise against Saul.

Under the covenant in which the letter of law was the only path to righteousness, and in false prophets were stoned, David had a holy fear of “judging” Saul, from whom God’s Spirit had very obviously departed. And you somehow feel free to publicly injure John Smith?! God have mercy…

Luke 9:49-50
Now John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.”
But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.

So your methods and dogma differ from Ps John. Who cares?! Jesus clearly doesn’t. However, by the measure Jesus gave, you are *against* him, so it’s unclear whose side you’re on from his perspective.

What this mature and devoted believer can see is a Body divided, attacking its own members – so how much more so can the world?! Jesus wanted a display of love and unity (not uniformity) to prove to the world we are His disciples, and you‘re proving the opposite!

There is no profit to rebuking and exhorting a brother on Facebook where he has little to no chance of receiving it, and such a format & approach reveals a carnal spirit that has little to do with restoring a brother in love. You haters are picking up stones to cast as fast as you can gather them, and pompously quoting convenient scriptures without regard to proper use at all. The first rule of interpretation is Scripture interprets Scripture, so if you find five Scripture passages (as opposed to isolated verses) uniformly contradicting your interpretation, you’d better pull up quickly and prayerfully reassess that stone in your hand.

Get on with doing God’s work, counting how many disciples you‘ve harvested, and stop openly condemning those who are sincerely attempting to do the same, judging God’s servants and the motives of their hearts.

John 20:21-23
So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

I pray God will not hold this sin to your account, but pour His mercy upon you.”

So then Bob, the original poster and prolific Christian blogger responded, “Sorry, Dave, but I am not buying your judging of us here – all in the name of not judging! The biblical principle here is clear: public sin, public rebuke. When a very public pastor makes not one but many grievous errors in all sorts of areas, Christians have every right to make a public response. See here for more on this,” and provided a link to his article offering Scriptural justification for publicly rebuking public ministries.

In the pursuit of remedying my hypocritical flesh, I will not provide that link to protect Bob’s anonymity – although I have absolutely no doubt he’s not ashamed of it, it would destroy the hope of generic commentary I am attempting to achieve here. Instead, you can find it here.

I replied, “Bob, I think naming & shaming is well over the line. Which verse is public sin, public rebuke in? I agree with correct teaching, but saying brother so & so is an apostate / false teacher / wolf in sheep’s clothing / has never read the Bible / completely lacks any discernment is well & truly not in unity with the Spirit of Messiah. I agree with you on nearly all teaching, until the crowd picks ups stones to condemn individual ministries. I have no idea how one can ignore the explicitly clear teaching consistent in all of the Scripture I shared.”

Then I took the time to read his well written article, which did indeed reference a handful of Scriptures, before I continued, “Hi Bob, I have properly read your article now.

1 Cor 5 has nothing to do with correcting doctrinal differences in the public marketplace, and that is surely what any internet forum is, especially Facebook. It also says nothing about correcting sin publicly, only to disfellowship a brother who will not receive correction – which is consistent with shaking the dust off your feet.

And when Paul corrected Peter, was it again in the market place, in the amphitheatre, or in the church and amongst believers? I cannot see the claim to public rebuke there either. What I can see is correction “to his face”, which does not equal Facebook.

Your Mark 8 reference further erodes your claim to public, dear brother. Jesus was walking and talking with His disciples when He rebuked Peter, and it very clearly outlines that He then called the crowd to join his disciples, before continuing His teaching. That is pretty private!

1 Tim 5:20 is another reference you appeal to, which says, “Those who sin should be reprimanded in front of the whole church.” The church, not the world, not the internet via blog or Facebook. Taking any of these verses you’ve referenced in your article is drawing a very long bow to conclude public, marketplace rebuke and condemnation is endorsed.

Here’s some wisdom you may or may not receive – but please, at least pray and meditate again about it. I am sure you have before, sincerely, yet I ask you to again.
1. Be extremely loathe to offer gentle or harsh correction in the public arena of the internet whilst naming or even hinting at individual or ministry names.
2. Consider only direct and personal, invited engagement in such a forum as being even close to productive or permissible.
3. Anything not fitting the first two should be generic and informative, helpful to all those who may be expose to both the alleged wrong teaching and the correction you offer, but in no means harmful to the unity Christ very explicitly commanded we demonstrate to the world.

The rest of the comments related to them trying to convince me I was a hypocrite and me trying to illustrate the differences between an engaged, welcomed, and direct conversation with all parties concerned; contrasted with the uninvited, unrestrained and conclusively condemning commentary about people oblivious to the fact.  It all ended well enough.  We agreed to disagree, and gave each other sincere Facebook hugs, warmly anticipating the pleasure of a conversation over coffee, perhaps centred on more shared perspectives.