Have you ever encountered someone so harsh in speech that you become genuinely concerned for what might be going on in their spirit? Recently, I had the “joyful privilege” of being called: infidel, false prophet, heretic, son of hell, ignorant, Pharisee, ungodly coward, papist, liar, and an effeminate coward. Additionally, I was told to: shut my mouth, suffer damnation, and go back to hell where I came from. Essentially, everything you see in the graphic above was lobbed at me in back-to-back posts. While I’m far from a sensitive soul (20 years of military service will give you thick skin), that doesn’t mean I wasn’t taken aback by it. What made matters worse is that it was all levied by someone claiming to be a Christian. Deep down, he feels he is a believer who knows the truth and all others are infidels who need to be e-flogged for daring to speak against the truth. Unfortunately, he was so engaged in destroying his enemies that he rarely bothered to share what he believes to be the truth. This was only indicative of another problem. If I were truly a lost soul who needed Christ, it means I desperately need to believe in Him. And how can I believe in Him if I do not hear the gospel? And how can I hear the gospel if one fails to preach it (Romans 10:14)? Instead of being on a mission to proclaim the gospel and saving power of Christ to all who have ears (Matthew 11:15), this individual felt insulting people and telling them to go back to hell was more Christ-like. It reminded me of the typical Calvinist “cage stage” raged out on steroids.
Let’s face it, if you are a Calvinist, you likely went through some form of a cage stage. I certainly know I did. Perhaps you are even in it right now. After years of missing what was right in front of me, I felt overzealous and had a desire to share it with everyone else who was also missing it. Unfortunately, it often came off as harsh, lacking in love, and rooted in a desire to win an argument. That said, it was never to the extent of the above graphic. Truth be told, that’s only a small fraction of the pointed barbs that were thrown my way but you get the point.
This got me thinking of two things. First, how should we speak to others as we seek to reflect the love of Christ within? Second, is there a proper time to use disparaging language in a form of combating false teaching? I think both of these are important questions that all Christians should ponder, as I’ve seen people on both sides of the fence. Some are so soft in speech, they fail to stand firm in the truth. Others are so firm in the truth, they fail to find anyone who actually wants to put up with them long enough to hear it.
Communication is an art form with many unskilled participants. There is verbal, non-verbal, written, etc. With the rise of social media, so many feel qualified to “speak” when it would probably be better if they sat on their hands. I belong to a multitude of Christian discussion groups on Facebook and I see a virtual battlefield laced with digital blood every time I enter. Rarely does one see grace in abundant measures. While I am guilty of being baited into a heated debate turned argument, I am fully convinced this is a slap in the face of the bride of Christ. While debate (yes, even heated ones) can be a healthy way to study and solidify our theological positions, arguing and name calling is destructive to the like faith in Christ that believers proclaim (2 Peter 1:1). We must always ask ourselves if we are proclaiming truth in the name of Christ or spewing hatred in the divisive nature of Satan.
As Christians, we are told to season our words with salt (Colossians 4:6). We’re also warned to not be haughty in mind or be wise in our own estimation (Romans 12:16). In Galatians, Paul writes that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Conversely to this, some of the descriptors as being deeds of the flesh include hostilities, strife, outbursts of anger, dissentions, and factions (Galatians 5:19-21). Taking another look at the graphic above, I think it becomes clear where such speech falls under.
Knowing how a Christian is to speak, what are we to make of the multitude of examples in Scripture where insulting language is used? After all, Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:25-27). Even Jesus was known to use harsh language such as when he called the Pharisees the offspring of vipers (Matthew 12:34) and sons of hell (Matthew 23:15). You may recognize that last one as one of the names I was called in the graphic above. Certainly, there are examples where denigrating language was appropriate for certain circumstances. However, the keyboard warrior I encountered was failing to take the context into account and was using Jesus as nothing more than an excuse to justify his deeds of the flesh. In the case of Elijah, he was a prophet being used as the mouthpiece of God. What he spoke, God was speaking. Furthermore, the prophets of Baal were directly blaspheming God while lifting up their idol. In the example of Jesus, He was speaking out against those who claimed to be godly, all the while denying the Son of God who stood before them. He wasn’t on a warpath to belittle and destroy every last person who held to different theological positions. In fact, there are many examples where, while speaking softly but firmly, He simply left those types of people to figure it out. Being in spiritual warfare doesn’t mean shooting everything that moves. There are rules of engagement and a Code of Conduct outlined in Scripture. Spiritual warfare is very real but there is a proper way to be a spiritual warrior (Click HERE for my article on that topic).
Certainly, there are some out there who need to be addressed head on. Blatant false teachers such as Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Beth Moore, and Kenneth Copeland, are to be refuted without kid gloves. These men and women have been shown much grace and have repeatedly refused the truth in lieu of heresy and other errors. There are others such as Francis Chan who are rapidly moving in that direction. However, there are others who are amazing brothers and sisters who have differing opinions on certain doctrines. Some examples would be John MacArthur (Dispensationalism), James White (Post-millennialism), and Jeff Durbin (Theonomy/Post-millennialism). While some of these topics can become heated debates over why they are incorrect in their position, never would I dare discredit their faith and standing before the Lord. Just as R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur disagreed on the mode of baptism, Sproul also openly declared he’d rather have no one else in his fox hole with him when it comes to proclaiming truth in Christ.
17 One who declares truth tells what is right,
But a false witness, deceit.
18 There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise brings healing. -- Proverbs 12:17-18, NASB
Unfortunately, there are some who focus on Proverbs 12:17 while forgetting verse 18. We should always be ready to declare what is right but our method should never be to the detriment of spiritual healing through wisdom. Remember, we are ambassadors of Christ, not merely an earthly Cerberus ready to attack anyone who dares disagree with us on matters of theology. If you encounter someone like the person I had the pleasure of speaking with, ensure you don’t get sucked into the trap. Feel free to attempt to engage in healthy dialogue but when all you’re met with is resistance and arrogance, remember that we are warned not to answer a fool according to his folly, let we be just like him (Proverbs 26:4). Let your speech edify so that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29). Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19), bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2), as we seek to be imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). May this article edify and enrich your walk in sanctification. Grace and peace!
~ Travis W. Rogers