2nd Timothy 4:2
“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”
“But avoid foolish controversies and geneologies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.”
I am fairly active online and a member of several Christian groups here on Facebook, and I see a deep rooted problem that has plagued the Christian faith practially since the age of the apostles: the tendency for people to lose their heads when debating Scripture and allow themselves to get drawn into angry, even hateful arguments over often small points of doctrine. Discussing the Word of God in an intelligent and even spirited manner is a very positive thing; through meaningful debate we are exposed to other viewpoints, other interpretations, and through that exposure we can come to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and what the Christian life should look like. But being flawed, mortal, sinful humans it can be so easy to lose sight of Paul’s exhortations to rebuke gently, even Jesus’ instructions to love each other. It’s easy for us to read accounts of the hateful rhetoric and anathemas and excommunications of the early church during it’s struggles with various heretical groups and say, “Boy, I’m glad I don’t act harshly like that!”, but then turn around and get drawn into an argument with someone and start hurling vile invective and condemnation at each other. I have seen arguments online that were every bit as hateful as the Thirty Year War between Catholic and Protestant that devastated central Europe. It’s not supposed to be this way! Where is the patience and love? Where in Paul’s letter to Titus are we told to scream at each other, let alone burn each other at the stake? Every time that professing Christians argue and berate and insult each other over points of doctrine, over “quarrels about the law”, over what a particular word means or when to calculate a date, there is a dying world filled with people in desperate need of Jesus Christ who watch the semantic bloodletting and think to themselves, “Yeah, they really live the love Jesus preached” and walk away determined to want no part of the Christian faith. Only God knows how many people die every day to face judgement without the Savior because we have not followed Paul’s example. My old mentor, the late Walter Martin, had a saying that he used daily on the radio: “We should agree to disagree.” He never advocated settling for weak doctrine, quite the opposite, but he always exhorted people to disagree without hate or attitudes of smug superiority. We won’t all agree on everything, and I would never say we should welcome the yeast of blatant heresy into the Body of Christ. But I will say that when we find someone we don’t agree with or who uses a different ritual at church we should not sling virtual anathemas and hateful rhetoric around, for when we do Satan laughs at us and knows that he has gained the upper hand over us by damaging our testimony to the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be gentle, patient and loving, my friends, even when you don’t want to.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.