Michelle Lesley and Amy Spreeman host A Word Fitly Spoken, which is definitely my favorite Christian podcast for women. Every episode makes me think Biblically about the topics they cover, even on those rare occasions when I disagree with them. Ladies, even if podcasts aren’t your thing, please make an exception for this program. I promise that the Lord will minister to you through them!
A recent episode particularly challenged me regarding my struggle over how to warn people about false teachers and dangerous “Christian” practices within evangelical circles. The graphic below this paragraph contains a link to the episode in its tittle, and I encourage you to give it a listen.
In this episode, Michelle made the point that, no matter how nicely you try to call out error, people will always accuse you of being snarky, judgmental or hateful. She explained that many of her critics say that they agree with her statements, but object to her tone. When she traces their social media feeds, however, she often discovers that they actually disagree with her! She made the conclusion that they would find fault with her no matter how gently she makes her case.
Obviously, Christians must be as respectful as possible in confronting error. The Bible instructs us to present truth gently and with humility (1 Peter3:15). Being intentionally rude and offensive certainly doesn’t fails to display a Christlike character.
Additionally, many online discernment ministries have abused their responsibility to expose error by using their platforms as bully pulpits. In so doing, they’ve galvanized public opinion against any type of correction, thus backfiring on themselves and discrediting discernment ministry as a whole. Bloggers who issue warnings against teachers and trends deviating from Scripture get lumped in with these bullies, and consequently become categorically censored as hatemongers.
I say all this in order to acknowledge that tone has its place in Christian conversation. There really are times when we must offer that correction with meekness, lest we crush someone under a weight of condemnation. We must also remember our own vulnerabilities (Galatians 6:1). As we continue this discussion, therefore, I want to make it unmistakably evident that I do not advocate riding roughshod over people’s feelings in the name of discernment. I know Michelle and Amy well enough to say that they would agree with me.
That said, truth spoken lovingly still offends people who don’t want to give up their favorite false teacher or aberrant practice. If you don’t believe me, try warning one of Beth Moore’s followers that she’s a false teacher. You’ll see a level of viciousness that will make your head spin. You can use the sweetest voice possible and select your words with the utmost diplomacy, only to receive savage attacks on your character simply because you’ve questioned her theology.
Scripture clearly directs Christians to publicly identify and reject false teachers:
17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. ~~Romans 16:17-18 (NASB95)
Romans 16:17-18 doesn’t seem very loving, especially in this post-modern era that defines love as embracing everything except Biblical standards. Calling out false teachers — particularly popular ones who appeal to fleshly appetites — is considered unloving. Many people go so far as to assert that Jesus would never speak so harshly.
Oh wouldn’t He?
Actually, Jesus spoke quite harshly about the Pharisees, who perverted God’s Word in favor of their traditions. The Pharisees indeed were false teachers, and their teachings brought people under tremendous bondage. Because He loved those who fell victim to the false teachers, Jesus relentlessly attacked them both behind their backs and to their faces. Let me show you just one of many instances when He exposed them.
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 [Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]
15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. ~~Matthew 23:13-15 (NASB95)
I can’t imagine how anyone could say such things in a gentle tone of voice. But even if Jesus managed to say these words gently, His meaning certainty was harsh, and deliberately so! He simply had no tolerance for false teachers who led their followers away from the true meaning of Scripture.
The Holy Spirit inspired Jesus’ half-brother Jude to write some pretty scathing descriptions of false teachers in the early church.
10 But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed. 11 Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain, and for pay they have rushed headlong into the error of Balaam, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. 12 These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. ~~Jude 10-13 (NASB95)
Not the most diplomatic tone there, either.
Paul and Peter, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, also wrote about false teachers in damning terms, but I’ll leave it to you to find and study those passages. I just want you to understand that fidelity to God’s Word often demands that we make statements which appear unloving. Our natural inclination is to shy away from speaking truths that make people uncomfortable, but we must love others enough to say things that will protect them from error.
Speaking hard truths isn’t easy. It sets us up for a lot of criticism and rejection. Just ask Michelle Lesley and Amy Spreeman, both of whom have been vilified for their faithfulness to warn women about false teachers and unbiblical practices within evangelical circles. Although speaking truth opens us up to attack, the Lord will honor our obedience to Him.Follow my blog with Bloglovin