Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 tells us that all things have their proper time and place.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
There is also a time – a proper, God-honoring time – to marginalize people who create division, promote error or exhibit the works of the flesh instead of the fruit of the Spirit.
I realize two things as I say this. First, this is considered heresy by those who would view marginalization as inherently sinful and contrary to propriety. Second, this site has been devoted to providing a forum for many voices to be heard. The most consistent criticism I receive about this site comes because I publish articles by people or about topics that others disdain. I’ve been accused by non-Calvinists of running a Calvinist site. Recently, I’ve been villified in some circles for allowing voices on the moderate side to air their views on this site. I consider those criticisms a compliment. I am committed to the belief that we will do better if we talk to one another and try to understand one another.
I have published dozens, perhaps hundreds of articles with which I, to one degree or another, passionately disagree. We benefit from the variety of voices and the airing of various viewpoints and opinions.
But there are limits to that. There is a time to close your eyes and ears, to shut someone off and and stop listening. I do not need to listen to all voices and neither do you. We ought not be embarrassed to just draw a line and say “no more” from this person or that.
It is right and good that Christians should marginalize, block and exclude some self-professed believers from their online fellowship.
However, we have to be careful how and why we do that. Permit me to share a few observations about marginalization. First, I must specify what I mean by marginalization.
This word means many things to many people, and I am using it in a very specific way. Culling from various dictionaries, the basic meanings of marginalization are:
- To place in a position of marginal importance, influence, or power:
- To relegate to the fringes, out of the mainstream; make seem unimportant.
- To relegate or confine to a lower or outer limit or edge, as of social standing.
I am using the term primarily in its first two meanings here – to place someone in a position of marginal importance, influence or power in my life. If I marginalize someone, I just don’t let them have influence over me. I do not give their viewpoints significance or concern. In that sense, I relegate them to the fringes of my life and treat their views as unimportant.
The third meaning smacks of something more organized, more political, more general. We are not looking to demote people in their social standing or confine them in any way. In the SBC, every person is free to hold their own views and promote them as they wish. I’m not talking about creating any kind of virtual ghetto to confine folks I don’t like or whose opinions I don’t respect.
When I speak of marginalization, I am speaking of something much simpler.
There are people I simply ignore, whose views I give little credence or import, whose writings I do not read and to whose comments I seldom respond. It is a personal choice to relegate someone’s views to the fringes of my life.
If marginalization is done for the wrong reasons or in the wrong way, it is sinful. But it is not only righteous, but biblically required in certain situations. Here are my thoughts on the topic.
1) Marginalization ought never be practiced simply on the basis of theological disagreement.
At the root of many of our denomination problems, especially in those on the extremes of the soteriological debate at least, is a tendency toward isolationism. If you only read Calvinists, or refuse to read them, you have a problem. Reading only those with whom you agree is not learning, it is reinforcing your prejudices.
I’m going to be blunt. Some Calvinists tend to view non-Calvinists as if they are theologically deficient and have nothing worthy to say. Some non-Calvinists, especially some among the group that self-identifies as Traditionalists, treat Calvinism like a spiritual West-Nile virus that is spreading through our entities and must be quarantined. Treating non-Calvinists with dismissive disdain, or treating Calvinists as dangerous – this is not the marginalization I’m talking about.
It is (in this author’s opinion) an offense against the Body of Christ and a root of destruction among Southern Baptists, that we would treat one another like this.
We ought never marginalize people simply because we don’t like their viewpoints or don’t want to hear ours challenged.
2) Marginalization must never occur on the basis of race, wealth or other human measures.
Need I even say that marginalization should never occur because of the color of another’s skin or how much money he has. In the Baptist world, church size is too often used to judge worth and pastors of smaller churches feel marginalized. That is not right.
Those who would separate on the basis of race, social status or any other human factor ought to remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11. They were observing the Lord’s Supper in a way that magnified human social standing and treated the poor as less worthy and important. Paul told them that because of this, God’s judgment was on them and that “many are weak and sickly and some have died.”
Dividing the Body of Christ because of race is a stain on the history of American Christianity and especially on Baptist history that we still struggle to remove. It is still an offense when churches qualify leaders because of their wealth, business acumen or social standing instead of their spiritual qualifications.
Marginalization on the basis of human factors is evil and has no place among the people of God.
3) Leaders ought not marginalize people to avoid accountability and shield themselves from accountability.
No one likes to be criticized, but each of us who is a leader knows that it will come. It is easier to just write people off as quacks to be ignored than to deal with those criticisms. Leaders need to have the humility to listen and receive criticism from those they lead. Even someone who is a constant critic may have wisdom at times.
4) Marginalization is required on certain biblical grounds.
Biblical marginalization must happen on biblical grounds, and those do exist. The problem is that they are usually not the grounds by which we separate.
- We separate because others do not share our specific theological system. This is especially true of some Calvinists and some Traditionalists. These doctrines, while significant, are not sufficient to justify marginalization.
- We separate because of personalities and preferences.
But the biblical grounds are very different.
First Grounds for Marginalization
Perhaps the clearest passage is Titus 3:9-11
Titus 3:9-11 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.
The primary biblical reason to marginalize someone is that they are argumentative, quarrelsome, divisive or a lover of controversy. Those who devote themselves to blasting those with whom they disagree and engaging in online search and destroy missions are more in violation of the Scripture than many of those at whom they target their words.
I am disturbed that some view seeking unity in the Body of Christ as a lack of conviction or a sign of weakness. That is simply evidence they have not processed the Word of God and are walking in the flesh, not the Spirit. The works of flesh focus on divisive behavior and the Fruit of the Spirit is unifying behavior.
In self-deception some justify their rage, their divisiveness, theirr quarrelsome and controversy-mongering behavior as some kind of righteous indignation in the spirit of Matthew 23 and a few admonitions of Paul. The ability of the human heart to lie, even to itself, is amazing.
It is not compromise to seek unity. Loving other Christians, even those who are hard to love, is not a lack of conviction but a devotion to walking in the ways of the Spirit.
Divisiveness, not doctrinal disagreement, is the root of the biblical command to marginalize someone. Paul commands Titus to “have nothing to do with a man who is so warped and sinful that he would actually seek to divide the Body of Christ.
When we disagree, we discuss with and learn from each other. But when one is a divisive, quarrelsome, lover of controversy, they are a cancer in the Body of Christ and must be marginalized.
Second Grounds for Marginalization
Paul said some pretty harsh things in Galatians, things that I’d get in trouble if I said from the pulpit. Paul’s words are often used to justify harsh words against others on blogs and tweets. But it is important to remember the context of Paul’s words, established in Galatians 1:6-9.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Paul’s diatribes in Galatians were not against people who held to fewer points of the TULIP than he did, or more. He called down God’s curses on those who proclaim another gospel.
Christians have a natural unity, a God-given unity, based on our common experience of grace in Jesus Christ. It unites Baptists with other (even theologically disparate) Baptists, but it also unites us with all who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. We may not be able to partner for church planting or ignore our theological differences, but if we are fellow-heirs of grace we are united in Christ.
But that unity does not extend to those who proclaim a gospel other than salvation that is all of grace and by faith. Those who promote false doctrines of salvation and try to deceive others to leave the true faith are accursed of God and ought to be marginalized. If someone is confused or inquisitive, we instruct them in the truth. But one who proclaims a false gospel must be marginalized.
Frankly, in Baptist blogging, there are few of the second gospel-denying folks out there. We encounter a few, but not many. But we do see plenty of the former. Divisive, argumentative, blustery, dissension-prone folks abound. They tend to be confident that they are fighting for truth, justice and the American way, that God is on their side and that those who dissent from them also dissent from God. In fact, blogging too often attracts those kinds of folks.
But none of us has to give them our time, our attention, or allow them to have any influence or power over us. They can talk all they want. I don’t have to listen. In fact, according to God’s word it is best that I do not listen or respond to their writings or opinions.
5) Marginalizing involves ignoring someone, not attacking him.
The key to biblical marginalization is to “have nothing to do with” a divisive person. But if I devote myself to blasting that person, if I spend all my time answering that person’s posts or responding to his comments, then I am giving that person a great place of importance, influence and power. It often results in a root of bitterness.
If we simply ignore divisive people, we save ourselves a lot of anger, quarreling and argumentation. We choose to go on serving God and doing his will. We turn the divisive man over to God for his discipline and leave him in those capable hands. It is our job to serve God; straightening out divisive men or women is not our duty.
It is my observation that much of the argument and division on blogs is a result of the fact that we do not trust the Holy Spirit to deal with sinful people. We think we have to force conviction and repentance. Paul told Timothy to warn a man once, then again, then to simply walk away. Ignore him. Trust the Spirit to do God’s work.
If the Spirit cannot get through to the sinner’s heart to bring repentance, will my angry words have any real effect?
The End of the Matter
Few of the posts I’ve written have greater opportunity for misunderstanding and misrepresentation than this one. I am saying that in a limited number of instances, the best and most biblical response to quarrelsome, angry, belligerent, attack-prone, divisive bloggers, those with a party spirit an an angry heart, is to simply ignore them.
Our devotion must be to unity and edification, to living at peace with all men, to loving one another in spite of our faults, to forgiving and bearing with one another. These must be our primary passions. But we must also realize that there are people who are a constant hindrance to unity, who disdain others and cause division.
They must, for the glory of God, be marginalized.
NOTE: I will not be at my computer much today and will have precious little time to interact with your comments. I apologize in advance for this. Don’t marginalize me for that, okay?
NOTE 2: There is NO PLACE in this discussion to name names of those you think deserve marginalization. Such comments will be deleted when I get the chance and I will think of you while I read Psalm 109 out loud.