Author’s Note: I blog about what I am thinking about and I’ve been thinking a lot about this ever since I became the editor of this blog – especially recently. While certain individuals may come to your mind, and may have come to mine as I wrote this, this is not directed at any individual. I’m just trying to think through this biblically and practically. I hope you will do the same. Personal comments against anyone will be deleted.
How are we supposed to treat people who oppose the gospel of Jesus Christ but still want to take part in a Baptist blog?
It is a tough one. Part of me says even those who have denied Christ and rejected the gospel are prospects for God’s saving grace and must be treated with kindness and respect, in hopes that they will see Christ in us and be drawn toward him. We do not witness effectively with insults.
On the other hand, Paul could be harsh toward those who threatened the growth of God’s people by promoting false gospels.
Enemies of the Cross Abound
He warned us in Philippians 3:18, that:
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
There are enemies of the cross within the church. Not a few, but many of them. Not all those who name the name of Christ are really of Christ. Jesus warned us over and over that false Christs, false prophets, false messiahs and false teachers would come to deceive God’s people and devour them. Is it wise to be welcoming to those whose purpose is to devour and destroy the saints?
2 Corinthians 11:13-15 buttresses the Philippians 3:18 concept.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
The false teachers disguised themselves as Christ’s apostles and servants of righteousness. False teachers never label themselves as false. They walk among the saints disguised as teachers of truth. They are deceivers. We need the discernment of God’s Spirit to identify that which is false and confront it.
It is important to note that these enemies of the Cross were not pagans, atheists, or adherents of false religions. These were those who identified themselves as servants of the living God but were not faithful to the gospel Paul revealed.
Paul is none too charitable to these folks. Look at his approach in Galatians 5:7-12.
You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
This is graphic. Paul wishes those who were so committed to circumcision should go all the way and castrate themselves (likely so they could not reproduce). Pretty strong stuff, my apostolic friend!
Paul was anything but cordial to Hymenaeus, who was evidently one of those enemies of the cross.
In 1 Timothy 1:19-20 he says,
By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
In 2 Timothy 2: 16-18, Paul speaks of him again:
But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.
So, what are we to do? How do we know whether to treat someone as a prospect or as an enemy of the Cross? It is never easy, but there are some questions we can ask ourselves in the attempt to find discernment.
1) Does the issue touch the Cross?
We have a tendency to elevate theological differences to an extreme level. We need to make sure that enemies of the Cross are really enemies of Christ and his finished work on the Cross, not just that they disagree with me about some issue of theology. It is a common fault of ours in the blogging world that we elevate matters that do not touch the gospel beyond what is warranted.
2) Are they seekers or are they deceivers?
Lost people are not our enemies, they are the battleground over which we fight. We battle in the power of the Spirit to proclaim Christ crucified and lead sinners to the Savior. We do not battle sinners, we battle the forces of darkness on behalf of sinners. We do not fight against sinners, we fight for them.
But there is a difference between a wandering sheep who needs a shepherd and a wolf who is attempting to devour the sheep. One you treat with relentless love and and kindness. The wolf must be identified and opposed – even publicly and by name. Many Christians, even those who love Christ and his Word, are uncomfortable with this. I am not excusing some of the meanness that marks some Christians, but I am saying that it is no favor to give spiritual wolves a place of honor in the church and allow them to prey upon the sheep.
So, we need the Spirit’s discernment to figure out whether someone is a lost sheep or a ravenous wolf. It makes a huge difference in how we respond.
3) Am I affecting them or are they affecting others?
That is another key question. Both of the quotes above about Hymenaeus are largely concerned with the effects he was having on other believers. Paul wished for the castration of the Judaizers because he saw the effects they were having on the Galatian believers.
If I am engaging a lost person who needs Christ, and he is sharing his doubts and false beliefs and I am sharing the truths of the Word with him – that calls for a patience that comes from Christ, regardless of how he responds. Relentless patience, kindness and perseverance.
But if I find that the person I engage is more interested in promoting a false gospel and undermining belief in Jesus Christ as the only Savior of the world, in the reliability and authority of the Word of God, or other foundational doctrines of the faith, that person must be identified as an enemy of the Cross. A very different response is required. Again, cruelty and personal insult are not required, but a firm confrontation of error is.
Again, the discernment of the Spirit is necessary.
4) Am I making progress?
One last significant question is warranted. Am I making headway with this person? How does this person respond to the Word and to the truth? Are they learning or are they refusing the truth? That makes a big difference. If someone is learning and growing, keep the faith, keep proclaiming truth and seek to lead them to Christ. But if you find yourself going over the same ground over and over, rehashing and reviewing and there is little sign that it is sinking in, beware. You may be dealing with someone whose goal is not to learn the truth but to lead others into error.
There comes a time when breaking off a conversation is the best response. Need I mention that discernment is again a key here?
1) Blogging is a tricky thing. We read people’s words but it is hard to see their hearts. We must be patient, kind, and encouraging – demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit on a regular basis. Our default ought to be patience and kindness.
2) There will always be enemies of the Cross involved in any Christian endeavor. Jesus promised it. So did Paul. The church will always be infiltrated by false brethren and it follows that the same would be true of blogging. If there is any spiritual value to blogging (that may be another post) there will be an attempt by the enemy to infiltrate and to use it to undermine believers. It would be both foolish and naive to assume that all who claim the name of Christ do so honestly.
3) Now, having said this, I still do not believe that there is a place for personal insult and derogatory words, even when someone is advocating that which is false. To strongly and forcefully confront false doctrine and its effects is necessary. To demean a person is not. While both Jesus and Paul said tough things to and about the enemies of the Cross, it was not their intent to personally demean, but to protect God’s sheep from wolves. We need to be as direct as forceful as is needed to stop the wolves from feeding!
4) Could I make an observation about gospel presentations? The Bible is clear that those who refuse the grace offered through Christ will be cast into the Lake of Fire prepared for the devil and his angels. I believe in the reality of hell. But I do not see the Bible writers throwing around phrases about people “burning in hell forever.” They proclaimed Christ to steer as many away from hell as possible, but they never expressed glee that anyone was going there.
5) We must be relentlessly patient with avowed unbelievers who cross our paths. Enemies of the Cross are not unbelievers, they are false believers – those who present themselves as servants of the gospel, but are not. When a pagan wanders by, that person should leave this blog thinking, “Wow, those folks were really good to me!”
6) And it is crucial that we not treat people as enemies of the Cross because they support or oppose the GCR or the name -change, because they are Calvinist, non-Calvinist or Arminian, or because of most of the issues we discuss on this blog. These are family debates – sheep bleating to each other over what is going on in the pen. It is only when the occasional wolf finds his way into the pen that we need to identify him as a spiritual predator and forcefully oppose his false teachings.
This will always be a tough thing, discerning if someone is a lost sheep or a ravenous wolf. It is wrong to treat sheep like wolves. It is dangerous folly to act as if wolves are just sheep with a different color of fur.