We who blog are not always viewed positively among the powers-that-be in the SBC and in the Christian world. We are quick to criticize and difficult to control. I think that some of the criticism is valid – we have not governed ourselves well. I think that some of the criticism comes because powerful people are not used to being criticized, are usually able to squelch it and cannot do so with bloggers.
The Significance of Blogging
Many dismiss blogging and bloggers as insignificant. That is wishful thinking on the part of those who do not like what we do. We may not be as important and representative as we think we are, but there is little doubt that bloggers make a difference. While opinions of him certainly vary, the Wade Burleson saga at the IMB let the genie out of the bottle. Boards of Trustees can no longer act in secret, tell everyone that they prayed about it and believe they are doing God’s will, and expect everyone to go along in silence. I believe that this accountability, while easily abused, is helpful.
Blogging has given a voice to people who otherwise would never have had one. Men like Al Mohler and Ed Stetzer have blogs, but they were luminaries before the blogging phenomenon hit. But blogging has made people like Tim Brister and Trevin Wax into Baptist stars. But what I love about blogging (and yes, there is a selfish component to this) is that it has given a voice to people who otherwise would not have one.
Look at SBC Voices. There is not a single famous name among our contributors. We are an Iowa pastor, a North Dakota pastor, a New Mexico pastor (hardly SBC hotbeds) and other pastors and staff from small to medium churches around the country. Yet, we are currently the fourth highest rated SBC blog on Technorati.com (behind Trevin Wax, Al Mohler and Tim Brister). I have to admit that I don’t completely understand the Technorati authority ratings, but my point is that a blue-collar blog gets to have a voice among the powerful voices of the SBC. That is the beauty of blogging.
The Responsibility of Bloggers
But if that is true, if we have a new-found power, it is incumbent on us to make sure that we do something redemptive and Christ-honoring with that power. In a comment on the post containing Dr. Merritt’s response to the FHTM criticism, Bart Barber spoke of ministerial codes of ethics. I think there is a need for a blogging code of ethics. We need to work on a code of ethics that would govern our criticisms of one another and of public figures.
Of course, because of the democratic and populist nature of blogging, there will never be a universal code. But we can try to develop something that would be a guideline for us, something for us to follow.
Some, usually those stung by blogging critics, have tried to use Matthew 18:15 as the governing verse. I may not publicly criticize another until I have first gone to that person privately and attempted to work out the situation between ourselves. Others have argued that Matthew 18:15 is not applicable in this instance and have noted that both Jesus and Paul publicly confronted religious leaders of their day without any record of private confrontation first.
Concerning Matthew 18:15
Here is the text of Matthew 18:15-17.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
First, there is a textual problem in this verse that changes the meaning of the verse. Did the words, “against you” appear in the original? Some of the more relied upon ancient texts do not have these words. Commentaries seem split on whether the words were part of the inspired text. If they were, then this passage only applies when I believe that someone has sinned against me. If they did not appear in the autographa, then the verse applies any time I see a brother in sin. Since NT scholars a lot smarter than me disagree, I will not be able to give a decisive answer. Most translations include the words and most of the scholars I read give a hesitant thumbs up to the phrase. But it is a hard call.
What is clear here is that the subject here is sin – when a brother in Christ sins against me (or possibly a more general sin – depending on the reading). This is not about differences of opinion, varied outlooks on topics, or even different agendas. Sin is in question.
Also, it seems clear to me that this is largely an instruction given to aid a local church in maintaining unity. I have a higher view of the universal church than a lot of Baptists do, but it seems clear that the focus of this is the local church. Look at the last step of the process. If after the private conference and after bringing two or three to attempt to bring repentance, the sinner remains in sin, he is to be taken before the church for discipline. That seems to limit this to an in-church matter.
If I felt that Doug Hibbard had sinned against me (trust me, it happens often), how would I apply this verse. I could contact him privately, of course, but then how would I bring two or three with me? How would I “take him before the church.” Unless the church is going to have an ecclesiastical court to resolve these kinds of disputes, it is impossible.
So, I believe that Matthew 18:15 is primarily meant as an “in-house” process of church discipline, and does not necessarily apply beyond that.
However (there’s always one of those, isn’t there?), I believe that this verse reveals something of the heart of God that can guide us in blogging even if Matthew 18:15 does not completely relate. Our attitude should always be one of love – a desire to win a brother more than win an argument, to restore relationships and build unity. I believe that there are some eternal principles that can be drawn from this verse and others.
Galatians 6:1 tells us, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
In 2 Corinthians 2:7, Paul exhorts his readers to forgive the one who had sinned. Discipline and confrontation in were always designed to restore and heal. Christians are not allowed to try to one-up one another, to put others in their place and to seek prominence and power. That in antithetical to the cause of Christ. We are to die to self, humble ourselves, seek reconciliation and be willing to suffer abuse for the cause of Christ and for unity in Christ’s body.
Baptist Blogging and Criticism: A Perspective
Here are some thoughts I have about ethical standards for criticizing another on blogs.
1) There is a difference between criticizing a person and criticizing a person’s ideas.
We all know this, but it is a hard balance to maintain. Generally, the one making the criticism maintains it is not personal while the person being criticized feels that it is. But they are two different things. I often disagreed with the actions and words of Paige Patterson, but some of the personal attacks on him in the early days of blogging just went way over the line.
To me, there are two clear standards of behavior here. When I am disagreeing with ideas put forward by someone, one set of standards applies. When I am criticizing the behavior, character or integrity of someone another set of standards applies.
2) We must, out of respect for our brothers, make a good faith effort to understand and fairly represent the ideas and positions of others.
We are pretty bad at this. Someone makes a comment and then someone else responds and claims, “You said…” There is often very little resemblance between what was said and what the other person heard. I have seen intense arguments in which both parties were essentially saying the same thing.
I think the gist of fair and godly blogging is accurately and fairly representing those with whom you disagree. When we exaggerate or twist the words of others we create division and do not honor our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Back in the days of Baptist Blogging’s “Big Bang” (the IMB controversy and the BI/Big Tent battles that followed), misrepresenting and exaggerating other’s positions was a rampant problem. Instead of dealing with the actual beliefs of the Baptist Identity group, many just labelled them as Landmarkers and dismissed them. Some in the BI movement refused to listen to what the reform group was saying and just labelled them as moderates in sheep’s clothing.
3) Christian blogging is subject to the basic standards of Christian behavior.
But we are not journalists. While secular journalistic standards may be a guide for us in some things, our guide is the Word of God.
This seems like something that hardly needs to be said, but it is my observation that such a reminder is far from unnecessary. To me, the theme verse for Christian blogging needs to be Galatians 5:16-24.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit thekingdomofGod. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
This passage distinguishes the works of the flesh, which ought to be crucified in Christians and not in evidence from the fruit of the Spirit which ought to be abundant. But you tell me which we see more of on blogs. Do we see the works of the flesh: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy? Or do we see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and most of all, self-control?
I’ve got an opinion here, but I’ll let you judge that one.
4) The goal of godly blogging is always redemption and restoration.
In Matthew 18:15, in Galatians 6, and in pretty much every page of the NT, it is clear that the desire of God is for believers to walk together in unity. Romans 12:10 encapsulates the goal each of us should have.
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
I love that. We should compete to show more honor to one another. That should be our goal. The passage goes on to instruct us (verse 16) to live in harmony with one another. Verse 17 prohibits returning evil for evil. Simple obedience to that verse would revolutionize Baptist blogging, wouldn’t it? Finally, verse 18 tells us to live at peace with everyone, as much as is possible with us.
So, when I blog, my goal must always be to seek unity and restoration, not to seek just to win an argument or to see my side gain strength over “them.”
5) When confronting ideas, no private contact is necessary.
The whole point of blogging is to put ideas out there and have them critiqued. If I am stating a disagreement with something another blogger has published, linking to that person’s ideas is sufficient and no prior contact is necessary.
6) When confronting a person, it honors God to make private contact in advance.
I know some bloggers will say this is unnecessary. I think they are wrong. WhileMatthew 18:15may not be a controlling authority here, it does seem to indicate a general principle. If I am going to criticize a brother or sister in Christ online and in public, I honor Christ by making an attempt at contact prior to publishing my criticism.
How does it honor Christ for me to publicly publish personal criticisms of a fellow Christian without first attempting to reach a private reconciliation? I know many will not agree, but I think the general New Testament witness would support at least an effort at private confrontation before going public.
Someone needs to explain to me the biblical purposes and spiritual fruit served by the publishing of personal criticism without a prior attempt at private conference.
7) Confrontation is appropriate only within the context of relationship
Why does Matthew 18:15 tell us to confront those who sin the local church? Because we are part of one another. We are united in Christ as one and so we have a responsibility to one another. Within relationship, confrontation is appropriate.
If there is no relationship, it is less likely that the confrontation is appropriate.
8.) Confrontation is appropriate within the context of shared ministry.
I have never met Kevin Ezell, but he is the head of an organization in which I have an investment. My church is part of the SBC and gives to convention causes. We are invested in the SBC and therefore, when a leader of the SBC, one who makes the decisions about the organization of which I am a part, makes decisions I think are right, it is appropriate to confront.
9) If someone is advocating sin or heresy, he should be confronted.
I have neither a shared ministry nor a relationship with Joel Osteen. But he is publishing and publicly advocating what I believe approaches a false gospel and leading people astray. Obviously, in such a situation, a public figure ought to be confronted
10) When neither relationship nor shared ministry exists, confrontation may not be appropriate.
Here’s my problem with the James Merritt controversy. He is the pastor of a church of which I am not a part. His advocacy of FHTM in his church troubles me. It really does. But is it any of my business? He is not advocating a false gospel. He is not a friend of mine (I’ve never met him). He is not in any position of influence I know of in the SBC now, though he was a few years back.
So, is it any of my business? He was not going on tour with FHTM nor was he trying to use the SBC mechanism to advance his financial kingdom. I agree with Bart Barber’s comment that this is a violation of ministerial ethics. But is it any business of mine?
I do not believe that it is. In fact, I think that by publicly confronting him on this, I would be in danger of being a busybody or a gossip. I have no relationship or shared responsibility with him. It is a matter for Cross Pointe church to deal with.
Okay, I have to go to a wedding. Now, its your turn to tell me how wrong I am…