Gently "Throwing Rocks" (i.e. the Correct Way to Correct) and the Importance of Doctrine
This post will have there sections, the first dealing with gentleness, the second with correcting and the third with doctrine and critical matters pertaining to all of them.
It is never a fun thing to correct someone, or, for that matter, to be corrected. I've noticed that, many times, when Christians correct each other, they often do so with a correct desire -- at least one. Far too often the truth is maligned nowadays, and when that happens, those who desire to see God honored and glorified jump out with apologetic zeal to defend the truth of the Word of God. Defending the truth of the Bible is important, and there are many people who devote entire ministries to that cause, ministries that are to be supported financially and prayerfully by the saints of Christ. A dear brother, Dr. James White, has such a ministry, and is quite good at expounding the Scriptures and showing their accuracy over and against many of the heresies of the day.
However, zeal for the truth is not the only thing we must possess. When someone desires to correct a brother or sister, a strong desire for the truth to be proclaimed ought not be the sole motivating factor for our action.
Quite frequently, people that spend their time correcting false teaching are labelled as "mean-spirited" and nasty. They are called arrogant, offensive, and some worse things. I've had such comments directed at me, as has Dr. White (though knowing him a little and his gentle spirit I'd have to say those throwing such accusations are nearly always incorrect) and many others. If you're reading this blog, you've probably experienced it as well, perhaps just in trying to help a brother or sister in Christ out with a particular understanding in Scripture.
Surely, at times, we are called mean because people don't like to have their views challenged and are unwilling to be examined by Scripture (as I believe is the case when people criticize Dr. White). I'll deal with this nearer the end of my post. However, I do think, more often than not, if we are honest with ourselves we'll find that some of the criticism is true. Have we been as gentle as we ought to have been?
There is an internet award going around called the "mean-Calvinist" award. I'm sure it's meant as a bit of a joke, but the fact that such an award exists at all seems to indicate that this problem is real. Are we called mean because of our stand for the truth? The answer is often yes. However, is it because the accusers believe our stand itself to be mean or the way in which we stand to be the offense?
Too often, I believe, the problem is the latter. The fact that God has granted us knowledge by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, (not to mention the fact that we have salvation at all), should drive us to be the most humble and gentle people on the face of the earth. The Scriptures have a lot to say about being gentle, and I'd like to address a few of them, beginning with Galatians 5:22-23.
Galatians 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, (23) gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Those of us who have the Spirit of God will manifest His fruit in our lives. One of the characteristics of that fruit of the Spirit is gentleness.
It is useful to note that the word for "fruit" in this passage is a singular noun in the Greek. That being said, we are not talking about multiple different fruit(s) that the Spirit gives us. Rather, when we receive this one fruit, we should have all the characteristics that come with it. If we do show some patience, peace, and love, but fail to show kindness and gentleness along with self-control, we are failing to show forth the Spirit's fruit.
Galatians 6:1 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. (2) Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Later on, Paul addresses how to restore someone who is caught in a transgression. He doesn't tell us what that transgression is (which is helpful, since then it can be applied in more ways than we might otherwise), but he does tell us how we are to approach such a person: we are to "restore him in a spirit of gentleness." We have the same word here used in chapter five. The message is clear: when we restore someone, we should do so gently. I'll address a couple of passages in my next block:
1 Peter 3:15 but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; (16) yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
2 Timothy 2:24 And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, (25) correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,
In the contexts here, it would seem Peter and Paul are addressing believers how to respond to non-believers when they (the Christians) are involved in conversations with them, and when they are being confronted for the hope they have in Christ. Paul and Peter both were exhorting their readers to respond in a gentle manner to those who opposed them.
Now, you might have thought (and I DO hope so!), "If these texts are about addressing unbelievers, how does that apply to people IN the church?" Well, that is a good question. I do believe Paul answers it in Galatians 6:
Galatians 6:10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
See that little word "especially"? If we are exhorted to do good and be gentle to non-believers when we are opposed by them, how much more should we respond in such a manner to brothers and sisters in Christ?
I think the answer is clear. On to the next passage!
Colossians 3:12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
The word for "meekness" is the same word for "gentleness" that Paul uses over in Galatians. As God's chosen ones in Christ, holy and beloved by Him, we have no choice in the matter -- we are commanded by our Lord through the Apostle Paul to put on gentleness (meekness), and we must obey.
Titus 3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, (2) to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
What? We're supposed to be gentle and show perfect courtesy to who? Again, we see the command to be gentle. We cannot escape it, and we cannot excuse carelessness in this matter.
However, is this the end of the matter? If we fail to be gentle to people, we sin and are in need of repentance -- but is there more that needs to be said?
I'd like to start off with this quote by Roy Hargrave:
"If anyone can sit down with an open Bible and show me where I have not preached the truth as it is in the Word of God, I will repent publicly."
I can only say, AMEN! Before reading any further, I want you to scroll back up and look at those verses I used when I was exhorting us to gentleness. Now, did you notice how many times they were in the context of correcting/restoring someone?
Many people nowadays seem to think that if you correct them at all, then you are being unkind, harsh, insincere to the ministry of another, or some other accusation. The Bible on the other hand teaches the opposite. It indicates clearly that we are to be gentle while correcting someone who is errant, but correction needs to happen.
Further, like Pastor Hargrave said in the above quote, we should ALWAYS be open to correction ourselves. The reason is that we are still sinful, and God can and does use people (even those who would not agree with us!), sometimes even people who aren't Christians, to correct us. Regardless of who says something, if it is in line with Scripture and we are not, we MUST submit to it. The authority is in the message, NOT the messenger.
With that in mind, I'd like to cite some of the comments from that Erwin McManus thread from Matt Gumm. He brought out a GREAT point that I'd like to elaborate on when he commented on how I interacted with the interview:
This doesn't sound like a hit job to me. It sounds remarkably similar to the first part of Revelation:
"I know your works...But I have this against you...yet this you have...He who has an ear, let him hear"
This is a great model for all of our critiques, & I think Dave has followed it well.
You can find this example over in Revelation chapter 2. Jesus loves His church more than we ever could, and this is the means He used when addressing problems. He was loving and gentle yet firm, and I think we can learn well from that.
Paul also had some rather stern words for his audiences in his letters with regard to doctrine, especially the content of the Gospel in his letter with to the Galatians. Dan Phillips over at TeamPyro recently wrote an important article about this, and it reflects a lot of my concerns in this matter. You can find it here, and I strongly recommend reading it. In fact, if you don't, you probably won't get the full thrust of this post.
This was the same Paul who wrote those words on gentleness in chapters 5 and 6 of the same book/letter. When something needs to be confronted, then it needs to be confronted! I'm sure many people probably took Paul as being harsh in his statements in that first chapter of Galatians, but that wasn't his point. There was a TERRIBLE danger in Galatia, and Paul addressed it. He didn't do it to be mean; he did it because he loved those people and saw something that threatened them terribly. So, a rebuke was in order, and a strong one at that.
Was Paul's desire to be gentle? Unless you dare think him hypocritical, you must answer yes. Did he come out with a strong rebuke to those to whom he was writing? You had better believe it.
Dr. Tom Ascol said it very well:
The belief that truth is important will necessarily lead one into disagreement and perhaps even confrontation with those who are judged to be deviating from important doctrinal standards. It goes hand-in-hand with contending for the faith (Jude 3) and defending the Gospel (Philip. 1:7).
Such concern need not (indeed should not) be expressed in a hostile or contentious manner. But it should be expressed.
From The Founders Journal, Issue 9, article "Historic Southern Baptist Principles"
I couldn't agree more. So then, we should go forward gently correcting others, and always being willing to receive correction ourselves.
...but why is this so important? I've touched on the importance of it briefly already, but I want to expound upon that a little more.
Those who do away with Christian doctrine are the worst enemies of Christian religion.
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon
What the Bible teaches is important. We MUST know what it teaches, and we cannot allow ourselves to become negligent in teaching its truths to those in our churches, nor can we become slack in continuing to reinforce (and perhaps conform!) ourselves with (to) the teachings of Scripture. Given the fact that we do indeed still sin, we must renew our minds and never think we can continue to remain true to the Word of God without frequenly taking it into ourselves by hearing, reading, studying, and memorizing it.
I have found that there are two different approaches nowadays that really end up saying the same thing about doctrine when it comes down to the root of the matter; one is just more explicit than the other. On the one hand, you have your more "traditional" churches (like many in the SBC) who, often rather covertly, shy away from discussing/teaching theology and doctrine. They do this by appealing to what they consider something more important: evangelism. Statements like, "Why have this discussion? Go share the Gospel with 5 people and tell me then which was more worthwhile!" and "We cannot take the time with this since there are so many without Jesus who are going to Hell," are very common.
On the other hand, it seems many in the Emergent/post-modern paradigm don't care for it either. Rather than focusing on doctrine and theology, "loving people" is given the center stage. Where the more traditional churches are implicit with this belief, modern churches tend to be more explicit. They both end up saying pretty much the same thing, however.
This is of course NOT to say that loving people and doing evangelism are not important -- what kind of Christians would we be if we didn't strive to do BOTH those things?
The problem arises when we try to separate the two, and when people do that, they often seem to misunderstand the point of biblical doctrine to begin with. A fellow blogger posted this a while back, and though later he confirmed he wasn't trying to undermine doctrine, it serves as a good illustration for what I've been talking about:
“I think we should stop trying to get people to believe a certain set of doctrines, do certain things that WE want them to do as a “good Christian”, get them to say all the “right” things…and rather start loving them like Jesus did.”
See where someone could get the idea that he was putting doctrine down? In any case, I posted a fairly lengthy response to it, and it still embodies what I believe. I'll repost it here:
Careful, [brother]. I think you are making a mistake by lumping doctrine, real Bible Doctrine, in with things like “programs” and a church’s “rules.” Doctrine is nothing more than the teaching of the Bible; it is what the word means.
Yes, Jesus spent time with people, and He loved them. He didn’t love them all in the same fashion (note the disciples versus those who did leave Him), but indeed, He loved them all. However, when we tell people that we need to love Jesus, and that we need to be about loving Jesus, what do we tell them?
We do NOT give them a program or a set of rules. I would agree with you completely here: we have done that and make it so people think they are “ok” because they are involved in enough programs or follow a certain ruleset that their church has given them.
This is NOT biblical doctrine.
Let me repeat this: This is NOT biblical doctrine.
What was it that Jesus did when He was with people? He TAUGHT them. He used parables, object lessons, and straight up told them the teachings of the Scripture — He gave them doctrine. The Sermon on the Mount is a HUGE testimony to this. How many times did Jesus say “Blessed are the…” and then give them a characteristic of someone in the Kingdom of God? How many times did He say “You have heard…. but now I tell you…” and then show them what the real intent of the teaching of the Bible (in this case the Law and Prophets) was meant to do? Jesus tells us not once but twice in Matthew five what the intent of the teachings of the Bible are meant to do:
Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:44 “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (45) so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
(above emphasis mine)
Jesus’s point for us doing the law rightly and for having the characteristics of the Kingdom was to point to our God and give Him glory! When we discover what the Bible teaches our motivation ought to be to praise God that we can now be more conformed to His character or understand how He works better — it is for His glory! We then love Jesus MORE!
I had a wonderful discovery over in Romans 3 the other day. It confirmed a truth I already knew, but I didn’t realize that it was there in that passage. In verses 21-26, Paul makes mention that we are justified by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Jesus. Wait a minute — doesn’t Paul say in Romans 5:1 that we are justified by FAITH? Yes, indeed he does! What then does this passage mean?
Paul is telling us that we are justified through faith and the redemption Jesus accomplished on the cross — our faith comes through what he paid on the cross and purchased for us!
Glory be to God! I praised God right there and thought how awesome He was. I knew faith had its source in Jesus and that He purchased it for His people on the cross, and now I can see how the Scripture teaches it clearly.
I was excited! I’m also convinced that is the effect that doctrine is supposed to have on us.
The Bible is useful for teaching! Paul shows us this in:
2 Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness[.]”
The word “teaching” is the Greek word didaskalia, which Thayer tells us means the following:
1) teaching, instruction
2a) that which is taught, doctrine
2b) teachings, precepts
Doctrine and teaching are critical and always have their place. Programs and rules a particular church might be following may not always have their place.
I know you agree with me, and I’m not attacking you — I love you dearly my brother. However, when you say things like this you scare me to death! I can just see someone we are responsible to teach and disciple get on here and read what you are saying and think to themselves, “Well, all I need to do then is love Jesus, and not worry so much about the teachings of the Bible.” The problem is that without the teachings of the Bible, without doctine, we cannot know what it means to love Jesus!
I think that it is AWESOME that God is showing you the importance of loving Him and others — it is something we ALL, including myself, need to be reminded of constantly! However, in doing so, please be VERY careful when you begin to categorize things that get in the way of that. Programs and rules indeed can and do get in the way of it. Doctrine rightly understood will NOT get in the way of loving Jesus.
For God’s Glory,
David Benjamin Hewitt
Dr. Tom Ascol said it a bit simpler:
God's truth was never intended to illuminate the understanding while leaving the affections and the will untouched. To be properly received it must reach all three. Doctrinal precision and devotional warmth are equally important for balanced, vibrant Christian living.
From The Founders Journal, Issue 8, article "An Attempt at Self Identification"
I couldn't agree more!
It is not EITHER evangelism/loving people OR doctrinal purity -- it is BOTH of them together. If we fail to embrace doctrine, good, SOLID biblical doctrine, then we risk falling into the errors Paul warned against in Galatians 1, and we quickly lose the means by which to do evangelism and love people. If our theology and doctrine are not right, our practice too will be errant.
Further, Paul had a very strong warning to watch out for those who would bring in corrupt doctrines:
Romans 16:17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. (18) For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Paul laid the blame for division among us squarely at the feet of those who were opposed to the doctrines Paul taught (in Romans here, but also elsewhere). Such people are not serving Christ but their own appetites.
Paul was likely referring to false teachers who were not truly wanting to serve Christ at all. However, how often do we do the very things that Paul was condemning those false teachers for doing? If we dare to teach something contrary to Scriptural doctrine, whether we intend to or not, we end up with those results. Divisions happen, and we are guilty.
Theology matters. Doctrine matters. When people are not in line with sound doctrine, or if they are marginalizing it, then correction needs to happen. However, that correction needs to be done gently, even as it is done firmly.
May God continue to grant us Reformation and Revival, conforming to His glorious Word!
Soli Deo Gloria!
David B. Hewitt
1. Something else worthy to note is that when we seek to correct another, we need to make sure we are right with God about the matter we're addressing. Jesus makes this very, VERY clear over in Matthew.
2. This is a link to an off-site artcle that Dr. James White wrote recently on the importance of theology. He gives a quote from a well-respected leader of the recent past in the US who accomplished some truly excellent things. However, just because he DID accomplish these things doesn't mean that everything he did/believed should be embraced. Discernment is in order, which is the point of this third section of my article.