A cursory reading of the Bible reminds us that God really, really doesn’t take kindly to those who stir up division and dissension among His people. He wants His people to be united in love and truth.
This isn’t a new idea, and it shouldn’t be shocking. It isn’t the sort of insight that comes from years of faithful study, or a careful exploration of the languages, the context of the text, or anything like that. It’s an observation that literally anyone who is functionally literate is capable of making.
And yet, it’s one that we keep failing to really be mindful of, isn’t it?
Two Kinds of Divisive People
There are two sorts of divisive people, of course. There are the contentious and overt false teachers, the people that Paul warned about in so many places, like:
- the so-called “super-apostles” in Corinth (2 Cor. 11:5)
- the Judaizers in Galatia and Philippi (Gal. 3; Phil. 3:2)
- Demas (2 Tim. 4:10)
This is who we typically think of when we think about division. But they’re certainly not the only kind we’re cautioned against. The second is actually much more damaging. We are warned against:
- Those among us who stir up foolish controversies (Titus 3:9)
- People who incite unrest and factionalism (2 Tim. 2:23; Rom. 16:17)
- Fools who sow discord and say they were only joking (Prov. 26:19)
The difficulty with this group is that, in many cases, they’re not teaching overtly false doctrine. In fact, many paint themselves as Defenders of the Truth; the last bulwark, the Spurgeons and Luthers of our day, here for a time such as this to hold back the encroaching darkness of theological liberalism.
And yet, perhaps ironically, their approach to defending the truth too often results in a different sort of falsehood—error based in both doctrine and practice. They bite and devour one another (Gal. 5:15), turning on an ever-decreasing set of allies until, eventually, none can meet their standard of orthodoxy.
The Fuel of Rage Driven-Ministry
No doubt, a list of names comes to mind as you read that sentence. No doubt some of them would cross over with the list I have in mind. I don’t feel the need to address those people specifically by name in this article, because naming names isn’t the point here. But those names you can think of should serve as a warning against what might be called a rage-driven approach to ministry, one that has embraced the way to get attention on the social Internet:
By stoking fear.
That fear may be based in something that exists. It may be a convenient fiction. The facts don’t actually matter when it comes to gaming an algorithm. Fear is a heck of a drug.
Responding to Rage-Driven Ministry
The worst part is, any of us can be guilty of spreading it. And if any of us can be guilty of that, then it’s up to all of us to stand against it. So how do we do that? How do we push back against rage-driven ministry, and the culture of fear it creates?
To answer that, I keep coming back to James 1:19-21:
My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
This short passage provides a powerful response to rage-driven ministry, encouraging us in three specific ways:
First, we reject rage by listening more than we speak.
Fear gains power when we make assumptions. When we don’t take the time to actually understand those we might disagree with, and jump in with a quick response. Instead, especially when it comes to difficult or sensitive issues, we owe it to ourselves and to our communities to be better listeners. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing; it means listening—trying to see another point of view and judge it on its own merits. This is hard and often unrewarding work, but it is essential.
Second, we need to turn off voices that intentionally stoke fear.
To be better listeners, we need to get out of our echo chambers, moving beyond our preferred media sources, and the opinions of people we already agree with. We should try—really try—to listen to people we might disagree with. And to do that, it means that we’re often going to have to turn off the voices that intentionally stoke fear, and paint themselves as the persecuted remnant.
How do you know they’re stoking fear? Consider their fruit. Look at their ways carefully and consider what it is that they’re really trying to accomplish. If it’s to pursue the holiness of God’s people, then praise God. But pray that they would do so in the spirit of Jude 22-23, with mercy and compassion as opposed to fear and anger. But in many cases, they’re not. Far too many are trying to make a name for themselves. They’ve been warned many times over against this, so have nothing more to do with them (Titus 3:9-11).
Finally, we must focus on what points us toward Jesus.
Fear is the enemy of faith, this is true. But perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). So even as rage-driven ministry tries to use fear to provoke us, we need to turn to God’s Word, to be reminded of the good news of the gospel. Jesus came into this world to rescue us from sin and death, including the sins that fuel rage-driven ministry. He is our hope and our strength. No darkness will overcome Him or prevail against His church.
Which means that, in reality, there’s nothing to fear at all.
So the gospel is what we need more of—the gospel is, truly, the answer to every problem in a very real sense. The gospel puts an end to the guilt and shame the sort of pharisaicalism that places a burden upon those who hear it that is too much to bear brings, with rules that its teachers do not practice. The gospel frees us from the fear that comes with having our assumptions challenged, of realizing we might be wrong about something. The gospel gives us faith that can withstand even the most sinister errors, and the hope we need to draw those who are tempted to succumb to them toward the light.
That’s what we need more of. That’s what I need more of. It’s what puts an end to rage-driven ministry. And God’s Word reminds me of that truth again and again.