Should Christians ever use harsh language? Yes, although we should be wise about when and how. Here are four principles to guide us.
There are few truths about the human condition more profound than what we read in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.”
The longer I’m a Christian, the older I get, the more books I read, the more I realize just how true this really is. There is nothing new under the sun. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, it reminds us we don’t need to lament Hollywood’s banality, its infatuation with remakes and reboots over developing new films (though we probably should be a little annoyed about this). It means we don’t necessarily need to be frustrated every time we realize the book we just read said the same thing as a book we read six months or a year prior (though this might be more of a problem for book reviewers than the general public). And though we should earnestly contend against them, we don’t need to get in a panic when we see certain heresies rear their ugly heads.
I was reminded of this recently while working on my latest library purge, and read the following passage:
The old landmarks are disappearing or at least are being considerably shifted. The Bible is passing through the ordeal of a remorseless and revolutionary criticism, and the singular fact is that conclusions which decades ago would have been condemned as subversive of all faith in its authority are now naturalized in large sections of the Church as the last and surest results of scholarship, to question which is well-nigh to put one’s self beyond the pale of consideration—almost as if one denied the Copernican theory of the universe.[1. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, volume 1 (1915).]
Now, when do you think this was written? There are undoubtedly a few clues in the text, but take a stab: somewhere in the 1960s or ’70s maybe? Or how about this:
Evangelicals do not wish to turn the clock back to the days before scientific study began. What they desire is that modern Bible study should be genuinely scientific—that is to say, fully biblical in its method; and their chief complaint against modern criticism is that it so often fails here. It is true that Evangelicals call for a return to principles of Bible study which have a long history in the Christian Church, and for some revision of modern critical methods in light of them. But that is not because these principles are traditional; it is because they are biblical.[2. J.I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, 20 (1958).]
Reading these, you might think you’re looking at something out of a fairly recent book. Indeed, they very well could be. But they’re not. The first appeared in a Bible Encyclopedia which was published in 1915. The second in a book by J.I. Packer in 1958. Nearly 50 years between the two, and no less than that between the latter’s writing and our own day—yet, they could have just as easily been published in 2016.
What this reminds me of—beyond the astounding unoriginality of false teaching and deceitful thinking—is that while “there is nothing new under the sun” is true of our error and folly, the the good news about the good news also remains the same. And it never fades away.
Times, fashions, and vocabularies all change. What is false seems to gain an upper hand for a time. And yet the truth always, eventually, overcomes. The errors we fight today are the same as the errors our forebearers fought against 90, 900, and 19000 years ago. So we do not need to lose heart. Instead, we can be encouraged as we remember the truth. And we can join in celebrating the good news with Charles Spurgeon, who, as he fought against a significant challenge to biblical fidelity in his own day, offered these words:
Sceptics may seem to take the truth, and bind it, and scourge it, and crucify it, and say that it is dead; and they may endeavour to bury it in scorn, but the Lord has many a Joseph and a Nicodemus who will see that all due honour is done even to the body of truth, and will wrap the despised creed in sweet spices, and hide it away in their hearts. They may, perhaps, be half afraid that it is really dead, as the wise men assert; yet it is precious to their souls, and they will come forth right gladly to espouse its cause, and to confess that they are its disciples. We will sit down in sorrow, but not in despair; and watch until the stone is rolled away, and Christ in His truth shall live again, and be openly triumphant. We shall see a Divine interposition, and shall cease to fear; while they who stand armed to prevent the resurrection of the grand old doctrine shall quake and become as dead men, because the gospel’s everlasting life has been vindicated, and they are made to quail before the brightness of its glory.[3. C. H. Spurgeon, C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Compiled from His Diary, Letters, and Records, by His Wife and His Private Secretary, 1878–1892, vol. 4 (Chicago; New York; Toronto: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1900), 253.]
One of the things I’ve done terribly over the years is address false teaching. As a new Christian—and worse, a new Christian developing doctrinal convictions—I tended to wield my lofty opinions (some of which were even right) as a mighty hammer with which to smash my perceived foes. So I would do stupid things like blurt out, “Why would you read that—don’t you know it’s heretical nonsense?”
And let me tell you, that does not win friends or influence people.
Do we know the truth?
But over time, I’ve smartened up a little bit (I hope), as I’ve come to realize that sometimes my mighty theological hammer of justice doesn’t always have the effect I intend. And frankly, trying to argue people into orthodoxy doesn’t really work all that well. As my wife is so fond of saying, those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still. (There’s a lot of wisdom there.)
Which leads to the problem. Far too many of us are woefully biblically illiterate. We don’t know what the text says, what it means, or how it makes a difference in our lives. Because of this, we’re easily swayed by teaching that sounds wise, helpful and spiritual, but might be complete nonsense.
We are easy prey because we don’t know that what we’re hearing is wrong.
Knowing Scripture and recognizing false teaching
So how do we protect ourselves? I’ve really come to appreciate the simple truth that the best way to protect ourselves against false teaching (and protect others from it as well) is not always with lofty arguments. It is with the consistent study of Scripture. J.C. Ryle makes the point well:
What is the best safe-guard against false teaching? Beyond all doubt the regular study of the word of God, with prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The Bible was given to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. (Psalm. 119:105.) The man who reads it aright will never be allowed greatly to err. It is neglect of the Bible which makes so many a prey to the first false teacher whom they hear. They would have us believe that “they are not learned, and do not pretend to have decided opinions.” The plain truth is that they are lazy and idle about reading the Bible, and do not like the trouble of thinking for themselves. Nothing supplies false prophets with followers so much as spiritual sloth under a cloak of humility.1
The most important words when dealing with any teaching is to consistently ask ourselves, “What do the Scriptures say?” When we read a book, even by a generally trustworthy source, we need to ask this. When we listen to our pastors’ sermons, we ought to do likewise. When we read blogs and tweets and other such things, we must always ask this question. When we do this, when we are committed to, with the help of the Holy Spirit, seeking to understand the Scriptures to the best of our ability, and when we hold all teaching—even good teaching—up to its light, there is no place for false teaching to hide.
- J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Matthew
Jude wrote to an unknown group of Christians, eager to write about “our common salvation;” to share about the good news of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus with the church. Instead, compelled by the Holy Spirit, he wrote the New Testament epistle that bears his name—an urgent appeal warning believers to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered.”
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In 2009, I felt burdened to address this issue in the small group I led. I wanted to help our friends there build a better understanding of the necessity of contending for the faith. Over the last several weeks, I’ve adapted the content of that study into a series of article here on the blog, and am now making it available to you in an e-book format.
This 32 page booklet contains the articles based on this study as well as a series of questions for each section to assist you in your personal study or in a small group setting. You will also find a number of recommended resources to help you grow in your understanding of the essential truths of the Christian faith.
You are free to download the Contending Study & Discussion guide and pass it along in electronic or hardcopy formats as you see fit.
It is my desire that this short guide would be a blessing to you as you read it and that you would gain an increased desire to earnestly “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3)
Read the original posts in this series:
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
Two weeks ago, I began a series here based on a small group study I wrote a year ago examining the epistle of Jude, by first examining “our common salvation” of which he was so eager to write, followed by an examination those of whom we contend against. This week concludes this look at Jude’s epistle with the call to persevere and how we should approach those that would cause division among us.
Do Not Be Surprised
We should not be surprised that there are a great many who would seek to lead God’s people astray. The serpent has been doing this since the beginning (see Genesis 3) and he is still hard at work today. Among those professing to be Christians today are fierce wolves who will not spare the flock (Acts 20:29). We have been warned throughout Scripture that this would be the case. And although it can be discouraging, we must not despair because it is a sign that Christ’s return is closer: Read More about Jude: Contending To Keep Us From Stumbling
You may have seen this video making the rounds this week, an eight minute film produced by Christianity Today and The Global Conversation:
The video is exceptional, disturbing and incredibly convicting. Watch the last couple of minutes, starting at 6:14, or read the transcript to see what I mean:
Rev. Sam Korankye Ankrah (a pastor who preaches the prosperity “gospel”):
“We were born in poverty. We suffered; we struggled; we almost didn’t get food to eat. We struggled for food. We struggled for space. For love. You might have been born into poverty but you can change the status quo and turn around and leave a legacy of wealth for your children. You have been born into many difficulties and challenges—but here it starts with you. So for us, preaching prosperity, dreaming prosperity, craving for prosperity, praying for prosperity is non-negotiable. It’s power to break poverty.” Read More about The Gospel-less "Gospel"