There’s an older essay by David Aikman’s essay in Christianity Today entitled “Attack Dogs of Christendom: Is this how to bring grace and savor to a crumbling civilization?”
The pull quote says it all:
“No attribute of civilized life seems more under attack than civility.”
Aikman’s article is about our infighting, how we as Christians throw rocks at each other, particularly those we disagree with. He says no one has been immune, citing Billy Graham or Rick Warren’s experience with nasty diatribes flung their way on the web and blogosphere. Even Elizabeth Elliot stirred controversy on websites because she refused to “separate from heretics.”
Aikman adds, “What disturbs me, however, is the extent to which some Christians have turned themselves into the the self-appointed attack dogs of Christendom. They seem determined to savage not only the opponents to Christianity, but also fellow believers whose doctrinal positions they disapprove.”
I received correspondence that basically said, “If I quote so and so, I shouldn’t be surprised I’d get attacked.” I’m reminded of a teen who was zealous about right doctrine (please hear me: I’m married to a DTS grad; I love theology; I love the Bible). When I told this person I’d be putting a quote by Emerson (“All writing comes by the grace of God”) on my wall in my office, he scoffed, telling me about the dangers of Emerson. While I know Emerson’s philosophies aren’t ones I want to adhere to completely, I worry about folks who have so sequestered themselves that they can’t even read other perspectives without getting angry.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for orthodoxy. We should. It’s our duty to do so–to rightly discern heresy from biblical truth.
But it’s the manner in which we do so that keeps me up at night.
Can we criticize? Yes.
Can we call into question certain doctrines that are contrary to the Word of God? Yes.
By SHOUTING in cyberspace? By calling leaders names? By making fun, ridiculing, and elevating ourselves above others? I think of Jesus when I watch this. He didn’t shrink from telling the truth. He even overturned tables and had harsh things to say about people who enslaved others. But he did so with love. His heart in every interaction was to bring reconciliation. He didn’t have to argue to prove his point (he would always be right), but to point out error so that a clearer path could be forged toward reconciliation.
Our words are deeply powerful. They’re meaner than sticks and stones and nuclear weapons. We must season them with grace, with kindness, with reconciliation in mind. And a huge dose of humility.
I’ve been there. When I was younger in the faith, I railed against folks who differed from me. I’m ashamed to admit it here. But as I grew, something funny happened. I became less easily offended. I grew in grace. If you look at the passages about the weaker and stronger believer, you’ll see something highly interesting: the one who is stronger is less offended, more free. The one who is considered weaker is easily offended and must be tiptoed around.
I remember reading an article about the late Keith Green. Someone asked what he would’ve been like in his later years. Green, known for his activism and passion, according to this person, would’ve become more grace oriented in his later years. Isn’t that a wonderful measure of us as we grow closer to Jesus? That we become so steeped in grace that it overflows our hearts to be kind even to those we deem as enemies? What profit is it if we can’t even love those we differ from?
Our battle is not against folks. It’s against the principalities and powers of this earth. But too often, we shoot at the wrong enemy. And with words as virulent as any weapon.