I've been a little uncomfortable over the past few days reading what some of my "friends" have posted on Facebook regarding Christian leaders they believe are in the wrong.
When I confronted one of them about it, referring to Matthew 18 as the only way to deal with this in Christian charity, this friend quoted someone whose judgement I highly respect:
Any Christian who sets himself up as a teacher in the church of Christ and publicly teaches anything thereby opens himself up for criticism by others (cf. James 3:1). If they think what he is teaching is harmful to the church, they have an obligation to point it out just as widely as it was taught. Such public warning or debate on the topic should not be considered a personal attack at all. The teacher's plea that a critic should first have come to him about his disagreement on the basis of Matthew 18:15 does not hold. This passage has to do with personal wrongs known only between the two who should privately discuss the matter that separates them. What a critic of a public teaching does in pointing out his disagreement with that teaching has nothing to do with personal affronts or lack of reconciliation: he is simply disagreeing at the same public level as that on which the teaching was given in the first place. (Jay Adams, Grist from Adam's Mill p. 69)
At first I had to agree this friend might have a point. But then, something else happened. A mutual friend wrote a veiled post filled with vilifying insinuations which only someone familiar with the mystery target would understand. I knew exactly who this friend was referring to and exactly what was being insinuated, that perhaps the homes of those who promote biblical families really aren't as pure, happy, and holy as they seem. The friend I mentioned earlier commended this mutual friend for telling it like it is.
Again, I felt very, very uncomfortable. Yet, I could not put a finger on what was wrong with what these friends were doing.
Then, I read this morning another writer whose judgment I highly respect:
What can be dearer to a man than reputation? A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches: but it may be injured various ways. And surely we ought to be alive to a brother's character; and willingly throw ourselves between him and the strife of tongues. When any thing is said to his disparagement, we should show that charity which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but hopeth all things. We should frown away the slander of insinuation. We should not allow a relater to go on, without inquiring whether he will allow us to name it to the person aggrieved, or the person from whom he affirms to have derived it. What a world of calumny and mischief would this prevent! He that helps not in the circulation of the report, yet, if he pleasingly, or even patiently, sits to hear it, shares half the blame; and, as Dr. South says, the tale-bearer and the tale-hearer should be both hanged up, back to back, only the one by the tongue, and the other by the ear. (William Jay, Morning Exercises, April 19 -- "We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." I John iii, 16)
The troubling thing is, these friends AREN'T telling it like it is. They never come right out and present a clear accusation of actual wrongdoing with proof. They do not simply disagree with doctrinal beliefs with accompanying biblical proofs (which is Jay Adams' main point), but resort to describing their brothers in Christ as being dangerous, hypocritical, classist, tax-evading, privileged "celebrities." Again, these Facebook friends never present clear accusations, they only spew out slanderous insinuations filled with bitter envy and strife.
Though I warrant there is a danger of holding our brothers and sisters in Christ up too highly, especially those to whom we look to for spiritual counsel, we must also be careful not to vilify those we disagree with on things other than salvation by grace alone through faith alone. Differing beliefs regarding politics, parenting, modesty, education, entertainment, the status of women, and other beliefs outside of what constitutes the true Gospel of Jesus Christ should never be a reason to commit character assassination, and especially not in the name of Christ.
I cannot say without a doubt I am not guilty of this, but perhaps recognizing it in others has awakened my sensitivity to this sin. In fact, if any of my readers think of any previous slanderous posts or other comments I have made, I ask that you please make me aware of it and give me a chance to make it right.
Hopefully, once we realize the solemn truth that we will be judged by every word we speak on the day of judgment (Matthew 12:36), perhaps we will refrain from slanderous insinuations.
"Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips." (Psalm 141:3)