I was copied on an email recently that was sent to a leader of an influential Christian organization. The author of the email (let’s call him Larry, not his real name) railed against the leader and the organization for not keeping the culture Biblical and centered in Christ. Larry went on to highlight similar issues in this organization dating back sixty years! In the email, Larry cc’d about 30 individuals, many of whom I recognized. Larry also mentions an upcoming meeting with this leader to discuss these issues.
What bothered me most about this email is that Larry has been a pastor for much of his life. I responded politely and asked Larry to remove me from his distribution list. We all know that by cc’ing individuals it implies they agree with us or are “part of their camp.” I also privately emailed the leader and told him that I didn’t agree with Larry’s approach.
I was also bothered because Larry sent this to 30 individuals as well as posted it on his Facebook account BEFORE he talked with the leader. In my communication with the leader, he was obviously hurt that this went public before Larry could seek to understand the facts from the proverbial “horse’s mouth.”
The really, really sad part of this scenario is that this kind of event is being carried out in Christian relationships on social media every day, tens of thousands of times! Throughout the New Testament, we are told to seek to resolve our differences by going face-to-face with an individual. Instead, we triangulate by speaking to others about the third party.
Here are three very clear passages that outline how we are to deal with others of faith with whom we disagree.
In Matthew 18, Jesus clearly gives us a process to deal with our brothers and sisters in the church with whom we have a difference of perspective:
15“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.Matthew 18.15-17
In chapter 4 of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he is pretty clear about how we should deal with issues within the church where we don’t agree with each other…
15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work…
25Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body…
29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.Ephesians 4.15-16, 25, 29-32
In Romans 1, Paul includes “gossips and slanders” among some fairly serious other behaviors with which others that Christians wouldn’t identify:
29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.Romans 1.29-32
This is clearly not what is being practiced today by followers of Christ in the church and on social media. Jesus was honest, transparent, and loving in all his communication. He spoke the truth even when it hurt others or when it eventually led to him being killed by those who didn’t agree with him.
I find it interesting that this teaching, though ignored, isn’t new. Stephen Covey wrote over 30 years ago that one of the seven habits of highly effective people is that they first seek to understand before being understood.
I ask myself, why do so many followers of Christ today become so polarized and almost belligerent? First, I think electronic communication and social media allow anyone to express anything with little sense of accountability. We say things electronically that we would seldom state face to face with another. So rather than communicate our perspective and/or concerns with someone in a loving and truthful manner and listen, we just dump, categorize and blame.
Second, I think many Christians today are more influenced by their own insecurities or narratives than by the Spirit’s transformational work of conforming us to the image of Christ. We are told repeatedly in the New Testament that we are to have the mind of Christ. That is, a mind centered on the attitudes and expressions we read of Jesus. However, too often, Christians are afraid of being honest and loving face-to-face with another. They gossip rather than express something face to face. Or they simply say something electronically.
Ironically Paul writes to a church in Corinth that is struggling with this very issue. Their lives are not very transformed and therefore reflected the culture around them. They were divisive, gossiping, selfish, inappropriate sexually, and simply acting like the culture in the city of Corinth. He, therefore, writes them several letters on how their lives should be different when they are in Christ.
In one passage where he intentionally deals with their ability to be people of reconciliation, he says:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”2 Corinthians 5.17
We are not to emulate what we see around us. We are not to allow the behavior of those around us to influence who we are. We are new creations, and therefore we need to deal with our old narratives in ways that neuter their power to control us.
I am convinced if we who are in Christ would live like we are new creations, those around us would notice quickly. They would notice because we would be honest and loving in all our communications. We would not speak behind any other person’s back but rather speak with them. If we would act like we are created to be, there would be no need to preach on street corners or hold John 3.16 signs in the endzones. Because people would want this relationally transforming presence personified in their relationships.
I am saddened that we don’t stand out for our Christlike behaviors, so we have to wear signs, bracelets, or t-shirts that express our faith.