“The loudest boos always come from the cheapest seats.” (Babe Ruth)
The internet has given us a lot of opportunities. One of those “opportunities” that I consider most unfortunate is that of mean-spirited criticism of fellow believers. Whether it is the natural result of access to a platform that allows us to vent or it is the lack of courage that a face-to-face conversation might force us to have, the critics will always have their say online if they don’t like what someone else is saying. It’s almost like someone with great power and influence somewhere in the internet-sphere has declared it circular firing squad season for followers of Jesus.
You can pretty much get away with calling other Christians anything you’d like — stupid, heretic, retard, God-forsaken — online if they say something that you don’t think is biblically sound. All these words are apparently accepted adjectives because I’ve read all these names on posts. Nothing, it seems, is out of bounds if you are criticizing a Christian whom you believe is out of line in their theology. Remember now, I’m talking about Christians who are talking about other Christians, not talking to other Christians.
This word of warning to any pastor or Christian leader who might express any idea or concept that could be considered outside the doctrinal mainstream — Duck! You’re about to be fired on.
“So, you’re just for letting people get away with filling people with unbiblical teachings? We need to call them out!” Okay. I get that. There’s a lot of crazy stuff floating around out there. It’s not so much what we are saying to one another that bothers me, it’s what we are saying about one other. We can disagree with theological concepts and teachings, and we can support solid doctrinal positions without sinking to the lowest common denominator, can’t we? The internet is for discussion. The internet is for interaction. We can all learn from one another, but when we disparage the character of people we do not know, people we have never met and people who claim to worship the same Jesus that we do, that is just about as out of line as the false teaching itself.
Here are some things I need to think about if I’m going to take a vigorous stand in public against the teaching of a fellow believer on the internet:
• Am I being discerning? Some issues are worth fighting over; some are not. Is there some major doctrinal issue at stake here? Sometimes I just need to scroll on by.
• What’s my goal here? Am I just wanting to argue? I might need to check my spirit.
• Is my speech seasoned with love, or am I just lashing out?
• What will a lost world think about what I’m about to say?
• If someone had access to all my online posts and ramblings, would I want them to address me the way I’m about to address this person?
• Should I back up and give this person the benefit of the doubt?
Scripture has a lot to say about how to correct a fellow believer who is in doctrinal error. Some of those things are really tough, but I would argue that all of those corrections are to be done in the context of a local church, not on the pages of Facebook or Twitter. Internet print has a way of making innocuous written thoughts look nasty and mean, and it can make the person doing the correcting seem like a religious know-it-all. The lost world certainly won’t buy what we are selling if that is the vibe we are spreading.
I heard it said one time that “religious fundamentalists always eat their own.” Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that this statement is almost always right. We can do better. I can do better. Let’s all give it a try.