Not long ago I saw something on social media that had a particularly troubling effect on me as a fellow follower of Jesus. Of course, we see deeply disturbing things on social media everyday. Things that trouble us not only as Christians but, for crying out loud, as fellow humans. Things much more troubling than what I’m about to share with you today. I may comment on those things and cry out to God about those things but I’d less likely write a blog post about them. Other voices are more qualified. My concerns and the kinds of things I write about are more inclined toward matters involving the community of believers in Christ. I love the community of faith so much. Called to discipleship, it is the focus of my life passion and has been for thirty years. I only have one small desk from which to watch our world so I miss a lot but, among the things in my eyeshot, I see so much cause for praise. So much good. I see stirrings of revival. Outbreaks of evangelism. Demands for justice. I don’t know how anybody truly awake in the believing world could claim that nothing good is happening in Christianity.
But the reason I’m writing today is that I’m seeing a burgeoning trend out there that is toxic, dangerous, and slanderous. Nothing about it carries the scent of Christ.
It’s a witch hunt. Only, instead of witches, it’s heretics and false teachers.
I’ve been watching the witch hunt for several years and seen the usual targets and been one of the usual targets. The lists are growing by leaps and bounds and list-makers are proudly joining ranks. This is part of our brave, new world. And everybody’s game, especially anybody vaguely outspoken. An addition was made to the list here recently that was so absurd that it would have been laughable had it not said so much about where this whole trend is heading.
I’ll leave out the names of other targets and speak firsthand from my own experience. After all, the thing that troubled me on social media recently was personal. It was an attack not made behind my back. It was said where I would see it.
The tweet referred to me on my feed as “false teacher @BethMooreLPM.”
Nothing was new about seeing that. I also regularly get called a heretic.
As unpleasant and bewildering as it is, that’s not the part that particularly disturbed me. The part that got me is that it came from 22 year-old young woman.
Maybe she started young and really had done enough of the Bibles studies or read enough of the books to support a doctrinal evaluation like that.
What is more likely is that she believes it because it’s what she’s heard from someone she respects.
Or maybe she’s seen evidence with her own eyes through segments of video-teaching taken out of their original context and strung together in such a way to suggest a representation of an entire thrust of ministry.
I don’t know exactly how she came up so confidently with that label so early in her adult Christian life but somehow she did.
The tweet didn’t make me mad. It made me sad. I wanted to ground her and give her a homework assignment. Lest you go looking for her, I deleted the comment from my feed when I knew I was going to write this post. We’re not going to respond to unkindness with more unkindness. That’s not God’s way. Anyway, the odd thing of it is, I loved her immediately. My calling is discipleship and my focus is women. I want women plugged into churches. I want them continually sitting under pastors, shepherds, and teachers. I love to hear that women are studying in group environments but I also want them to study for themselves. Not just get spoon-fed what to think and not only about the Scriptures and the local church but also about the larger community of faith and those who serve within it. About the responsible use of voice. About what qualifies as a heretic. About mutual respect for their own brothers and sisters in Christ. About fair evaluations. Due diligence.
I’m still very much on my journey, too. Such a long shot from arriving. I’ve woefully regretted things I’ve said and some things I’ve taught. All of us are on a learning curve in this culture entrusted to our care. But, as we learn and as we operate in these public forums where everybody has a voice, come, let us reason together.
There is a mighty wide pond between “I line up with him/her” and “He/she is a false teacher.” Let’s think about wading through it. That’s all I’m saying.
In a massive cross section of Christian voices on social media, the bottom has dropped out of an entire line of reasoning and way of relating to one another.
We’ve jumped straight to terms like “false teachers” and “heretics” instead of expressions that very likely represent the differences more accurately. Such as…
I strongly disagree with _________________________ about _______________________________.
I believe __________________________________ is unsound about ____________________________.
Disagreement is not a qualification for declaring someone a heretic. Even vehement disagreement.
As well, getting something wrong doesn’t automatically make a person a false teacher. If that were so, we’d all qualify at one time or another. There are vital elements that need to be considered, taught, and discussed among us in our Christian environments like what constitutes proper criteria for making claims of heresy and false teaching and what is orthodoxy? How do we wisely oppose and confront? How does Jesus say to handle it? What really are the deal-breakers?
Of course there are false teachers! Of course there are heretics! Of course they must be questioned! Of course, people should be warned! Of course teachers of the Scriptures must be held accountable for what they’re teaching!
My concern today is the disturbing trend of throwing dangerous labels around because of what we’ve heard and not what we’ve investigated fairly and properly. I realized several years ago that one of my most outspoken critics has never even cracked open one of the Bible studies. Not one. Doesn’t want to either. All there is to the entire ministry from his perspective is this: “she claims special revelation from God.” And, based on his summation, I equate these “special revelations” with the Word of God.
Are you kidding me? He can say that from a distance but I do not believe he can make that claim close up. If he can, I’m the one that needs grounding.
We are the Body of Christ. We are brothers and sisters. Even when we are utterly convinced the other person is wrong and we have doctrinal ducks in a row to prove it, we are never to treat one another “as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (2 Thessalonians 3:15) Yes, we must hold one another accountable and hold ourselves accountable. We question one another. We by all means keep discussing and debating and entering into healthy disagreements.
But we stop short of labeling one another things like false teacher and heretic until we’ve done our homework.
This isn’t a polished post. No time this particular day to make it so. But I offer it to you with one simple hope: that we’d be among those who take pause. Among those who consider ethics of speech to have an important place on our Christian platforms. Among those who think before we speak.
It’s hunting season out there. Let’s be careful how we hunt.
Brothers and Sisters, I wrote this in a comment as I closed that portion of the post but it could easily get lost in well over 300 entries. I thought I would add it here as well:
Hey, Everybody. I so appreciate you stopping by. You guys have really kept me busy this weekend moderating all these comments and entering into discussions both here and elsewhere. I have a taping this coming weekend and need to prepare four different teaching sessions toward it. It will keep my hands full every single day. We also have our big Scripture memory post coming up later this week here on the blog so we will be very occupied with those things. For that reason, I am going to need to close the comments at this point on this post. I’m the only one moderating this post and I am out of time. My attentions must now turn to preparation for the taping.
I do want to tell you something though. This comment line has had value in my life and ministry. I want you to know that and I want to thank you. I am a thinker and you have caused me to think and to pray and to worship and to read and to reflect and to remember and to reconsider. Those are always good things. I love to learn and I promise you that as long as I live and breathe, I will seek to keep learning.
It is doubtful that I will ever satisfy my harshest critics but I want to be a loving fellow-follower of Christ. Just as they do not line up with me, there are distances that I cannot go with them. I believe God can be more willing to reveal Himself in our day than some of my brothers and sisters do. I believe the New Testament well supports such a stand. It is easier and more controllable and comfortable just to say that He does not and it cuts out so much of the risk but I don’t believe we can control the Holy Spirit like that without ultimately quenching Him.
We must test everything and hold fast to what is good. We all must stay in God’s Word, study it hard, pray, fast, memorize. The God-breathed Word recorded on the pages of Scripture is our Truth, our authority, our standard by which all else is measured. Nothing equates with the Scriptures: no word of knowledge, no prophetic message, no insight, no revelation, no dream, no vision. Nothing. That doesn’t mean they can’t be valid. The New Testament says they can. But they must never supplant or be placed on the same level with the Scriptures. The Word of God is how we test everything else. We also must keep subjecting ourselves to accountability and stay attached and approachable to a sound body of believers in a local church.
And as we do, may God pour His Holy Spirit upon us. Profusely. Extraordinarily. Miraculously. We need Him and want Him desperately. May He renew wonders in our day. May He anoint us powerfully and shield us protectively.
In John 5:39-42 Jesus confronted a group of leaders with words that have long since made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. He told them that they “diligently study the Scriptures” but went on to say, “you do not have the love of God in you.” It is possible to be a diligent, devoted student of the Word of God without having an ounce of His love in our hearts. Brothers and Sisters, let that be far from us. How we treat one another matters. Let’s not grow cold to one another even in our disagreements. Faith, hope, and love. These are the things that remain.
I am honored to serve you and it has been my honor to host you this weekend here at the blog. Stay the course, everybody. Don’t grow weary. Jesus is so worthy. And it won’t be long until we see that glorious face.
In the bonds of His love,