There seems to be this unwritten rule that if you disagree with someone theologically, be it on minor or major issues, it is now fair game to use whatever tactics you like to take that person down. You can take comments or quotes out of context, rely on hearsay or anonymous “sources”, look for any innocent mistake, and impugn motives or positions that the person doesn’t hold to as long as it makes your “opponent” look bad. A whole cottage industry of “discernment” bloggers has risen looking for controversies to stir up and people to take down. They find heretics under every rock and a “downgrade” daily[i]. It is the ultimate in Monday morning quarterbacking and the online equivalent of the bitter old lady in church who has nothing good to say about anything that happens in her church.
I would remind us all that the Holy Scriptures command us to be loving and just (1 Corinthians 13:1). Discernment is meant to be done for the sake of abounding in love as Philippians 1:9-10 says : “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” There is nothing loving about nitpicking and causing division among brothers. There is nothing loving about stirring up foolish controversies. There is nothing loving about looking for “gotcha” quotes or taking your opponent’s quotes out of context (1 Peter 2:1). We are to judge righteously. There is nothing righteous about making judgements without knowledge of the facts. There is nothing righteous about using misquotes or only hearing one side of the story (Proverbs 18:17).
We should seek to be unified in Christ. We should give brothers the benefit of the doubt and assume that their motives are pure even when they slip up. We must guard against a knee jerk reaction to respond to something that someone said in a sermon, on a podcast, or online without doing due diligence of first checking the context, secondly asking the person for clarification and thirdly being willing to overlook minor errors or disagreements. Sometimes true Christian discernment means overlooking a brother’s faults.
None of what I am writing is meant to excuse dealing with error, gross sin, or heresy. We must be discerning to guard our doctrine and practice. Yet even to those who are in sin, error, or heresy we must deal fairly and represent them accurately. This does not mean that there won’t ever be times to break out the serrated edge by using satire, humor, and even tough language. But in all things the believer should grow in love with discernment so that they may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.
[i] I would like to remind everyone that while Charles Spurgeon faithfully stood strong against what he called “the downgrade” among the Baptist Union, he ,however, did so with sober thought, reluctantly dividing only when he saw no way forward. This is a far cry from some who have appropriated the “downgrade” term today.