When you must step forward and defend the gospel against poisonous teachers, defend it with all the grace that inheres within the gospel itself.
We must do the Lord’s work the Lord’s way. It is not enough for us to identify a misleading voice, and then just do or say whatever feels right. As Jonathan Edwards warned us, “There is nothing that belongs to Christian experience more liable to a corrupt mixture than zeal.” Peter illustrates the folly of misplaced zeal. When the enemies of Jesus attacked, the apostle rose up in defense. His heart was doubtless in the right place. But what did he actually do? He drew his sword, proving not how brave he was but only how foolish (John 18:10–11).
Francis Schaeffer used to say that, after debating with a liberal theologian, he hoped the liberal would walk away with two equally clear impressions: one, Francis Schaeffer really disagreed with him; two, Francis Schaeffer really cared about him. So the truth was defended, and the person was respected. Can gospel people settle for less?
And then, if we must critique a fellow Christian, it becomes all the more important to be considerate and restrained, for that Christian is a member of Christ himself. Rather than go quickly to the nuclear option by charging him or her with heresy, we should slow down and cautiously articulate our concerns such that the erring brother or sister might actually be won over—not embarrassed, pressured, or cornered, but persuaded.
If, however, we plunge ahead without taking great care to bring a winsome argument, we must honestly examine our own professed love for the truth. What is it that we want, really? What is it that’s burning inside? Is it the Holy Spirit?
Ugliness Can’t Defend Beauty
Perhaps all of us have witnessed scenes of accusation and interrogation among Christian believers that did not at all appear to be moved along by the Holy Spirit of God. We saw no beauty there, no humaneness, nothing of Christ. It made the kingdom of heaven feel more like the regions of hell.
How can ugliness defend the beauty of the gospel? Francis Schaeffer again counsels us wisely and compellingly:
There is only one kind of man who can fight the Lord’s battles in anywhere near a proper way, and that is the man who by nature is unbelligerent. A belligerent man tends to do it because he is belligerent; at least it looks that way. The world must observe that, when we must differ with each other as true Christians, we do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God’s sake. If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed.
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