Let me begin by saying that I recognize the irony and potential for hypocrisy in what I am about to write. Nevertheless, I think this needs to be said, so hopefully I won’t disprove my own point. Here goes…
Yesterday I was listening to one of Mark Driscoll’s sermons, and in the course of preaching he made a hyperbolic statement for the sake of demonstrating a point. He immediately followed up the statement by adding, “That was a joke! I didn’t really mean that, so all you bloggers can go ahead and shut your laptops now.”
What struck me about his disclaimer is that it’s not the first one I’ve heard lately. Frequently my own pastor will try to stave off the mean e-mails and angry blogs that might ensue a controversial point by anticipating their possible misinterpretations. I’ve heard other pastors and podcasters do the same.
Clearly, they’ve all learned to beware the wrath of the blogosphere.
It is here that I must question whether such a trend is godly. When our pastors are constantly worried that their words might be lifted from their context, twisted, and publicly berated by other Christians (not even non-Christians!) then I think we’ve come to a place that is fundamentally opposed to the spirit of the Gospel.
This point hit me as I read over Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4. Paul was facing a similar climate of criticism from the Corinthian church. Even though they had Paul to thank for their very existence, they didn’t hesitate to bite the hand that fed them. As a result, Paul had to defend his credibility before his own church, in much the same way that pastors are forced to defend themselves today.
But what exactly is going on here? Why are Christians back-biting one another, and why have blogs facilitated this all the more?
The reason for this trend is twofold, the first being our own prideful hearts. Paul makes this point when he establishes a distinction between types of judgment. Some judgment is warranted, but some stems only from our own selfish motives. In chapter 5, for example, a man was sleeping with his father’s wife, so Paul called the Christians to exercise judgment. In this case, such judgment was permissible due to the man’s blatant disobedience of Scripture.
Paul, on the other hand, was fulfilling his God-given call to preach the Gospel. Even so, he received criticism and judgment from his brothers and sisters, and it is within this context that Paul forbids judgment. Why? Because they were trying to judge his heart. Judging a person’s actions are one thing, but it is difficult to know another person’s heart, so we must be VERY wary of making such a move.
So often we will criticize Christians, preachers, or churches who are out doing the Lord’s work, but not the exact way we think they should be doing it. As a result, we get up on our high horse and make assumptions about the state of their heart, nit-picking every single mistake and highlighting those mistakes for all to see. We forget Paul’s words, “Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil. 4:18) We refuse to rejoice in the preaching of the Gospel, and instead undermine those who do.
Only very rarely is such criticism actually warranted, so speaking from my own sin and my own temptation to engage in this type of unholy judgment, I feel confident in asserting that it comes from prideful arrogance. We are doing little more than reverting back to the childish strategy of tearing others down so as to build ourselves up.
But the second reason blogs have become such a popular tool for harsh criticism is the anonymity of the form. We post a blog and then send it hurdling into cyberspace, never really witnessing its effects. We don’t really know who is reading it or how seriously they are believing our words. Because of this, we underestimate the power of our writing. In reality, we are engaging in the public slander of a fellow laborer in Christ.
And in case you don’t blog, don’t think you’re off the hook. Gossiping about someone you don’t know or slandering a pastor you’ll never meet does not justify your comments or somehow make them less sinful. Slander is slander no matter how you spin it. When it comes to matters of the heart we must “judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.” (1 Cor. 4:5)
So in defense of the many preachers, pastors, writers and teachers who are out there leading, praying, and suffering for the sake of the Gospel, guard your tongue. Not only do they deserve more respect than we bloggers often give them, but God’s precious Bride, the Church, demands it.