In this modern-day “Christian” environment, there’s a lot of controversy to get hung up over. Bethel Church’s new brand of “Christianity” seems to be spreading like cancer in the Church at large. The wider Word of Faith movement and its prosperity “gospel” are increasingly becoming more typical for Christianity on a global scale, and Christians in the public spotlight I tend to trust have essentially linked arms with some of these blatant false teachers. Some say that Genesis is full of myth rather than history, while others are questioning whether homosexuality is actually sin. And there’s more; there’s always more. If you leave the Internet for a couple days, you’ll almost certainly miss the latest firestorm set off by a controversial tweet.
It’s good to be aware of these things; in fact, keeping up with these issues has definitely helped me sharpen my understanding of Scripture and further my ability to discuss these issues from a biblical perspective. As I’ve been paying at least some attention to these controversies, my convictions have become stronger than before. But there’s an attitude surrounding these issues that I’ve noticed in myself that’s really not where it should be. Depending on the issue at hand, I sometimes get all fired up about it with what I once thought of as “righteous anger.” If I’m ticked off because people are getting the Gospel and the character of God all wrong, then that’s good, right? And I don’t think I’m alone in responding that way; at least, if the Internet comments sections are any indicator (I really should stop scrolling through those…). Since there are loads of other people with similar convictions that respond this way, I should just get all fired up about this stuff too, right?
Well… no, actually. If my response to these controversies ends in this so-called “righteous anger” or the feeling that I just need to be right about everything, then I have been missing the mark. Anger in itself is never a good thing- Jesus equated anger to murder in the heart! In his book Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges says that Paul’s “command” in Ephesians 4:26 to be angry and not sin is likely just a concession of the fact that we will get angry, but that we should never “let the sun go down on [our] anger.” In other words, when you get angry (which you will), you should never stay angry. And regardless, it’s still sin. Psalm 37:8 says, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”
How, then, does the Bible say we should respond to false teachers? In the very early life of the church when the New Testament was still being written, there were already a bunch of heresies floating around from people like the Judaizers and the Nicolaitans. Paul’s words to Timothy are helpful to this end, especially towards the beginning of 1 Timothy:
“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” [ 1 Timothy 1:3-7, emphasis added ]
Here Paul tells Timothy to make sure “different doctrine” is not taught, doctrine that deviates from the truth. So doctrine is clearly important to Paul; after all, God delivered a significant amount of what we know of Him and His gospel to us through him! He says these people “have wandered away into vain discussion,” which is to say that false teachings are worthless. But what was his aim? Righteous anger and a snobbish feeling of affirmation, right? No, Paul says it was love! After all, if false teachings are vain and getting doctrine right is important, love should compel us to help people see the truth! So I think its safe to say that all this business about so-called “righteous anger” isn’t righteous at all unless it quickly fades into love; sobriety should be a part of this, but ultimately it is love nonetheless. If it’s worth getting angry over, I would dare to say it’s worth shedding a tear over, because the aim in all these things ought to be love.
It’s so easy to lose sight of this. One of the pastors at my home church preached a sermon on the Holy Spirit recently, and he said that he wasn’t going to talk about the related controversies at all. When it comes to the Spirit, we need to go to the comfort first, before we even touch the controversy. Just read John 14! Right after Jesus promises to send the Spirit to the disciples, he says in verse 27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” Yet how easy it is in the midst of controversy to lose sight of what’s actually important about what it is we’re arguing over! We can so easily forget the precious truths we’re claiming in a fight to be right. But it shouldn’t be that way. We need to confront false teaching, but if we don’t do it out of love, we’re doing it wrong.