I recently had a conversation with a woman I did not know well. She had a background in the Lord’s church, but as she described her present place of worship she said, “It’s a Church of Christ, but not what you would be familiar with. You see, I came to the conclusion some time ago that the Baptists are not my enemy. Satan is my enemy, and I believe we should love other Christians and not criticize them.” She did not elaborate, and I did not take the bait since we had just met. But what I felt she wanted to convey was, “The church should not be pointing out the doctrinal errors of others; we should love and fellowship all who claim to follow Christ.”
The fact that she felt compelled to take a defensive jab at a total stranger revealed her insecurity. But that is not the focus of this article. Rather, I want to think about the trend toward spiritual pacifism, the reluctance to – yea, even the hostility toward – exposing the false teaching of quasi-Christian organizations.
The motives of those who feel this way are undoubtedly varied. Some have friends and family in denominations who are moral, good-hearted, church-going people. They find it unpleasant that such people may be worshiping God in vain.
Others have adopted an agnostic view of life that makes them reluctant to say, “This is true and that is not.” Instead, they think, “I might be right about some things and wrong about other things; who am I to condemn someone else when they think they are right, too?”
Yet others simply do not have the psychological makeup to handle confrontation. That, plus the social pressure to not “judge” anyone negatively, makes all criticism distasteful.
Whatever the motivations, some Christians are simply opposed to confronting error. But such a viewpoint makes me wonder: What new testament are they reading?! Does spiritual pacifism describe either Jesus or the inspired speakers and writers of nascent Christianity?
Jesus rebuking the Pharisees: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Mt 23:15). The Pharisees had perverted the law of Moses with their own superimposed traditions and opinions. They had strayed so far from the original intent of the law that they couldn’t recognize the Son of God who was standing before them.
Paul’s rebuke of the Judaizers: “They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them … I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!” (Gal 4:17; 5:12). That last phrase refers to self-mutilation.
Peter on false teachers: “By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber … But these, like natural brute beasts made to be caught and destroyed, speak evil of the things they do not understand, and will utterly perish in their own corruption” (2 Pet 2:3, 12).
John on receiving false teachers: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh … whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 Jn 7, 9-11).
These are just brief examples of a militancy that was characteristic of Jesus and the apostles. It was a militancy born of defending the truth against the deception and lies that were compromising the truth of the gospel. It was not born of a lack of love for their fellow man; it was actually in defense of saints who were in danger of being led astray and the lost who would be hopelessly confused by false notions (just as many are today).
It is vital as we “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3) that we maintain decorum (“with meekness and fear” – 1 Pet 3:15), love those who are in error and reason with a clear mind. Having said that, Paul was not reluctant to shake the dust off his feet and declare his detractors “unworthy of everlasting life” (Ac 13:46).
The pacifist may respond, “Well, I just don’t think that is the way to convert people.” But conversion is not the goal; conversion is the outcome of a lost soul who comes in contact with the truth. If the truth is corrupted, then it is impotent to convert. Denominational perversion of gospel truth is a tragedy, and this is why our spiritual forefathers spoke so harshly against error. It seems to me that the spiritual pacifist has lost sight of that and has absorbed the ethos of our culture – don’t judge; dogmatism is the mark of a narrow mind; and the only thing that matters is sincerity.