Sticks And Stones

As the saying goes: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." That's the old saying, but you and I both know that it is not true; words do hurt us. Hurtful words were cited as the motivation for the last five school shootings, where the shooter(s) had been mocked and teased until they reached their breaking point. What we say, how we say it, the circumstances in which the words are spoken, the tone of our voice, and even the particular words we use may send signals to others about how we feel about them, though we may never state it in clear terms.

But what has this got to do with studying with someone else to determine the truth as found in God's word? It may mean the difference between a continued study or one cut short. It may mean the difference between someone hearing the whole counsel of God and only enough to block out everything you say afterwards. It may mean the difference between a soul being saved and one condemned to eternal punishment because they were insulted, humiliated, or made to believe they were a complete idiot for believing what they do, and they were no longer interested in hanging around to hear what you had to say — though you may very well be teaching the truth regarding salvation.

I cannot tell you the number of times I have either heard or read of Christians, who were supposedly making efforts to teach the lost, spit out some condescending or belittling remark that is aimed at the hearer — and then express genuine surprise that they were offended and insulted by their misguided attitude. Some go into studies to genuinely try to convince the erring that they are in error and repent, but it seems some are just looking for that little joy he finds when he can point out the utter stupidity of the fellow across the table who would dare believe such a moronic position on a certain issue. When the study ends before he planned, and the other fellow expresses no desire to ever study with him again, he satisfies himself that the other fellow "wasn't really interested anyway," or just goes away shaking his head and thinking how deprived he will be for not hearing his deep, authoritative exposition of Scriptures.

My point in this article is this: How far do you think you will get in a Bible study — even if you have the truth and they don't — if you start throwing labels and insinuations at the other fellow? How successful will we be in our efforts to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15) if we begin a study or write an article with pejorative terms that only seem to only manifest contempt for one another? Is the intent to teach or to embarrass the other person? Don't get me wrong; a false teacher is still a false teacher, and should be identified as such. But we are talking about everyday, ordinary people who are searching for the truth, and who have expressed interest in studying with us in the word of God. Do we see that when we label them "anti's," liberals, nuts, wackos, or other such names, we will not get very far?

The problem with many of these labels is that they do not properly identify who we are and what we believe and teach. Take the term "anti," for example; what does that mean? I used to think it meant anti-orphans' homes and anti-church cooperation (as issues that divided churches a few decades ago), but others have expanded it to include anti-Bible class, anti-multiple cups in communion, and anti-located preacher. In the old days, those who opposed the use of the church's collection for support of orphans' homes and other human institutions were literally called orphan-haters and anti-progressives (whatever that means). But such attitudes have not gone away.

I have a letter from a man that uses the term "anti" to its extreme, calling anyone who believes as "that group" does part of the "Anti-ism movement" (with a capital "A") and states very plainly, "Anti-ism takes away all your liberties in Christ." It is clear he uses the term prejudicially and seeks to influence others to have the same viewpoint. If he can label them with a term that conjures up someone wanting to take away their freedom in Christ and paint them as some fanatical bunch of ne'er-do-wells, then no one will even want to sit down with them and discuss the real differences (for at least a generation now) and the truth will likely not be heard.

And what about the term "liberal"? What does that mean? Someone asked me a couple of years ago about another church and whether or not they were liberal, and I had to ask, "Liberal on what?" The church taught and practiced many things from a conservative viewpoint (opposing church cooperation and support of human institutions from the church's collection), but were liberal on other issues that would affect the souls who followed their teaching and practice. I didn't know how to answer him other than by being specific!

And I have heard the term "liberal" thrown around just as casually and loosely as some use the term "anti." Some, when they have been rebuked for teaching some erroneous position, respond with bitter and vitriolic words that answer nothing regarding the issue at hand, but do much toward ruining the reputation of their detractors and most of it is done with hearsay, insinuations, unfair comparisons, and guilt by association. The actual arguments are never answered, but they go all out in trying to make it look like anyone who disagrees with their position on a certain topic is just the beginning of the slide into liberalism that will signal the end of the church as we know it!

The answer to all of this unjustified name-calling is to simply address the issues and challenges honestly and with the Scriptures, not forgetting that it is to be done "in love" (Eph. 4:15) that the lost may "escape the snare of the devil" (2 Tim. 2:24-26). That would eliminate this childish behavior that seems all too common today.

Jesus had no reservations about calling hypocrites by name (as in Matthew 23), but He didn't see the necessity of calling everyone some kind of name. He knew the sinner who understood their sin, the tax collector who daily faced rejection as an outcast, and the Samaritan who was considered less than human by His fellow Jews. Knowing this, Jesus named the ones who needed naming, and taught the ones who sincerely wanted to hear of salvation.

Since none of us can look into the hearts of another man, that means we should just stick to teaching and lay off the labels.

By Steven C. Harper

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