Can We Go Back To Being Civil?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past couple of years, it’s that preachers are some of the harshest people in the world. You write something they don’t agree with, you’re the devil incarnate. You write something with which they disagree, or that’s not totally clear, they assume the worst of what you possibly could have meant regardless if you meant it or not. We who are supposed to be most like Jesus are least like Him in many ways and at various times. We assume the motives of other preachers, we judge their hearts, accuse them of trying to destroy the body of Christ, and we act as the most arrogant and smug caste in a religion where there ought to be no caste system.

While this isn’t true of all preachers, I admit, I’ve drawn the ire of many as have some other preachers with whom I’ve recently spoken. Of course, the critic never will reach out to you for clarification, so I’ve learned but will turn to their blogs and websites and Facebooks to pontificate how right they are and that a crusade must arise to do away with us pitiful heretics. I realize the irony of me putting these thoughts in writing, but I figure I can reach even those who dislike me because they carefully follow what I write so that they have something to say on their own blog. Many of those who’ve been the most unkind are those I would have considered friends, but apparently, that friendship was superficial and contingent on me seeing things their way. Those who are truly my friends have spoken kindly and allowed me the courtesy to express my thoughts without judging. Many times we’ve found that we actually agree once we’ve reasoned through the entirety of our discussion. I’ve even had a few friends tell me that my wording here or there was unfortunate, but that they knew what I stood for, so they weren’t bothered by it. I’ve been so appreciative of such kindness and graciousness because I need it.

This much I can say: I don’t have all the answers, and neither do you. I’ve never minded someone addressing the content of my writings or thinking, but when they turn to brand me, we’ve arrived at a point where I have better things to do. Think with me for a moment: Apollos only knew about the baptism of John when he preached in Ephesus, but Priscilla and Aquila took him aside after to explain to him the ways of the Lord more accurately (Acts 18:24–28). I don’t know how well they knew one another, but I appreciate the godly couple’s approach. It was full of grace, compassion, and tact. There are many things I may not know about or have even considered, so some help is always appreciated. This is why I have a rather vast library because I know others are smarter than I am and have given more study to certain things than I have.

Have we become so concerned with accuracy that we’ve lost showing the heart of our Lord? To be sure, Jesus set folks straight plenty of times, but He did it to them and not about them. I wouldn’t expect everyone to agree with me. That’s unrealistic. However, I would only ask for the benefit of the doubt. Don’t ever question my love for God and as so many say, “the truth.” Sometimes what you may define as “the truth” is only your truth, and not God’s. I want to be right, but not for the sake of pleasing you or anyone else. I want to be right because I love my Lord and God, not because I fear them sending me to hell—a cheap view of living a Christian life if you ask me.

Can we go back to being civil? The question presupposes that at one point we were civil with one another. I can say that when brethren spoke at Freed-Hardeman in times past about the indwelling of the Spirit and other contentious matters, they disagreed and argued their positions, but remained friends, brethren, and in fellowship. Can we learn from them? Can we truly once again be men of God and not religious pundits like some panel on CNN or Fox News? Doesn’t the church deserve better than what we give her in ministry? Doesn’t Christ deserve better? How can we pretend we’re any better than Jesus and be so uncharitable towards fellow servants when He may very well be pleased with them?

Steven Hunter (PhD, Faulkner University) is the preaching minister for the Glendale Road Church of Christ in Murray, KY. He's also authored several books for Start2Finish, and Classically Christian explores Christianity from a church-historical perspective. Steven enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and is a practitioner of Goshin Ryu Jujutsu—a traditional Japanese martial art.