Divisive Men

Dead Man Blogging has a post wondering how we can mange to get along as Christians in the online world. He wonders how Romans 16:17-18; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:3-7; Titus 3:10-11 and Matthew 18:15-17 apply to those of us who know each other only by screen name and web address. It's a great question, and one which we frequently fail at in real life, let alone in the anonymity of the web. From the content of his post and comment and the title of 'Divisive Men', he sound like one who has been hurt and does not know what to do next.

I'm relatively new to blogging, although I've been posting online at various forums for a while. It is my contention that technology does not change basic Christian principals but that the Christian principals must be applied to technology. In this case, the technology makes the possibility for hurt much more prominent. In real life, we can read each other's body language and tone of voice. This communicates both ways, we understand the one speaking better and often the reactions to our words speak volumes about what was heard vs. what we meant. Online there is none of that, and often what we type is put out for all to see hastily and we don't go back for several hours or days to see what was posted next.

I think there's a more fundamental truth at work here that is deeper than how to blog like Christ. Christians tend to jump up and down over many things. Gay marriage, divorce, violence in movies, materialism, home schooling, creationism, abortion – we all have our pet peeves as disciples. I think that in our passion for these issues we often miss a big one; how we treat each other. In our jumping up and down we trample over those who disagree, sometimes non-christians, sometimes our own brothers. Didn't Jesus say that we would be recognized by how we love, not our stand on the issues? (John 13:34-35) Look at 1 Corinthians 13:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

Prophecy, insight, knowledge, faith, generosity, and self sacrifice are all worthless without love. Love (patience, kindness, humility, politeness, selflessness, forgiveness) is perfection.

I think that Matthew 18:15-17 is the key verse here in dealing with these things in love. It is to me the foundational scripture on resolving conflict in the N.T. and ought to be the blueprint on it on our lives, including online. Notice how it is structured to protect the sinner from public disgrace. Privacy is paramount, giving the offender ample opportunity to repent before exposing him. Only the most determined to sin, after the confrontation of 3-4 men, will be challenged publicly. In the same way, if sinned against anywhere, including online, we must try to resolve those things privately first (by email) before chastising someone publicly in our own blog or the comments of another.

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I wrote that as one who has done at least my share of unchristian behavior online, has been on the receiving end some, and has watched plenty of it.

And, there are a couple of separate issues that I probably muddled together. One is how you deal with absolute heretics or unrepentant Christians online. We know that we should put heretics and misbehaving Christians out of the local church - what does that translate into online? Another is how we deal with each other when we get into conflicts, including ones over heresy and ungodly behavior. How do you confront the sin? How do you recognize repentance? What authority, if any, should Christians recognize online?

I don't think this can be dealt with simply by appeals to "love one another". We can't separate love and truth, and we can't elevate love above truth. After all, love rejoices in the truth and hates evil (1 Cor 13). Heresy and other sins are very serious matters; false teaching is particularly serious in a public place like the blogosphere. So we have to treat it seriously, and deal with it quickly and decisively.

But there's GOT to be a better way than the free-for-all that sometimes emerges. We wouldn't tolerate this sort of behavior within a church; why do we tolerate it in the blogosphere?

I think I have to disagree with you on one point, Robert. Maybe love and truth can not be separated, but I think we must elevate love over truth. Our Lord did just that when he said that to love (God first, then men) is the most important thing we can do (Mark 12:28-34). In 1 Corinthians 13 God says love is more important than Prophecy, insight, knowledge, faith, generosity, and self sacrifice. There are some commands that are more important than others, so says Jesus, and we should treat them that way as well.

Now what we like to define as love is different that what God might say. We thing of non-confronting, mushy warm feelings when God says that "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" What else in scripture, other than God himself, what concept or idea is described with that kind of certainty? Love never fails. So if we focus on love, we act like Jesus. That means we will be polite, not easily angered and we will protect while we persevere, hate evil and rejoice in truth. That also means we will not fail.

So when there is sin in our midst on line, we ought to handle it in the spirit of Matthew 18, privately by email. One on one we ought to confront our brother in love, desiring not that they be shown their fault but that they be brought to repentance and closer to God. Confronting in public comments is ungodly and unloving and outside the bounds He has given us. God wants sinners to have the opportunity to save face as they repent, to keep their reputations intact. When we go one on one, we show our love by protecting them and not humiliating them in front of their peers.

Frankly, I wonder about how well we know to do this in life. I think we do better not because of our deep conviction on love and our respect for others, but because we are visible and known and others see what we do. The anonymity of online emboldens us, and the barriers to unloving and uncivil words are gone and our lack of love shows through. Isn't it when we are alone and no one will know that our true selves come out? That's when people do the things they are ashamed of and that's why, on line, we can be people we wouldn't be in real life. It's revealing, and a bit scary, isn't it?

What do you if you don't want the offending party to have your email address? Is it then okay to address them "publicly"?

Jared, your email address is not nearly as private as you think it is. You need to get onto Bill about that. I told him about it once, several weeks ago. I accidentally stumbled across it, and I knew you wouldn't appreciate it being made public. Greatest webmaster in the world, my foot! :-) (Email me if you need more details or Bill doesn't remember what I'm talking about.)

You could always set up a free public address, like on Yahoo or Hotmail, for these purposes. Or, Bill should be able to set up "jared@thinklings.org" which would forward to your private address.

Finally, consider using sneakemail (www.sneakemail.com). This might be your best option if you're communicating with someone that you don't trust.

I miss anon.penet.fi!

Jared,

I'd say that, just because you desire privacy does not mean you should deny it of another. You can't say "I don't want to give out my email, so Matthew 18 doesn't apply to me." You have the right to keep your email to yourself, but that may mean that you must keep quiet. If it's your blog, you can delete comments and censure to your hearts content. If it's not, then you do the online equivelent of walking away.

We cannot be choosy about when to follow scripture and when not to and scripture says go first in private.

My $.02



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  • Jared, I'd say that, just because you desire privacy does not mean you should deny it of another. You can't say "I don't want to give out my email, so Matthew 18 doesn't apply to me." You have the right to keep your e...

  • Jared, your email address is not nearly as private as you think it is. You need to get onto Bill about that. I told him about it once, several weeks ago. I accidentally stumbled across it, and I knew you wouldn't appr...

    Robert Williams
    Divisive Men
  • What do you if you don't want the offending party to have your email address? Is it then okay to address them "publicly"? ...

  • I think I have to disagree with you on one point, Robert. Maybe love and truth can not be separated, but I think we must elevate love over truth. Our Lord did just that when he said that to love (God first, then men) i...

  • I wrote that as one who has done at least my share of unchristian behavior online, has been on the receiving end some, and has watched plenty of it. And, there are a couple of separate issues that I probably muddled tog...

    Robert Williams
    Divisive Men
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