Let’s compare what the Bible requires of Christians with what Frank Viola uncovers in his blog post, “Warning: The World Is Watching How We Christians Treat One Another.” In his article, Frank used Google to identify the most frequent way searchers complete the question, Why are Christians so…? Among the top results were the words mean, hypocritical, and judgmental. There has been some pushback to his method, but there is still enough substance to his argument to make us see the relevance of concern for our neighbors’ good names. Here is the essence of his argument:
It’s not uncommon for some Christians to throw verbal assaults at one another on Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and other Internet venues. As a result, the world sees people who profess to follow Jesus—the Prince of Peace—fighting, misrepresenting one another, and even “blocking” one another.
Civil disagreement and even debate, when done in the spirit of Christ, are healthy and helpful.
But when disagreements descend into second-guessing motives, distortions of one another’s words, mischaracterizations of one another’s views, and personal attacks, then we’ve moved into the flesh.
The net is that the name of Jesus gets tarnished in no small way.
It should concern us if mean and hypocritical turn up frequently in that Google request, and if such words as loving and gracious appear very rarely. There surely is ground for James Davidson Hunter’s powerful comment, “If Christians cannot extend grace through faithful presence within the body of believers, they will not be able to extend grace to those outside.”
In summary, when we say anything about other professed Christians, the total content of our remarks—both denotation and connotation—gets applied, whether we intend it or not, to him whose name we share. Of course, keeping silent in the face of error or sin is absolutely wrong. No question! But how we speak is as important as that we speak, because the good name ultimately at stake is the name of Christ.
Here is a quick personal example. In the early stages of writing this book, we in the United States were in the midst of a very contentious political campaign. On one day, I posted on my Facebook page a link to an editorial that simply listed the various things which one of the candidates has, over the years, said publicly about women. One responder to my posting asked how I, as a Christian, could be so “hateful.” I immediately posted an apology and said I was just sharing what had been said in public by the candidate in question, and I promised to be more careful in the future. Technically, it may not have been necessary to apologize. After all, I really was just quoting the candidate. But what I posted was interpreted as an action that was inconsistent with the Christ whom I claim to follow. I am slowly learning that I need to take great care not to besmirch his name by the things I say.
BEARING TRUE WITNESS
All too often, especially in this age of social media, it seems that many of us have reduced our application of the ninth commandment to just the requirement that we confront what we believe to be wrong about another Christian.
We must speak the truth, but we must do so in ways that also DO the following:
- Protect and promote the good name of our neighbor
- Demonstrate charitable esteem of our neighbor
- Seek to cover our neighbor’s infirmities
- Freely acknowledge our neighbor’s gifts and graces
- Actively defend our neighbor’s innocence
- Demonstrate a readiness to receive good reports about our neighbor
- Show an unwillingness to receive an evil report about our neighbor
And we must speak the truth, but we must also do so in ways that AVOID the following:
- Prejudicing the truth, and the good name of our neighbors, especially in public forums
- Speaking the truth at the wrong time, or maliciously to achieve a wrong end, or perverting it to a wrong meaning, or any attempt to twist truth to imply something else
- Misconstruing intentions, words, and actions
- Unnecessarily discovering infirmities
- Raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, or refusing to consider a just defense
- Neglecting good reports
These are all extraordinary responsibilities!
False accusations may be relatively rare, but any damage wrongly done to the good name of another person is a violation of the ninth commandment and must be seen as such. At the very least, those who have no firsthand knowledge of a matter should refrain from making public or private statements that assume a person’s guilt. If we care about the Bible’s teaching, we must be sure we have accurate information when we confront someone about sin or feel a need to disclose the sins of others.
Yes, tell the truth. Always tell the truth.
But tell the truth in ways that comply with all of the requirements and prohibitions mentioned above.
We do not have to choose between standing for the truth and promoting the good name of our neighbor; in fact, we may not do the one without doing the other. To put it another way, even (perhaps especially) when speaking out against what we perceive as sin, we must avoid any speech in which violence is embedded or even suggested.
Easier said than done.
The Good Name: The Power of Words to Hurt or Heal
The Good Name by Samuel T. Logan, Jr. encourages readers to see the dangers of “false witness” among Christians, especially when dealing with disagreements, which can cause damage to individuals, the church, and the good name of Jesus.