Myth #10. It’s a good idea to talk about other denominations. In my early years of teaching, I taught as I’d been taught–by teaching what “the denominations” do wrong. Sadly, sometimes there were visitors there from exactly those denominations, and all I did was make myself–and my church–look mean spirited.
It took years of negative teaching to finally realize that I was making some very un-Christian mistakes:
- I was trying to make myself look good by making others look bad. My goal was to humiliate my opponents!
- Moreover, I criticized those who dared to disagree with me in the harshest of tones.
The scriptures are really quite plain about how we are to instruct those with whom we disagree–
(2 Tim. 2:25-26) Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
(1 Pet. 3:15-16) But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness [meekness or humility] and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
Gentleness, humility, and respect are the commands that bind us. And the reasons for this are given as well. It’s ultimately God who persuades, Paul says, not us. We state the case but we can’t beat our opponents into agreement. Conviction comes from God.
Just so, Peter says we must be free from accusation. We can’t teach love and grace while being hateful and rude.
The obvious rejoinder is that Jesus, John the Baptist, and Paul were both capable of some very harsh languge toward their opponents–and indeed they were. For example–
(Matt. 23:27-28) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Jesus’ language is vivid and pointed–and far from gentle! But Jesus has an advantage over the rest of us. When he condemns his opponents as “full of hypocrisy and wickedness,” he knows this to be true to an absolute certainty.
Moreover, as God in the flesh, Jesus was never wrong. Neither was John the Baptist nor Paul. But I’ve been wrong. More than once.
Given that I can’t judge the hearts of those I disagree with, I can’t make these kinds of accusations. Given that I just might be wrong, I have to be careful of my words. I need to be sure that my words are tasty–
(Col. 4:5-6) Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
For my conversation to be full of “grace,” my words have to be generous. I have to be kinder to my opponents than they deserve. And I have to say them in a way that helps them go down.
My goal isn’t to conquer my opponents, but to persuade them. And persuasion requires that we not so offend our listeners that they stop listening!
My biggest mistake in speaking ill of those in the denominations is that I was very often wrong! And it’s so much easier to accept having been wrong when you weren’t too nasty about it. When you have to eat your words, you learn to appreciate the advantage of speaking only tasty words!
Therefore, when we come across a passage that supports our view and not theirs, teach the passage for what it says. It’s generally not necessary to point out what others teach. Nor is it appropriate to pull out the notes on how to debate a Catholic or Presbyterian or whatever. Rather, just teach what the passages says–not what it doesn’t say.
One of the biggest mistakes teachers make is to teach was passages don’t say rather than what they do say. It’s easy enough to teach 1 Cor. 14, for example, by critiquing the interpretation of the Pentecostal churches, but you’ve not done your class much good if you haven’t told them what it means for us today (and it means quite a lot!)
And by explaining the true meaning, you’ve implicitly, and gently, refuted any false interpretation–all without becoming caustic or confrontational. And you’ll be much more likely to persuade.