Confrontation and the Balance of Truth and Love

I had a blessed upbringing in Christian knowledge where I went to a well resourced church with wonderful leaders, and awesome uni with a fantastic campus ministry. I was taught very well. But I guess with anything, humans like to take good things and sin – so a lot of the Bible knowledge I had just puffed me up with pride.

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Eph 4:15)

The above passage is addressed to Christians as they grow together as a body. The Bible always has both. Maybe for you love seems to win out over truth. I’m going to talk a bit on what I find difficult – which is truth at the expense of love.

I aspire for passion in truth but often my sin easily turns this boldness into pride when I don’t communicate it with love in the way I teach, correct and rebuke others. I think here are some danger areas I have felt prone to:

Discussing other views within (Protestant) Christianity: Growing up with a Calvinist, Amillennist, Complementarian etc. view I thought that this was the ONLY biblical way of reading the Bible. So it was easy to see anyone with a different view as unbiblical. Until I got to bible college and realised people with differing views to mine were usually extremely smart and trying hard to be biblical as well. In some parts of Christian history, people holding these views did more for Christianity for those people holding mine (e.g. Wesley, Salvos). Also people whom I revered as a Christian hero also had differing views to mine or hadn’t got it quite right (e.g. Luther).

I find the line between seeking understanding and seeking fault is very fine. It is very easy to fall into finding fault. Often the workshop/seminar/lecture we are teaching/involved in isn’t very long so its easy to grab hold of a bit of the doctrine in question and find fault without adequately understanding the view. Let’s be careful, especially because a lot of the time the people that hold those views are our brother and sisters in Christ and can be a bad example to those we teach.

Not that I have changed my stance but I try harder to represent other views faithfully and discuss their ideas with gentleness and respect as the people who holds the view is not my enemy but part of the family.

Recognising sin in others: Sometimes as Christians we feel this urge to comment on something which we deem a ‘no-no’ in church. What is it for you? is it meeting that couple that has newly turned up to your church to find that they are living together but not married? or the youth group girl that is wearing really short shorts at the church camp?

Use of correct Christian vocab: I have on a number of occasions (or seen others) been corrected or corrected others on their ‘Christian vocab’. Example:

Q: So what kind of ministry are you involved with at your church?
A: Sorry I prefer not to use that word, all of life is ministry for the glory of God

Q: Let’s stand and worship God together
A: (thinks to self) But all of life is worship…

Q: God’s been really good to me lately, He has been blessing me a lot
A: But God is always good and we already have every spiritual blessing

Please don’t get me wrong – for those living in Christ we do need to boldly tell them of God’s desires and will for them and what the Bible says about marriage and the way we dress and so forth. There are also helpful and unhelpful words we use in church which can obscure the way we view those things like worship. At the same time we don’t want people to have to walk on eggshells around us, and there are ways we can try to be loving about it.

Perhaps we need to ask some questions of ourselves before correcting or rebuking the person. Do we aim to build up or do we sound more like the resounding gong of 1 Cor 13. Here are some considerations that have helped me think whether I’m doing it out of love:

What is their immediate need? This is the issue of timing. It was good timing to find out that for the girl above who was wearing the short shorts that she used to be a ‘regular’ Christian but her mum had concerns about her faith. Her immediate need was to know Jesus, rather than be corrected on the way she dresses.

It’s hard because I know for the example above, it can be unhelpful for some Christians perhaps – like you may be concerned that the men will find it difficult or other couples may think its ok for Christians to live together before marriage.

What is your relationship with the person? One of the useful things I learnt at college about counselling was that “the stronger the relationship, the more powerful the confrontation may be.” Otherwise “confrontation will only result in more defensiveness rather than self examination and growth”. If the person is a young Christian or newcomer, perhaps I need to re-evaluate whether I should approach them. Even if they are a more mature Christian, perhaps it is not my role but maybe you can ask someone who is closer to them whom they trust to raise the issue. Also we need to be committed to be more involved and growing with them in that relationship. Not like drop and run

“The allowed intensity of any confrontation must be a much smaller circle within to allow a wide buffer to cope with the shock of the confronting act.”

At the same time, some times we can confront in a truthful and loving way but the relationship might be affected/destroyed. But I guess that’s what the gospel does sometimes, it is offensive but lets make sure its the gospel and not us.

I was looking at American theologian Charles Hodge and was impressed with the reputation he had for being bold with his truth, as one of the key people in American Christianity in the 19th century. But he was also known for having friends with whom he disagreed and considering the leading liberal theologian Schleiermacher as a fellow brother.

And of course there is Jesus 🙂 Our Lord Jesus, who didn’t join the teachers of the law and Pharisees in condemning the woman caught in adultery while still asking her to leave her life of sin (John 8). Jesus, also said that unless our righteousness surpasses the Pharisees we will not enter the kingdom (Matt 5) – a couple of chapters later is seen dining with tax collectors and ‘sinners’. It is super hard to get right. We need help…might we ask for God’s help through the Spirit to follow the perfect example displayed in Him.

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