Correct Me if I’m Wrong
We’ve all been there…
A (younger) brother is sharing or praying, and something comes out of his mouth that is definitely not Biblical, and possibly borderline heretical. We inwardly (or outwardly) wince and wonder if it was just a slip of the tongue, or if they genuinely think/believe that.
What to do?
Regrettably, our response often leans towards heavy-handedness. In the words of Barney Fife, we’ve got to “Nip it! Nip it! Nip it in the bud!!”
Instead, we must pray for discernment. Was it an/a:
- Innocent slip of the tongue? Then all we have to do is NOTHING. Let it go. Hopefully others will extend grace when our tongue gets tangled.
- Ignorance of the subject?
- Deliberately promoting false doctrine?
For the purpose of this article, let’s assume that the above scenario fits into either category one or two. (Option three would need its own article.)
There is a right way and a wrong way to do just about everything. Correcting error is no different. How we respond to error makes all the difference to the outcome.
There are two stories back-to-back in Acts 18-19 that recently reminded me of this truth. I am so thankful the Bible really is living and powerful, and applicable to conundrums of 21st century assemblies! We can be encouraged and challenged as we follow the examples of first century believers.
Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria. He was eloquent, competent in the scriptures. He was enthusiastic and fervent. He spoke and accurately taught what he knew about Jesus Christ. But, his knowledge was incomplete.
One day he was boldly speaking at the synagogue in Ephesus, when he had some new listeners in his audience. Aquila and Priscilla, the husband/wife duo that had hosted Paul back in Corinth. They heard what Apollos was incorrectly orating and they didn’t
- freak out
- publicly rebuke
- bury their heads in the sand and hope it all worked out
They took Apollos aside and explained to him the way of God more perfectly. The word that came to my mind was winsome. Their manner must have been graciously persuasive, not authoritatively combative.
This could have gone so wrong. Priscilla and Aquila could have come down like a hammer, and completely squelched any zeal Apollos had for God.
But, based on the result, they were successful. Apollos was teachable, and consequently, he learned from them and the scriptures and grew in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Apollos went on to further ministry in far off places. He powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by scripture that the Christ was Jesus.
Let’s remember that it’s
the goodness of God that leads to repentance.Romans 2:4
A change was required, but not because Apollos was willfully ignorant. He was just ignorant. The young (in age or faith) haven’t had the necessary time to accrue as much knowledge and wisdom as the older. They don’t have the life experience to weigh all things by. It’s a fact more than a fault.
And the answer is persuasion, not rebuke.
When Paul arrived in Ephesus, he came across a group of disciples. He asked them if they’d received the Holy Spirit when they were baptized.
“What is this Holy Spirit?” they replied.
The conversation continued, and Paul realized that, like Apollos, they also were in possession of incomplete knowledge. They’d been baptized by John the Baptist, but they were ignorant of Jesus Christ.
Paul clearly and succinctly shared with them the foundational truth of John’s baptism-repentance pointing to Jesus Christ. They believed, were baptized, received the Holy Spirit, and went on to speak in tongues and prophesy.
Another happy ending. More lives were changed, in a positive way.
In real life
Whether we are looking at Acts or at the aforementioned scenario in our churches today, there are two sides to this coin….loving, challenging teaching received by a humble and teachable spirit.
Paul, in Galatians, exhorts those who are spiritual to restore such a one in a spirit of meekness. Unwitting error is not an issue of sin, but the concepts of meekness and restoring are certainly apropos. If we can meekly restore a sinning saint, we should have no problem discipling an unlearned brother or sister.
Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.Jude 22-23
Finally, let’s be wary of judging motives. Or as someone else recently stated: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” Only God can see the heart. Deal graciously with the error that you have observed and/or heard. Leave the “why’s” behind it to the Holy Spirit.
To recap, what’s needed is:
- Proactive, challenging teaching. There really is little ground for correction if you have not set a standard through previous teaching and training.
- Intentional, relational discipleship. One thing I noticed about Aquila, Priscilla and Paul in these situations was that there was no previous relationship with the person they corrected. In our day and age, we tend to emphasize relationship above rebuke. This obviously is not completely Biblical. However, if we are in a local body, good, strong relationships should be a given. Seek to build a relationship with those with whom you are in fellowship. Then rebuke comes from a loving source, not out of the blue.
- Persuasive, loving correction. Be like Paul, Aquila and Priscilla. Correct with the intention of equipping and edifying.
Be like a chisel and not a sledge hammer.
Photo by Orsolya Vékony