When people are living in darkness, they often become defensive of their actions. Like the Bible says, “. . . everyone practicing evil hates the light” (John 3:20). Those in darkness and their defenders lash out at those who expose their misdeeds and in some cases accuse those who oppose them of being unloving.
Today it is not uncommon to hear about “hate crimes” and “hate speech.” “Hate speech, outside the law, is speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of attributes such as gender, ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, or sexual orientation” [www.wikipedia.org].
When a Christian, a local church, or the leadership of a congregation points out that someone is teaching religious error or that their behavior is unrighteous, is that being hateful? The correct answer is, “No, it is not a hateful thing to do so.” With God’s approval, Moses pointed out errors which some committed. The Old Testament prophets, Jesus, the apostles, and other first-century disciples of our Lord did it, too.
Is it possible to have a hateful demeanor when exposing and refuting error? It is, and we have witnessed such. But, the fact that one may speak in an ugly-spirited manner does not mean that his action itself (pointing out someone’s mistake) is wrong.
Those who preach the word of God are instructed to rebuke with all authority (2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 2:15). Rather than overlook, coddle, or join the doers of evil, the Bible says this: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). When done properly, pointing out religious error or immoral behavior is a God-approved course of action, regardless of what the news media or a civil court of law might say.
If I point out religious error, I need to be certain that my statements/claims are correct. We do great harm when we say unsubstantiated things about others’ teaching and activities. If we cannot be trusted as people who present real facts rather than mere conjecture, then our reputation takes a severe hit.
In that same connection, if I point out religious error, I need to be totally honest in how I portray what actually is being taught. Being less than honest in how we refer to someone’s teaching is deplorable conduct.
If I point out religious error, I need to do it with the right spirit. Timothy was told that when he tried to get people out of the snare of the devil, he must not quarrel but be gentle to all (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Our response to learning about false doctrine should not be one of “pure ecstasy.” How much more un- Christ-like could one’s attitude be? Sin and false teaching should deeply sadden us, not lift our spirits.
If I point out religious error, I need to do it with the right motive. What moves us to try and deal with religious error? We care about people’s souls: “For the love of Christ compels us . . .” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
If I point out religious error, I need to do it for the right purpose. My approach ought not to be that I am trying to prove that I am smarter or better than someone. Titus was instructed to rebuke some “that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). Our purpose ought to be to help people see their error so they can take the action(s) necessary to please God.
If I point out religious error, I need to do so with the understanding that my reference to the mistakes of others does not enhance my relationship with the Lord or guarantee that I am saved. Proving that someone is wrong does not draw me closer to God.
If I point out religious error, I need to be ready to face some type of backlash. Like we already observed, darkness does not like to be exposed. Jesus was despised by some because He pointed out the flaws of their tradition, teaching, or behavior. His first-century followers faced hatred and persecution for telling the truth about sin and false religious practices. We should expect to face the same in a world in which many want to be tolerant of anything and anyone; that is, they will tolerate anyone except those who point out their false messages or ungodly conduct.
We have no intention of using the major portion of our time and teaching opportunities to dwell on the errors of others. Yet, we also remember that Jesus and His apostles lovingly voiced their opposition to behavior and religious messages which caused people’s souls to be in danger. We, too, can oppose and refute religious error in such a way that our approach is non-hateful and God-pleasing.
— Roger D. Campbell