You know what I hate? I hate when I am corrected by my wife. Especially when she is right! My first tendency is to get defensive. “Michael, do you think you can start trying to spend more quality time with the kids?” (just to throw something completely random out there that I have never actually heard ūüôā ). “It seems like you have been working a lot lately.” “What?!! I have not. Yes,¬†I have had a lot of projects over the last month or two, but this is necessary to make ends meet. Which is more important: spending time with the kids or making sure they have food?” That is how things often go down when the confrontation is just between me and my wife. My first reaction is to get defensive. Many times I have sat in church and listened to a sermon where I could swear my wife must have called my pastor and given him fodder for the morning. The pastor essentially says the same thing as my wife, but to a more general audience. “The Bible tells us that we need to spend time with our family. Are you working too much? . . .” etc. I can’t tell you how many times this¬†has happened. When it does, I can do nothing other than bow my head and say, “Yes Lord. I hear you.”

I have a hard time listening to the correction of others, especially when the correction is so direct and focused on me and my failings.¬†Quit smirking. You do too.¬†I often have to laugh at my sin nature as I reflect upon it. When someone attacks me personally, I usually won’t listen. When admonishment is given to a general audience in which I happen to reside, I will listen.¬†Why? Because it is¬†less personal. It seems more like God is the one doing the correcting, not the individual. Take this particular post for instance. I am indicting myself here, exposing my personal failings.¬†Why does this come so easily right now?¬†Because I am the one instigating the admission. Rarely do I write a blog of confession¬†right after I have received an email or message of direct criticism (and I get plenty). This is just our nature – our sin nature.

In matters of biblical studies and theology, the ante is raised, especially for those of us who teach. Besides the corrections I receive on this blog, and from other bloggers who feel the need to write their own blogs correcting me, I often get emails from people who see themselves as called by God into the ministry of correction (is that a spiritual gift?). I am amazed at the number of people whom I have never met and who¬†have never contacted me before, who feel ordained to send me a “first contact” of correction. There are people that I, upon seeing their name in my inbox, avoid like the plague. Feelings of dread come at the very sight of their names.¬†Why? Because every time, their communication consists of some sort of criticism. Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that every time we are corrected individually, we should submit to the correction. Often times the correction is off-base. However, there are those times when the correction is much needed, but the person giving the correction does not wisely consider our sin nature.

Isn’t there a Proverb for this? Hold on…Yep, here it is:

Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Tact. Tact. And, did I mention tact? Oh, wait. Here is another.

Proverbs 12:18
There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Speaking of correcting those whom you feel are spreading dangerous doctrine:

2 Timothy 2:24
The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition. (emphasis mine)

Concerning those who have fallen into sin:

Galatians 6:1
Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. (emphasis mine)

That “you who are spiritual” qualification discredits my intervention, oh, about sixty percent of the time. The other forty percent of the time I am disqualified by my tone!

And then there is the “apologists’ creed:”

1 Peter 3:15
But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.

How often do we read the first part, bear up arms, load the guns, and forget about the major qualification: “with gentleness and reverence.” (Not to mention this is to come “to those who ask!”) Again, this is just tact.

Some points to consider when you feel called to the ministry of correction:

  • Search for the plank in your own eye (Matt. 7:3). When found, get rid of it. If you can’t get rid of it, stay silent.
  • Attacking someone personally when you have never contacted them before is not tactful. You don’t have their audience. You should not expect them to listen.
  • Attacking someone personally every time you correspond with them is not wise. I try to live by the 5/1 rule. Five words of encouragement for every one word of correction.
  • Publicly condemning someone comes at great expense, not only to the ones who are directly involved, but to those who are introduced to the controversy. Think long and hard before airing your complaint publicly.
  • Realize that most of the time, the people you correct are not under your authority. Therefore, you have no right to speak to them as if they are in submission to you. This is a tremendous problem as Christian leaders attempt to use the internet to conduct ministry. It is so easy to write a quick “open letter,” arrogantly supposing that you are something you are not. This can do more damage to the body of Christ than the error your are supposed to be correcting.
  • If you are to call someone out publicly, write your statement, then rewrite it ten times. Each time, soften your complaint with more gentleness.
  • Remember that the person against whom you are logging your complaint is one who was created in the image of God. Live in fear of this. Follow¬†David who, though he had every reason to start a public campaign against Saul, feared Saul due to his own fear of the Lord. Due to this, he would¬†not lift up his hand against him¬†(1 Samuel 24:6). We need more Davids.
  • To the one being corrected: do your best to consider what is being said, even when the correction did not come tactfully.
  • To the one who is falsely confronted: forgive the person. Don’t let it eat at you. Forgive them the moment you are hurt. Remember, they are sinners are well. Grace goes both ways.

Rarely do I use this ministry as a platform to call someone out. This is just not the place. Don’t get me wrong. This does not mean I have not often been tempted. In fact, three weeks ago I spent all day working on a 3000-word post which was directed at a theologian whom I believed was taking a serious turn for the worse. I reworked and reworked it. I deleted words and rephrased sentences. I did everything I could to follow the principles I laid out above. When I finished, I read it out loud and asked for feedback from some members of my staff. They were encouraged by it and¬†felt that it was tactful. I waited ten more minutes and then decided to¬†delete it. This is what I told our staff:¬†“This is just not us. It is not what I want us to be known for.¬†I will let others write these types of things if need be. I don’t care about the traffic it could bring. Let’s continue to do what we do and deal with these things in a more indirect way. It is more tactful and effective anyway.”¬†A day wasted? Yes. But as my mentor Chuck Swindoll would say: “phooey.”

When we follow these principles, not only will we be more biblical, but when a time of stern correction is needed, we will have an audience with the one who needs the correction.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    36 replies to "Some Advice About Confronting Others (Especially About Theological Error)"

    • Doc Pagala

      First up my apologies for being blunt. Opinions are like ___-holes, everybody has one. That being said, I’ve just exposed my sin nature front and center. I tend to blurt out things without forethought and perhaps way off topic. This is the reason I remain silent most of the time as the fly-on-the-wall. I don’t care for confrontation in things that I consider outside my circle of essentials for the Christian faith, yet confrontation is what we do in theology. It is difficult in my sin nature to keep in mind all of the Scriptures referenced above, let alone put into practice the lessening of self, to elevate the workings of His Holy Spirit in my life. I certainly don’t like hearing about my short comings from other Christians, as none of us are blameless enough to cast stones without those very stones being tainted by our individual and corporate sins. Gentile rebuke is not the norm for our society in general, call it post modern effect, and unfortunately our theological rebuke can cut deep into our souls, dividing not only joint from marrow, but dividing the very body that Christ has died to uphold in us. Is it really necessary for us to keep on crucifying Him when He said, “It is finished.” What part of that don’t we get?

    • Steve

      How do you get people to question their faith? Our class teacher agrees with everything our denomination teaches and won’t question it. A member uses his bible knowledge to belittle and intimidate anyone who disagrees with him. Whenever I offer a different opinion, I,m wrong or no one else seems to care. Now for the mostpart I keep my mouth shut.

    • Don Sartain

      Solid advice. Thanks.

    • david carlson

      Ministry of Correction – lol – I always refer to them as Mathew 7 Ministries.

    • jim

      Michael, I love your comments and using your own marriage as an example always brings a smile to my face. We have lots in common. My wife was addressing (not complaining) about the lack of visits we do to a relative of hers and I remembered this comeback. you know, Santa got it right, he only visits once a year…….. brother, there is truth in that quote that laughter is a great medicine. Carry on brother, really appreciate your honesty and your site.

    • Dr Mike

      Interesting post. Heuristic, to say the least.

      What fruit, I wonder, will it bear? Time to break out my mirror.

    • Jason DesLongchamp

      Well this blog was crap.

      Ha!

      Ok seriously, this is such great stuff, thank you. I am one who is constantly tempted to correct, so I will (grudgingly) take your 5/1 principle very much to heart. Another thing I heard you saying was that being right is not a license for “telling it like it is.” That is a hard one to get over. When you know you’re “in the right” it’s very easy to be glib (and therefore lose your audience).

    • david carlson

      Tim Keller has a related blog post today

    • Alex L

      Just wanted to say thanks for a really good post. Your points don’t just apply to Christians. As an atheist who enjoys a good argument a bit too much, I learned a lot.

      I particularly like Proverbs 12:18 – I hadn’t noticed that one previously (or perhaps the log in my eye got in the way). And I intend to start following the 5/1 rule.

      From an atheistic perspective, of course, it’s less about sinful nature and more about effective communication: overcoming our impulse to lecture and harangue in the interests of building stronger relationships. Either way, the points you make are very powerful, and I hope I can live by them.

    • Jessica

      I am learning how to remain silent, even when I see the oncoming train. (sorry, I couldn’t resist.) Personally, I prefer to be sharpened by buttered iron than ironed butter.

    • Cheryl

      When one writes a correction in a godly way (gentleness and respect and with a heart that holds to the fear of God) it is a loving thing to send it. Correction can bring healing and a change of mind for the one who needs the correction. How could we withhold that from a fellow believer that we love?

    • C Michael Patton

      Cheryl, we certainly don’t. Wounds of a friend are necessary. But I think the key word is “friend”. Wounds of an enemy or wounds of those who only wound are not to effective. They become very dull.

    • PeteE

      “Realize that most of the time, the people you correct are not under your authority. Therefore, you have no right to speak to them as if they are in submission to you.”

      Good point… To a point. Yet if your blog is online, public, and has a ‘reply’ section, you’ve pretty much given blanket permission to anyone to say anything. Of course you are under no obligation to follow their advice – but as to authority, I’d venture to guess that most people reading a blog are not under the authority of the blogger… Yet the blogger has no difficulty preaching as if he was an authority figure. Oh the beauty of the www. We can all be verbose & annoying and usually it’s legal.

    • C Michael Patton

      Pete,

      You are right. Once public it is public fodder. However, this does not mean a response will automatically be responsible, tactful, and (pragmatically speaking) effective. Therefore, the gentleness and respect are very important here.

    • Cheryl

      Michael,

      You said:
      “Wounds of an enemy or wounds of those who only wound are not to effective.”

      It seems to me that if the person gave a correction with the attitude of gentleness and respect with the attitude of the fear of God, then that person should never consider himself/herself an enemy of the one corrected nor should we ever give out a wounding just to wound.

      I would assume that the letter you destroyed was gentle, respectful and not meant to harm the person, nor would you consider them your enemy. Would I be assuming correctly? If so then it would be a loving act to send it for correction given in a godly way is an act of love.

    • Michael Reichwein

      I guess you cannot be the salt without offending someone. Everyday, people from all walks of life defending their God in one way or another; feel the wrath of criticism. I personal believe that it is the price that we pay or the cross we pickup as Christians. Sir, carry your cross well! If you ever feel weak…… read Fox’s book of the Martyrs.

    • Kj

      No matter how “right” I am or how loving I feel, I can’t control how my words are received. That is especially true when discussing spiritual matters. I find that my words are effective as “spiritual correction” only when I’ve been asked for my opinion. Patience and timing are crucial. I have to remind myself that God works in others lives on the things that concern Him and not on the things in their lives that concern me. That frustrates me, but I am so grateful that He doesn’t take a vote among my friends before He decides what concerns Him in my life. SDG!!

    • Margaret

      I agree in part with your blog, and feel it is very helpful to me personally. I tend to have a prophetic call and gift, and at times have been tempted and have given into sin and temptation to be “right” when others were “wrong.” However, I feel it’s worth the risk, because there are times when others just need help, and the saltiness of salt, and the lightiness of light demands that we be salt and light–sometimes salt is a burn, and sometimes light blinds temporarily. It’s so worth it though, if we can keep someone from stumbling, particularly if it’s a pit we’ve already been in! The key, though, is love. LOVE, the kind of Love in Jesus when he chased out the moneylenders, and died on the cross for our sins. Few of us have that without taint, and without stint. We have to try, though, and walk in love as Christ has loved us. Thanks for the post. Helpful to tame my pride. MB

    • Leo Chappelle

      What most of us want is confirmation, not correction, even when ostensibly asking for advice. And if correction doesn’t solve a problem someone wants solved, you can bet it will create one.

      There are, of course, those occaisions when the issue is before the public and we feel obligated to respond. But then some hills may be there just to die on.

    • George

      “However, there are those times when the correction is much needed, but the person giving the correction does not wisely consider our sin nature.”

      Christians are called to self-denial… They are not called to give wise consideration to our “sin nature”… They are called to repent from it, plain and simple… To resist sin unto blood, as our Lord tells us…

      Yet this does not mean we attack each other personally in matters of doctrinal correction. I truthfully tell my TULIP friends that they are far better believers than their false doctrines, and that I am a far worse believer than my true ones… Personal attacks have no place in doctrinal discussions… Attack the doctrine, not the person… And then only if it is demonstrably false and you can show others who agree with your understanding… Never argue for your personal point of view – Let others do that who are wiser than you, and cite them and their writings… This will keep YOUR personal garbage OUT of the discussion, at least a little… And always look for ways that the other person is right, and that you yourself are wrong, and rejoice openly when you fine them…

      Enough!

    • Donnie

      Unfortunately, most of the time I have to remove the log out of my ears before I can even start on my eye. I find myself looking for an angle in before the person has even finished speaking. I heard someone say that one of the most basic acts of love is to listen. God help those (us) who aren’t interested enough in our brothers and sisters to overcome our own pride long enough just to hear them out. God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and His Word corrects us to reveal Himself and His glory to us, not to “win”! We should follow suit. Thanks for the reminder. I need it daily.

    • Davey

      Your blog had good advice, but sounded a bit whiny. Anyone who communicates via public media has to expect the kind of flack you described. Given our sinful human nature, it would be naive to say the least, to expect anything else–I’m just sayin’,

    • rosalind

      I sometimes have a hard time understanding why everyone wants to nick pick at small things. I was in a verbal and physical abusive relatinship for 23 years. I was beyond knowing the truth on how to be treated and loved. I tried to love ,but fell short. We as humans need love and kind words to grow. And family is important. I divorced after trying to help save my marriage. It was the hardest thing I ever did, knowing God would take care of me, but running for safety and knowing my life was in danger. I ran for a year. I had to hide. I seen trerrible things happen to the man I divorced. He was discplined by God. My EX was haughty, selffish, blurted mean words continuously,telling me I was going to hell etc. Until he had a motorcycle wreck. God worked on his heart the last 2 years. OH how he wished he could take back all the pain he had caused, but he couldn’t do that. But God did bring him close to him and when his heart changed he became a different person. One who knew Gods true love and his mercy. We all need to have more mercy and grace and show others how to love like He did. Lets all LEARN TO LOVE LIKE CHRIST.

    • rosalind

      to my last comment. My ex died july 7th 2011. If he were alive today he would of changed his way of thinking. No no one likes people to tells us what to do, but lets be real our actions can hurt the ones we love. What will it take to wake some of you who are doing that right now? Will God have to take you down to let you see you can not hurt others and get by with it. This is the way I see it ( listen to what GOd says, because I seen hands on what God does to people who are haughty, and think they can treat others like dirt. Love is so impotant, and yet so many of us take it for granted and mistreat it. God tells us to love one another. So why do people who claim to be chritians show so much hate to others,even there loved ones?

    • rosalind

      Just one more thing to share. Iam growing and learning through all I have personally been through, and the one thing I want to share is, (only God can change a man or woman. We can not do that no matter how much we want to. So correcting someone who does not want to be helped can not be helped. A person who wants help will listen and work at changing in the areas they need to.

    • Michael Reichwein

      I believe that there is a fine line between biblical exegetical exploration and subjective philosophical expressions (lip dribble). Sound doctrine from the pulpit or litigated by means of a forum are at best dry when devoid of any emotions. Yet, since the use of emotions are usually conclusion based; conclusions that more often than not step on a few toes. The person propounding his/her particular doctrinal view needs to be sure that the facts support the conclusion. Acts 17:11 tells me that we should compare what people ‚Äúsay to be true‚ÄĚ to what we ‚Äúknow to be true‚ÄĚ. I also agree that we should humbly discuss disagreements in doctrine not attacking the person personally. Remember, that they likewise believe their position to be correct.

    • Hawke

      Well said, Michael. But you know there are times when going “Billy Jack” on someone isn’t necessarily bad either.

      Keep up the good work!

      Dennis

    • C Michael Patton

      Davey,

      I could not listen to you since you called this “whiney”! It was the point of first contact.

    • Erico Rempel

      Some kind words from Jesus and the Apostles to people who disagreed with them: “Generation of vipers”, “children of the devil”, “dogs”, “brute beasts”, etc.

      Michael, I know that those terms do not erase the verses you quote that state that we should be gentle in correcting others. I just would like to know how you balance those things. Don’t you think there is a time for strong confrontation when heretics are leading God’s people astray?

    • C Michael Patton

      Erico,

      I do agree with you. I am not sure that Christ’s example is always what we are to follow in such issues. I know that sounds odd, but think of when the sons of thunder thought they were following his example in calling fire to come down from heaven. A bit more extreme, I know. But I do think we have to consider the authority that Christ had (not to mention the uncanny ability to be infallible!).

      However, I do think there is a time for very strong polemics to be issued forth. Sometimes this can be public. And I don’t think that it has to be belligerent. I would hope that we could all err on the side of grace and belligerence be a odd thing that gets people’s attention rather than the same ol’ thing they have heard from us before.

    • rosalind

      Confronting a brother should always be done in love. Not nagging. I always remember the verse in Proverbswhere it talks about a man would rather be on the house top than listen to a nagging women. That goes for anyone. Attack the problem not the person. Always communicate and bring your problems in a manner where the problem is solved. We need to learn to disagree yet learn to respeat everyone. When you start nagging or pointing the finger at someone it only makes them angry. Let God do the rest. Usually the person already knows what they are doing is wrong, so pray for them and do as the bible says again pray even for your enemies. So we definely need to pray for our loved ones,and learn to be honest in a kind manner. I have seen people use the bible to be mean and right down hateful. Discpline is for chidren in the right way. And for adults we have to be strong enough to realize our actions matter. If we do mess up we need to apolize, and to forgive. I have had to learn to forgive those who took my brother out, and those who judge me, those who shun me, and those who judge me. Sure they always want to get in the last word, but thats when you have to realize it is between you and God on judgement day. And agian the bible does tells us we will be judged as we judge others. Now that is something to think about

    • Erico Rempel

      Thanks, Michael. That helps. I know Paul said we should be his followers as he was Christ’s. But I never had the guts to directly “anathematize” someone for being legalistic, for example.

    • rosalind

      legalistic, now thats a subject I find interesting.,but I have enough common sense to say nothing. Sometimes the best lesson in life is just living and learning. God is a ver merciful and gracious God. He works on all of us and teaches as we journey thrugh life.

    • Steve

      Great post. I agree completely. I want to say things when everything including the economy, spiritual matters and the government, etc. is going in the wrong direction. Then I get to the computer and realize All is in God’s hands and it will come out the way he has planned and I don’t write.
      Thank you for your views I am saving this one to reread.
      Steve in Okinawa, japan

    • Shrommer

      The Scriptures put it best … thank you for including those! Your heart flowing out of those Scriptures is a lovely thing to see, but reading those verses is what gave me the key nourishment. Keep up the good work! You’ve led me to a green pasture today!

    • Jeff Ayers

      I love Paul, who as usual, is to the point and succinct on this issue:

      Galatians 4:16 Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?

      Ephesians 4:15 But speaking the truth in love…

      Titus 3:10 A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject;

      But Michael, you are always an interesting read. Thank you for some great words of wisdom that is going to be tough to put into practice.

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