Slander by any other name is still slander

About a week ago I received a comment on an article I wrote nearly four years ago. I decided not to approve the comment for publication because it was a typical example of a form of ‘troll’ activity. A troll, in internetspeak, is a person who attempts to hijack a forum by making inflammatory statements and accusations. As is common for comments like this the poster used a first name but gave no email address, and so I could not engage with him directly. I was not going to make any public response until I received a call last night from a fellow church member who was disturbed by a video doing the rounds labeling Dr Len Sweet as a heretic and false prophet.

So I have now decided that I need to address this sort of reprehensible slander so that fellow believers will have some insight into how to handle such things.

My article was a positive response to the book ‘Jesus Manifesto’ by Len Sweet and Frank Viola  The comment by the troll in question started with, ‘With all due respect, Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet are well documented as holding unscriptural views’, and then detailed the following criticisms:

‘Mr. Viola has strange views on essential doctrine, on scripture, on the cross and on the bride of Christ, and which are deviations from what scripture tells us. Mr. Sweet aligns himself with both Jesuit, and well know New Age mystics, and tries to incorporate their definitions, views and very language into so-called christian thinking’.

Let me question these accusations, just a little. In what ways exactly are Frank Viola’s views strange and a deviation from scripture? What has he taught concerning essential doctrine, scripture, the cross, and the bride of Christ that has been shown by any respected theologian or biblical scholar to be aberrant? And with regard to the actual book in question, has his accuser even read it?

Len Sweet is a respected professor who holds a doctorate and to refer to him as ‘Mr.’ is disrespectful. And who can claim that he aligns himself with both Jesuit and New Age mystics when Dr Sweet himself has stated in writing that, ‘for me, New Age rhymes with sewage’? My semi-anonymous commenter and anyone else can and should read Dr. Sweet’s 2007 response to similar false accusations.How to work out the truth

So, here is my appeal to all who might otherwise fall into the devil’s trap of accusing fellow disciples of the Lord Jesus:

  1. Understand that scripture instructs us not to ‘give false testimony’ (the 9th commandment)
  2. Paul instructs us not to ‘entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses’ (1 Timothy 5:19 in the context of verses 17 to 20).
  3. Carefully read, for yourself, what the person actually teaches and evaluate prayerfully againist the Bible in general and what Jesus said and did in particular.
  4. If possible, communicate personally with the person you think may be in error before you speak or write to others (Matthew 18:15).
  5. Read or listen to what respected scholars have said concerning the issue at hand.
  6. If, even after this, you still feel you need to comment to others, then do so in a humble and respectful manner… and back up your assertions with evidence and sound reasoning.

There are several heresy-hunting websites (no I am not going to link you to them) that list Len Sweet as a heretical false prophet – shame on them! What the Body of Christ needs is not more irrational witch hunts but more mature reflection and loving correction where necessary, so that

the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:12-13).

print

6 Responses

  1. Ken Haiden

    Hear, hear, Chris. Pity that those who wish to make a point (especially a false one), do so anonymously or in a largely hidden way. In my opinion, the troll probably knew that he/she did not truly know what he/she was talking about and felt safer making the point from behind a screen. Appears to be mischief making at its worst!

    • Christopher Peppler

      Hi Ken. Actually, as I pointed out in response to another comment, I think that most such folk are motivated by a desire to protect the ‘truth’ rather than to make mischief. My post focused on the way disciples of Jesus should take up differences with each other.

  2. Mike Guest

    Hi Chris,
    Your article makes good sense and the response list is spot on; particularly point 4. (Although I doubt that this type of “critic” would have the guts to confront the person directly. I guess that anonymity is one of the greatest problems with the internet; allowing cowardly people to slander whosoever they please with no comebacks.
    Of course, your Point 3 should be an essential step for any sincere Christian. However I see two major problems:
    1. Biblical illiteracy: Surveys show that there is a very high degree of biblical illiteracy among Christians, a large majority relying on their pastor/preacher/minister to read and interpret Scripture for them instead of actually reading the Bible and calling on the Holy Spirit to lead them to understanding. This may result in an inability to evaluate any other teacher or “new” teaching.
    2. Denominationalism. Leading, perhaps from my first point, people tend to be dogmatic about “their church’s” or “their Leader’s” teachings, considering anyone else’s doctrine or dogma to be heresy and being closed to any other teachings. Once again, a reliance on human teachers rather that the Word of God for their beliefs – Perhaps part of the cult of “leader worship”?

    • Christopher Peppler

      Hi Mike. You are probably correct regarding the current level of biblical literacy. However, my limited experience of heresy-hunters is that they tend to regard themselves as having a good knowledge of the Bible. I agree with you that many people seem to uncritically buy into their particular group’s dogma and then become zealous in defending it. The motivation is usually to ‘defend truth’ but by failing to follow sound exegetical principles they often end up by defending error. But, my post was more about how we should go about dealing with what we perceive to be errors in another person’s theology or practice.

  3. Ken Haiden

    Hi Chris. Your point about some believers being motivated to defend the so-called “truth” while attacking the actual truth or proposing an untruth, reminds me of someone once saying to me that truth is something personal i.e. your truth can be different from my truth. In other words, truth is relative. I believe that such dangerous thinking prevails within most sectors of modern society, even within some parts of the church. We live in an age in which “anything goes, as long as it feels right for me”. There is only one Truth and that is to be found in the person of Jesus Christ. There is nothing relative about Him. He is God and the embodiment of all truth. If people, who wish to find truth and who wish to seek and know the Truth, study God’s word using sound exegetical principles and seek and know the Truth (Jesus) through a close personal relationship with Him, then these debates and slanders are likely to diminish or disappear. You are probably right. It is less likely that the troll, in this instance, is mischief making rather than attempting to defend a so-called “truth”. However, some may do so to make mischief. I pray that the troll will identify him/herself so that an honest discussion may take place on the issue concerned and false perceptions may be corrected.

Leave a Reply