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.
So, here is my appeal to all who might otherwise fall into the devil’s trap of accusing fellow disciples of the Lord Jesus:
- Understand that scripture instructs us not to ‘give false testimony’ (the 9th commandment)
- 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).
- 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.
- If possible, communicate personally with the person you think may be in error before you speak or write to others (Matthew 18:15).
- Read or listen to what respected scholars have said concerning the issue at hand.
- 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).