Was the article, State of the United States, disrespectful? Let me answer my own question. You should answer the question too. In that article I used such words as nonsense, psychosis, and silly to describe the views of those who oppose the Christian faith. They are strong words, but are they disrespectful of others? If they are accurate descriptions, they are not disrespectful.
The Gospels are documents that reflect opposition between Jesus and opponents. How does Jesus treat His opponents? In most cases, the Lord simply answers straightforwardly the objections of those who counter his words and activity. In Mark 3, early in the Gospel, Jesus’ opponents are already attempting to find ways to destroy Him. They accuse Him of being in league with Beelzebul, that is, the devil. Christ responds to them saying that those, who accuse Him of being satanic, sin against the Holy Spirit and will not be forgiven. In other words, Jesus pronounces judgment against them. The occasion requires such a strong response and lies in the tradition of the prophets who announce God’s judgment against Israel. To pronounce God’s judgment is not disrespect or lack of gentleness, especially if it is the Son of God Himself who is doing it. To do so, is to proclaim God’s word. Judgment and mercy, Law and Gospel, are the rightful dividing of God’s Word. Respectfulness doesn’t prohibit God’s condemnation of sin.
Jesus uses the word fool/foolishness. In Matthew 23 he condemns the scribes and Pharisees as blind fools; yet, in Matthew 5 (The Sermon on the Mount), he warns against calling someone a fool. The someone in Matthew 5 is a brother. A brother is a fellow Christian believer. Right here is the important distinction. Those who contradict the Gospel are fools. It is an appropriate description of such people. But, brothers and sisters in Christ are not to be called such.
Two points need to be emphasized here. First, what is permissible for Jesus in certain ways is different from what is permissible for us. God does not exceed his own moral boundaries,; at the same time, he is the One who condemns and saves, not us. Does this fact prohibit us from using such strong words as fool. No, but it reminds us that we must use it sparingly and in an appropriate and non-rancorous fashion. It is a word that may draw one to his senses. The parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins shows the disparity in outcome for the two groups–one is allowed into the feast of the Bridegroom; the other is not. Wise/foolish describes a division that occurs with the judgment of God. The wise enter the Kingdom; the foolish do not.
The second point is that we need to be clear on what is gentle and respectful and what is not. Rage is not respectful. When one addresses those outside the Christian community to which our passage in I Peter refers, we are to do so without rancor. We are to conform to the beatitudes of The Sermon on the Mount. We are to be meek. (see article beginning on page 645 in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VI, Hauck/Schulz). To call something what it is without abuse is acceptable.
Do words like silly, nonsense, and psychotic in reference to another person or persons exceed what is acceptable in Christian witness? They are not if they are attempts to describe accurately the reality and situation. If they are used face to face with one outside the Christian community, they are to be said in all humility. One should always be open to correction.
How then is deep deception to be described. Perhaps, it is to be done without psychiatric terms. The word deception itself may be a more accurate use than psychotic which is a clinical term. You would challenge the person to explain how a certain matter is not a deception. It is to be done without a sneer. In our witness we are not to become scoffers. Scoffers are the foolish, not the wise. “A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.” (Proverbs 15: 12 ESV) We are to be among the wise, not among the scoffers.
What do we conclude? A gentle and respectful witness requires discernment so that we do not exceed the limits set for Christians. This means that we can use words that accurately describe a person or thing, but without rancor or derision. We are always to remain humble, yet strong and brave in our witness.
July 8, 2022