Are You Playing Devil’s Advocate?
If you watch the news regularly, there’s a good chance you’ve run across a story on the Westboro Baptist Church out of Topeka, Kansas. This peculiar religious group primarily consists of one family; the Phelps’. As a religion, they have gained international fame for their unique “ministry.” What is their unique ministry? They travel the country protesting at funerals in order to cause a stir. The Phelps’ began picketing in 1998, when they protested homosexuality at the funeral of Matthew Shepherd. Since then, they make it a practice to picket the funerals of American soldiers, celebrities, and even school children killed in bus accidents. Their self-stated goal is help people go to hell. Spokesperson Shirley Phelps said, “Our job is laid out in comments sprinkled with biblical references. We are supposed to blind their eyes, stop up their ears and harden their hearts so that they cannot see, hear or understand, and be converted and receive salvation.”
As you read statements like that, you probably experience a variety of emotions: outrage, resentment, fear, shame, and heartbreak just to name a few. Since we understand the stark reality of hell revealed in God’s word, it often brings tears to our eyes just thinking about the possibility of our friends, family, or even strangers spending an eternity in that torment. As much as we like to point our finger at the Westboro Baptist Church, for their sinful motives…too often WE accomplish exactly the same result in the way we deal with the lost.
While there are many situations where this occurs, one area I want us to reflect on is dealing with people who are sincerely devoted to a false religion. The Scripture teaches that there is only one church (Eph. 4:4), and Christ is the only authority over its practices/doctrines (Col. 1:18). Additionally, the Bible clearly shows that it is sinful to try to “denominate” the church into sects (1 Cor. 1:10-13). Knowing this, members of the Lord’s church often develop an animosity towards those involved in man-made heresies. This is expressed in how biblical Christians attempt to share the truth with people committed to a false religion. So often we eagerly want to “prove them wrong” with the Bible, that we neglect the fact that we have an opportunity to help lead them to salvation. It’s very easy to win a biblical argument with someone lost in man-made denominationalism…but it’s a much more tender issue to win their soul.
Paul sternly warned Timothy of this very teaching. “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, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will,” (2 Tim 2:24-26).
How you say something is just as important as what you say. Those who are involved in religious error usually do not know they’re “ensnared” by the devil. They can be just as passionate and sincere as those who serve and worship God according to His word. However, their incorrect doctrinal understanding is keeping them from salvation (Rom. 10:1-4). It’s our job to try to empathize with them, and lovingly/patiently show them God’s truth. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, God DOES command us to correct their false teachings with His word, but we are to do so with a Christ-like attitude. Otherwise, just like the Westboro Baptist Church, we can harden their hearts and be part of the reason some people spend their eternity separated from God. Our Creator will NOT tolerate non-compassionate Christians.