When Thinkers Are “Haters” and Brother James’ Tweet

There is nothing true about the following tweet from James MacDonald, but I’ll be called a hater for pointing it out.

I do not follow Brother James because I'm blocked!

“When rebuke is neccessary it should be private first and in the context of relationship – not from a stranger or apart from love.”

Really? In other words, James is telling all his followers, “Nobody can rebuke me or say anything negative about me unless they have a relationship with me and do it privately first.” If this isn’t an attempt to literally  invalidate any criticism that most people will hear, I don’t know what it is. Because it is certainly not true, and a wooden application of this maxim coming from on high is certainly capable of insulating Brother James from any kind of substantive rebuke. Popular people generally abhor publicity that they cannot control, and popular preachers often believe that their success hinges on their popularity. Thus, controlling criticism and labeling that which one cannot control as invalid is important to them.

James’ maxim invalidates most criticism against him since it’s hardly possible that even members of his church could get a private relationship/audience with James. I heard of one person that’s been there for more than a decade and has never met James personally which makes one wonder about the ultimate value of mega churches, but I digress.

James doesn’t know me or care about me. But here’s a public rebuke. And it is in Christian love: James, stop criticizing and rebuking how people criticize and rebuke you. Because your comments on criticism and rebuke, coming as they do, in the midst of a firestorm of criticism and rebuke toward you, give the impression that you are trying to invalidate every criticism that is not certified by you.

Have we come to the point where we are not allowed to critique a guy because he has a big church? Are we not permitted to openly rebuke a public figure? Are we really at the point in our Christian dialogue that thinkers are perceived as haters just because they won’t let a popular preacher get away with faulty logic or bad exegesis or doctrinal error?

Please, people. Quit drinking the kool-aid. This is the same kind of poppycock I heard from Jack Hyles when I was a teen. And even as a fan I could recognize what he was doing. He literally tried to intimidated anyone that brought up criticisms from him by formulating a protocol for dialogue, a code of conversation, which had no basis in reason or bible, but was clearly all about censuring critics and invalidating their criticism in the minds of his devoted followers. I remember him hammering into the minds of his people that they were never to believe a bad thing about a man of God. It was convenient, of course, because he was under scrutiny for a host of bad things.

The tricky thing about these codes of conversation that are handed down to us from powerful leaders is that there is always an element of truth in them, something that resonates with the Christian mind. Love believes what is good about people and we should obviously be aware of the fact that rumor-mongering is a vicious enemy of God’s servants. We should, in fact, verify things and follow up stories, looking for facts and pursuing clarity. With that in mind, Jack Hyles’ code of conversation that he gave to his loyal followers resonates with the Christian mind. But the net effect of this code was for his loyal followers to dismiss criticism and refuse to believe the facts about Jack Hyles, no matter what the evidence revealed. Since Hyles was preaching this code of conversation when he was in the heat of scrutiny, it had the very neat effect of intimidating anyone that dared to question him.

Similarly, James MacDonald is doing the same thing when he tweets his authoritative little maxim about rebuke. Doesn’t it resonate in the Christian mind that we should build relationships and privately rebuke, doing it in love? Of course. But the problem is that what James tweeted is not actually always true, and it simply does not apply to public, doctrinal controversy. The timing is so obvious and he, master at communication that he is, knows full well that this has the effect of intimidating analysis and shutting up critics or, at the very least, invalidating his critics in the minds of thousands of his followers who are uncomfortable with the controversy and just wish everything would go back to normal as quickly as possible.

This is so wrong, James.

When a man’s best defense is that the process of criticism was a violation of his code of conversation, thinking people everywhere start taking note. When a man starts sending out all kinds of messages that censure the criticism but doesn’t actually answer it, he’s become too big for his britches.

But is it actually true? Is rebuke only supposed to be privately and “in a relationship”? Obviously, it should be “in love,” but what is love and when is rebuke justified?

1 Timothy 5:20 actually calls for public rebuke of elders. Those who sin “rebuke publicly.” Elders are under a stricter judgment (James 3:1), and the nature of their ministry is public. It could be argued, of course, that this public rebuke in 1 Timothy 5:20 assumes a Matthew 18 procedure since elders are naturally a part of the local church and since Matthew 18 is a process given to the local church. This is reasonable, but it is still only an assumption.

Timothy had oversight of a number of elders and quite possibly was in scenarios where the Matthew 18 process was not applicable. Still, elders who continued in sin had to be rebuked publicly. Paul rebuked Peter publicly, but we don’t know that he met first with Peter in private. That would be assumption. That conflict appears to have happened in Antioch when Peter was visiting from Jerusalem. It wasn’t your average local church sin issue. James would have slapped Paul on the wrist for being a “fundamentalist.”

He and a host of contemporary Americans who were Peter’s fanboys would have taken Paul’s accusation to task, hyper-analyzing his tone, mood, language, timing, and delivering the coup de grâce that works so effectively with 21st century Americans but would appear childish to Peter and Paul: “That was not loving.” The Apostles actually believed the Old Testament proverb that “Open rebuke is better than secret love” (Proverbs 27:5). But they were just Apostles. And it’s a really good thing that James MacDonald was not David or Shimei would have died much sooner than he did. When David was at one of his lowest moments, Shimei threw dirt and stones at him and cursed him. I can just hear what James might’ve said:

Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king James, “Why should these dead dog blogger discernmentalists with the small churches curse my lord the king? Please, let me go over and take off his head!” And the king said, “You guys are my guys! You know my heart for ministry! Let’s have a video shoot of us talking about how much we love each other as soon as you go take the Shimei’s head off! He is so unloving and probably trying to ingratiate white guys  (although you guys are clearly NOT trying to ingratiate me!). Let’s do everything we can do to censure criticism of any kind. Always. We are, after all, the chosen ones.”

Well, an actual king who was really anointed and who really had the right to kill his critic, who was really getting insulted with accusations that were really erroneous behaved differently:

Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Please, let me go over and take off his head!” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the LORD has said to him, ‘Curse David.’ Who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’” And David said to Abishai and all his servants, “See how my son who came from my own body seeks my life. How much more now may this Benjamite? Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORDhas ordered him. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day.”

Now many people are asking James, “Why have you done so?”

We should answer some criticisms, indeed. But we should also think as David did that, perhaps, they are from the Lord and that eventually we will also be vindicated by the Lord. Isn’t it possible that the rebukes of other Christians are actually from Jesus Himself? Doesn’t Jesus say, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19)? If David could believe that Shimei, a loyalist of the house of Saul, David’s enemy, had possibly been “ordered by the Lord,” why is it a stretch of the imagination to think that Christian men might also be ordered by the Lord?

There are many illustrations in the Scriptures of rebukes taking place where there has not been a nurtured relationship and the initial encounter is the public rebuke! Why does James give himself a pass when many men in the covenanted people of God never assumed this insulated luxury for themselves? Answer: He gives himself the pass because thousands of contemporary Christians buy into sentimentalism and not into clear-headed biblical thinking.

James MacDonald would have been scandalized by Phinehas. That crazy discernmentalist went tearing into somebody’s tent and impaled a couple while they were having sex without even bothering to build a relationship with either one of them. Furthermore, sentimental Evangelicals would argue that a spear in one’s back is unloving. But Phinehas did love. He loved God and the people of God. And God seemed quite pleased with the action although he clearly went against conventional social mores in the procedure.

James would wag his finger at most of our Christian brothers and sisters who have gone before us who had a much more robust understanding of dialogue and thicker skin. Most of them did not have egos so fragile that they had to devise rhetorical tricks to shame people into silence and censure critics in order to patch up an insular bubble that preserved them from being affected by the dustups they kicked up.

Some of us decided a long time ago that we are not going to be governed by the sentimentalist’s interpretation of love. I love James MacDonald. I love all my brothers. I know it. God knows it. It doesn’t necessarily matter to me if they don’t know it. If they thought about it, they would. And we’ll have all eternity to smooth out ruffled feathers.

In the meantime it’d be wise to actually love rebuke.

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5 Responses

  1. Bob, Galatians 2:11 says that Paul rebuked Peter in person—to his face. It’s not clear whether that happened publicly or privately, but at the very least it happened personally. But that question isn’t central to your point, which I wholeheartedly agree with.

    What’s even more curious to me is how JM could have allowed a pastor to accuse other pastors of “white idolization” (and then blog the video) without immediately asking that pastor if he’d offered that rebuke in private first. Or maybe the rules don’t apply if you rule a megachurch.

    • Good catch, Ben. I wish, however, that you had come to me privately before doing this in public and I don’t think I discern any Christian love in your comment whatsoever because I feel kind of embarrassed and you did not put a little smiley emoticon.

  2. [...] on a totally unrelated note, I liked what Bob Bixby said about teachers being held accountable for their teachings and not being able to hide behind Matthew [...]

  3. Great thoughts. What all this demonstrates is might makes right. If you have influence you can critique whoever you want but if you’re not one of the big guys we don’t want to listen and we’re gonna shout you down.

    I actually noticed the other day JM blocked me on twitter as well. Went back through my timeline. Never once tagged him personally. Never once mentioned him disparagingly. I did of course provide my thoughts on the event via my blog but there wasn’t a personal attack or anything bordering on slander (I have seen some of this from certain corners of the web). It’s just sad how this entire situation has devolved.

  4. Paul also publicly rebuked individuals in 1 Corinthians 5, Alexander the Coppersmith (likely a pastor), Demas, in 2 Timothy 4 and many others – not always by name – throughout his ministry.

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