Excessive Rhetoric, Criticisms of Individuals, and Helping us Moderate Both

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Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
I'm going to need some help fleshing this out so please feel free to suggest improvements to this post so it will stand as a new forum rule.

We have a problem that has existed as a slow boil for a while that has boiled over recently and led to some good interaction with the Moderators on how to address it. We instituted an infraction system for some violations of rhetoric but this proves to be ineffective with some as it only inflames and does not instruct in some cases.

We have a general problem that many of us are going too far in our criticisms and violate the 9th Commandment in the process. Let me remind us all that the 9th Commandment is not merely violated when we'll only be convicted by a jury of our peers for libel or slander but is violated whenever we don't do everything in our power to uphold the good name of our neighbor. Remember that Christ commands that we love our neighbors: we are required to uphold the good name of our enemies and especially honor those who name Christ. Impossible with men but we are supposed to be children of God.

It's also good to remember that you can't charge a person with holding to all the implications of his statements. Men aren't omniscient, and that's reflected in the fact that what we say or write often implies conclusions we would repudiate if we realized it. So you can criticize a man for his espoused positions and point out that it logically involves some worse error but you can't criticize the man for espousing that more grievous error without additional evidence.

That said, there are a few general guidelines to check before you criticize a person by name in open or protected forum:

Public criticisms of ministers may be appropriate in the following circumstances:

1. The minister is dead and the discussion centers on his body of work and contribution to the Christian church.
2. The minister is living and has chosen to go public with his ministry.
3. The minister has been defrocked and his case is now in the public domain.
4. The minister displays satisfactory evidence of being a false teacher and/or heretic.

Now, even with these guidelines, let me remind you that the name of Christ is often mocked because of how we tear each other down in "naming names". One of the notable things about reading Calvin is how he lays down heavy artillery on contemporaries of his time without calling them out by name. He criticizes their position and you have to read the footnotes of the editors to figure out he's going after Melancthon or Luther or even a heretic like Servetus. If it can be said without naming names then criticize the position without calling out the individual by name.

In summary:

1. If you can criticize a position without calling out the man by name then endeavor to do so.
2. If it is necessary to speak against a man then speak soberly and avoid hyperbolic language that simply plays to the crowd.
3. Evidence of a specific abuse and examples need to be provided if a particularly egregious criticism is going to be levied.
4. Above all, we must be tireless in upholding the good name of our neighbor at all costs even if we're critical. Christ demands it of us toward our enemies and especially toward those that name Christ.

How can you help?

If you witness excessive rhetoric then please use the Report Post feature in the upper right hand corner of each post. It's usually a red circle. Please note the nature of the rhetorical excess in the criticism. Sometimes criticism is warranted and the moderators will simply edit out the rhetorical excess. If you can provide some facts to help the moderators sort out the exaggerations then this will help us in our editing. Please do not respond to rhetorical excess in kind and make the "clean up" that much harder. We want to move some of these conversations forward and not completely derail them or have to close them because we've gotten in a shouting match telling each other how ugly the other's baby is.
Having been in debate championships, there is one "skill" we all ought endeavor to employ in public discourse. It won't bring to bear the full weight of the ninth commandment (which is sobering in its implications), but it might be a practical help:

Do not "attack" the person but rather, focus on the idea. The idea may be "attacked", even passionately, but not the person. Learning to separate the two is a skill. It is the high calling of rhetoric and debate. The skill in debate is to separate the two.

May God grant us the ability to do that, especially toward those in the household of faith.
How would this work when criticizing a book? Or, making a joke about an author - such as Rick Warren?

The point of the joke would not be a personal attack on the person of Reverend Warren. One might say he is unbiblical, even promoting false doctrine in this way, (be specific) without mocking, condescending, or disrespecting his person.

If we take this as a challenge and see it as a skill, we are getting close to the true, high standards of debate and rhetoric. Most of all, it gets us more toward the respect all people deserve for being created in the image of God.

It is sobering to consider God's standard. Consider the Westminster Larger Catechism at question 145:

Q. 144. What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?

A. The duties required in the ninth commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man,[840] and the good name of our neighbour, as well as our own;[841] appearing and standing for the truth;[842] and from the heart,[843] sincerely,[844] freely,[845] clearly,[846] and fully,[847] speaking the truth, and only the truth, in matters of judgment and justice,[848] and in all other things whatsoever;[849] a charitable esteem of our neighbours;[850] loving, desiring, and rejoicing in their good name;[851] sorrowing for,[852] and covering of their infirmities;[853] freely acknowledging of their gifts and graces,[854] defending their innocency;[855] a ready receiving of a good report,[856] and unwillingness to admit of an evil report,[857] concerning them; discouraging tale-bearers,[858] flatterers,[859] and slanderers;[860] love and care of our own good name, and defending it when need requireth;[861] keeping of lawful promises;[862] studying and practicing of whatsoever things are true, honest, lovely, and of good report.[863]
Thanks, Rich, for the seriousness with which you take this, and for involving the entire board membership.

I have learned from the threads referred to, have come to see there are things that ought not be in the church spoken of, and will be addressing via church officers the problem areas that came to light for me. The hand at the helm is responsible. (I will be musing on this at my blog, in a day or two.)

But to see my pastor characterized for such by literally obscene gestures (which you did address) is defiling to all who see or hear it, as warned in Hebrews 12:15:

Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.​

We are one Body, and when one of us is openly defiled by public obscenity in view of all the others we are all defiled. So serious is this that Paul in 1 Cor 5:11 says “if any man that is called a brother” does this – is a habitual [size=+1]loidoroj[/size] loídoros: reviler, verbal abuser, insulter – he is to be “put away” from the people of God; and in 1 Cor 6:10 he says that such a one shall not “inherit the kingdom of God”.

Calvin says (on 5:11) that this refers to “a false profession”, and C. Hodge that “he is not to be recognized as a Christian.”

We all of us have suffered disappointment, hurt, and unfair treatment – I am ashamed to say – in the church. The Lord has told us how we are to handle these things, to forgive, and especially not to harbor bitterness, which metastasizes into hatred.

A couple of years ago when I joined this board I was glad to see moderator Scott Bushey take this position:

"I have assumed a zero tolerance platform as of late; If I see any innuendo, ad hominem, slander, below the belt assaults on any believers from here on out, the guilty party will be banned immediately." [From the thread, http://www.puritanboard.com/f63/james-white-1-john-5-7-a-12414/#post162880]

That said to me this was a safe place; safe to discuss in a scholarly and irenic – albeit oftentimes vigorous – manner all sorts of knotty problems in the church. I am again glad to see it is getting back on that track. Yes, we all lose it once in a while – and some slack there is fine – but for it to be characteristic and without remorse, puts the communion in great danger.

A great reminder above that this is not merely about a good civics lesson but that it is spiritually perilous when we spite one another.

As Edwards' resolved:
19. Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour, before I should hear the last trump.
55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments.
Great reminder! Thank You for your diligent service to the Puritan Board and even more importantly to our Lord Jesus Christ!
I keep getting sent back to this thread...I've read it - any way to avoid it so I can play pacman?

Thanks - SEW
I somehow feel smarter having read and re-read this thread. I keep going back to this thought that if God loves everyone, then maybe I should at least look like I'm trying to do the same. Still, this seems to remind me of some long-lost lesson my parents taught me, proving what Rich said above- this is as much about good manners as it is about spiritual maturity.
You folks who went to the blog and didn't find my letter to Redeemer, it's there now (I hadn't taken it out of draft form — sorry).
Having been in debate championships, there is one "skill" we all ought endeavor to employ in public discourse. It won't bring to bear the full weight of the ninth commandment (which is sobering in its implications), but it might be a practical help:

Do not "attack" the person but rather, focus on the idea. The idea may be "attacked", even passionately, but not the person. Learning to separate the two is a skill. It is the high calling of rhetoric and debate. The skill in debate is to separate the two.

May God grant us the ability to do that, especially toward those in the household of faith.

Having been in management for years we too learned to "triangulate" the problem, issue or complaint. Make the problem out side of the one on one relationship. Thanks for your words of guidance and counsel.
It is really good to see this come up, because it has been very disappointing to me to see an arrogance among some reformed brothers that presumes that they know more than anyone else within the refomed camp. I don't just mean here, either. I've heard Sproul, Piper, Keller, and other great reformed pastors sharply criticized, not to mention pastors like Rick Warren. I don't even like the jokes and disrespectful talk toward politicians. There just seems to be a lack of a loving spirit sometimes. I hope this reminder will have a positive affect on this board. And I hope I will remember it every waking moment.
I like your rules. Although I have been primarily a lurker in this forum. I certainly have no problem abiding by the rules.
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