Over the past months, I have had some interesting and valuable discussions with my son, Matthew. I have read some of his Facebook & Twitter posts, read some of the books he has read or recommended, and read portions of his soon-to-be-published book by Crossways (temporarily titled, “Reforming Criminal Justice: A Christian Proposal.”).
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Midst all that reading and talking, I have been sadly reminded about the abusive use of Scripture to justify ungodly policy, laws, and actions by churches, Christian leaders, and pastors — both historically and within my lifetime. Reading about this abuse and misuse of Scripture is frankly appalling and shameful.
As Matthew would say, “That’s how churches justified slavery. — ‘See, right there it says in Philemon that . . . . Don’t you believe the Scripture’?’ ”
That shameful behavior by ministries and local churches of our day has not ended. Ministry and local church leaders still use their pulpit and the Scriptures to beat down critics and criticism — legitimate and illegitimate criticism. 
Obviously, the Scripture is the standard for godly and righteous behavior. Citing verses of the bible, and/or preaching through a particular passage are part and parcel of exhorting others to engage in or avoid the right or wrong behavior that reflects our Lord. This-or-that passage does teach that it is right or wrong to engage in that behavior. Bible verses and passages do call on God’s people to adopt or avoid this-or-that attitude towards situations or people.
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It is possible to warp Scripture and to turn it into a weapon to quiet or attack people. There are at least four warning flags that indicate that the Scriptures are being used, not to correct, but as a weapon to self-defend.
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#1) “This Passage” Is Cited, But “That Passage” Has Been Knowingly Ignored:
At times, a verse or passage of Scripture is called into play, while other obvious balancing truths are ignored or dismissed because it doesn’t further the desired argument or narrative that is being made.
Many (if not most) Scriptural truths require a balancing against each other.
- Speak the truth, but do it in love.
- Be kind, but turn over the money-changers tables when justified.
- Entertain strangers and show hospitality, but have no fellowship with the workers of darkness.
- Come as you are to Jesus, but “go and sin no more.”
“G. K. Chesterton — “The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other, and are wandering alone.” Compassion and honesty are virtues, but separate them from each other and they become vices and do more harm than good. Dysfunctional churches have gone mad.” — Keith Ford
Some would like to merely cite . . . .
- the fruit of the Spirit
- the Beatitudes
- the words of Jesus, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”
- James 3 on the use and abuse of the tongue
. . . . and press them upon a situation or a person to make their argument and to weaponize Scripture. Truths work together and situations (and the facts situations) between offenders and the offended are more complicated than some would like to personally acknowledge.
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#2) Fogging Biblical Concepts:
There is no lack of examples of “fogging up” the meaning of Scriptual words & concepts.
“Love” is one of those words/concepts which most all acknowledge is blurred — “That wasn’t loving.” It may well have been loving, but the heart’s attitude determines that.
“Loyalty” is a virtue, but not at the expense of integrity. Being loyal to “friends” does not mean that we do not wound — “Faith are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy.” Some do not know who their real friends are!
“Peace” is another one of those words and what is often meant is not the peace that comes through reconciliation and engagement, but a peace that is only the absence of conflict.
“Peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.
” — MLK (Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, March 18, 1956)
I am reminded of . . . .
Stephen Bryce’s comment . . . .
“Love isn’t letting other people have their way with you. “Grace” isn’t ignoring the hurts caused or weeping them under the rug. Anyone who says that, or defends those who say it, is setting people up to be abused.
or Raymond Chang’s words . . . .
“A call for unity that doesn’t address the sources of disunity is not a call for true unity. True unity emerges from addressing the things that created the divisions in the first place.”
Likewise, as I have often said . . . .
“Forgiveness is not something done in isolation, without any confession or admittance of wrong-doing — “I just forgiave them.”
That may fall under “loving” according to I Corinthians 13 [to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things], but it is not biblical forgiveness. No conversation or confession of wrong, there can be no biblical forgiveness since, without a conversation, you don’t even know if any wrong-doing took place. That is why Matthew 5:23-24 says go to them! That is why confession is the basis of divine forgiveness.
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#3) Me, But Not Thee:
When Scripture is used as a weapon, you will find that the biblical words and truths regarding “unity,” “love,” “kindness,” gossip, and/or the use of the tongue is only applicable in regards to the so-deemed wrong-doer. Surprisingly, whether the actions or words of others, which preceded any criticism, were kind, loving, promoted unity, were gossip, or “a fire” isstrangely not part of the discussion.
Those Christian virtues and words apply to “them,” but not “me.” Regardless of what was done or said, “THEY” are not being gracious, kind, forgiving, or forbearing, or unifying– [Again — “A call for unity that doesn’t address the sources of disunity is not a call for true unity. True unity emerges from addressing the things that created the divisions in the first place.”].
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#4) The Inconsistent Application Of Biblical Truths:
It is a clear and prominent red flag when a biblical truth is cited and applied in regards to situation A, but not situation B. No surprise, the inconsistent application of biblical truths creates disharmony and discord in ministries and churches.
- This-or-that passage applies now, but not then.
- It applies to “THEM,” but not “YOU.”
- It is good and right to expect such compliance from the offender, but not from the so-deemed offended.
- The reproof is for those in the pew, not the one in the pulpit.
The same passages that teach us godliness, can be and are used in ungodly ways to quiet and cover the wrong-doing of those who then weaponized those very passages.
Those inconsistencies happen because it is now touching relationships, alliances, friendships, associations, connections, family members, appearances, and even one’s personal persona.
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1. “Illegitimate” may only be determined upon a conversation or confrontation about this-or-that issue. What makes a criticism illegitimate? Upon discussion and examination, it may be seen or deemed an unworthy criticism. But it may also be seen and deemed as indeed a legitimate concern. That is why Matthew 5:23-24 is so important!