How To Not Be a Christian Bully

Christian Life & Theology, Podcast Episodes

Phylicia discusses why Christians who are into theology can become so “mean” by looking at the call to both sound teaching and gracious delivery. We look at the three tiers of doctrine, the goal of maturity, and how to understand denominational differences.

This episode is based on the last chapter of Every Woman a Theologian.


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Welcome to Verity podcast. I’m your host, Phylicia Masonheimer and I’m here to teach you how to know what you believe, to live it boldly, and to communicate it graciously to the world around you. I believe that women are ready to go deeper in their faith than ever before and they don’t have to go to seminary to do it. I am so glad you’re here. And I hope you’ll join me on this journey because every woman is a theologian.

Hi friends and welcome back to Verity podcast. Today, we’re talking about orthodoxy and orthopraxy. What are these things and how do they help us not be Christian bullies? Yes, how can we be Christians who actually live what we say we believe and not bludgeon other people with facts about our salvation. Because this is not the goal of the Christian life. I want to look at Hebrews 5:13-6:1, and I’m reading this actually from the conclusion of Every Woman a Theologian, my book that came out February 28th. This is a conclusion of all of the chapters on theology, basic Christian doctrine, how to live it out. At the conclusion, we talk about orthodoxy, which is sound teaching and orthopraxy which is the walking out of that sound teaching. If you have lived at all in modern American culture, at least, then you’re probably familiar with the keyboard warriors that love to debate theology on Facebook, Instagram. They like to make sure that you are corrected if you are to stray off of their particular camp on theology. Though I walk through in the book all the different denominational views on a variety of those topics, in this particular episode, I want to dive into the attitude that is to accompany a Christian’s life. How are you to act and behave so that you live a life of honor while still standing on the truth?

So, in Hebrews 5:13-6:1, it says, anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore, let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.” So, milk the easy foundational truths about Jesus is good for baby Christians, but you can’t live forever on milk. You can’t grow up into a strong person if you only ever drink milk. You have to have other sources of protein, you have to have carbs, you have to have other kinds of food in order to become a person who is healthy. And so, to grow up, in this case, according to Hebrews, you must have trained yourself to distinguish good from evil. Part of distinguishing good from evil isn’t just memorizing what’s evil, looking only for what’s evil. You also have to know what is good. You have to have a better idea, in fact, of what is good than what is evil. And by knowing what is truly holy and beautiful, you’re more likely to recognize evil. This is the irony of discernment.

Hannah Anderson, in her book All That’s Good, talks about this. That the true gift of discernment is the person who can notice and spot the things that are good and holy and pure and God exalting, not the person who can find everything that’s wrong and evil. It’s actually a lot easier to go around finding everything that’s wrong in the world than it is to find the things that are happening that are good and holy. It’s also why scandal travels faster, why people are more attracted to negative storylines, negative articles, and newspapers. We are drawn to the negative, to the drama. Even though sometimes we need to know about that, true discernment is knowing what is good and how to recognize it. So, this process is discernment and when I’m teaching theology and teaching discernment, my goal is not just to teach you everything that’s wrong, all the false teachings in the world. My goal is for you to know the right and true teachings of scripture so well that you recognize a fake. 

There’s a saying that when training people to spot counterfeit money, you need to know what the correct dollar bill looks like better than anything, and then you’ll be able to spot the counterfeit. You don’t just train them on counterfeits, train them on the real thing. So right or sound teaching about Christianity, the real deal, the real thing is called orthodoxy and the right practice of those teachings is called orthopraxy. I personally love G. K. Chesterton’s definition of orthodoxy. He said that “Orthodoxy is the creeds and the historic behavior of those who followed such a creed.” Which means you have to look at the collective, global church and how they lived over 2000 years, how that matched up with what the New Testament speaks to in addition to the creeds to know how am I to live as a Christian? 

Basically, what we see outlined by the church are fundamentals of Christian belief and Christian practice, especially in Acts and then into the Apostles, letters, and epistles. So, pursuit of orthodoxy, pursuit of sound teaching is an example of Hebrews 5 and how it talks about growing into maturity. Okay, that’s great, but what about the person who is passionate about orthodoxy, so passionate that they become a keyboard warrior. Their job to make sure that everybody on Instagram and Facebook falls in line with their specific denominational viewpoint. What about that person? Aren’t they actually committed to orthodoxy? Well, yes, but they’re missing the orthopraxy. They have lost their compassion, they’ve lost their grace, they’ve lost their love. They’re actually not walking in the fruit of the spirit or the wisdom of the spirit, which means their discernment is not completely holy in that moment. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the people who want to just be love and acceptance. They never talk about the gospel with people who need it. They never say something is wrong or that the Bible speaks to it. For them, their character is tainted too because they have lied by omission. 

In both cases, we have to be willing to be sanctified either into the strength and boldness we need, or the compassion and grace that we need. Living graciously, though, is much harder than it sounds. Young believers who are new to theology, who are new to discernment, can very quickly become theological guard dogs. And they’ll start warning about this pastor and this teacher, that Instagram account and because they’re still in the process of being trained to distinguish good from evil, they sometimes misconstrue core Christian doctrines like orthodoxy with issues of freedom. So, they elevate things like worship music or dress codes, or Bible translations. What I mean by that is simply the difference, say, between KJV only or ESV or NASB. They elevate those and they say, “Well, if you don’t do exactly this, then you can’t be a Christian.” What’s sad about this is that in their passion to defend the gospel, to defend scripture, they actually go beyond scripture itself. And sadly, they divide people unnecessarily. 

1 John 4:7-8, says, “Dear friends, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Love should characterize our doctrine; it should characterize our theology. Francis Schaeffer said, “Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.” So, to avoid being a Christian bully, we need a methodology for discerning between essential orthodox doctrines of the faith and freedom issues. How do we do this? Now, I have a whole episode on this. I talk about it in determining core doctrine, I taught on it at Verity Conference in 2022. I’m just going to go over this very briefly here. Not going to get super into it, but this idea of theological triage has been taught by multiple authors, pastors, writers over the years. But I’m using a model specifically put forth by Dr. Albert Mohler. The way he describes it is that there are first order issues, second order issues, and third order issues. 

First order issues are the doctrines essential to the Christian faith. These are the truths summed up in the creeds. The nature of the Trinity, the physical life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the hope of eternity, final judgment for sin. So, the salvation message, the gospel like this is the essential nature of Christianity. You can’t remove any of these pieces, but in addition, we can look to Acts 15, at the essential behaviors of Christians who held to these truths. As the Gentiles were coming in, the Jerusalem Council met and said, “We need to teach these people how to walk in the teachings of Christ.” What do we need to teach them? First things they emphasized were sanctity of worship, no other gods, no idols, sanctity of life, honor for the image bearer. They said, “Don’t drink blood, don’t eat blood, don’t associate with that because the life is in the blood.” So, it was an honor for human life and then in animal life. And sanctity of sex, sexual morality is held by Christ. They said, “Abstain from sexual immorality, which was accepted and rampant in Greek and Roman culture.” So, this was very normal for them. They were dealing with this kind of a culture. We’re dealing with this kind of culture. Christians just absolute baseline is affirming what the creeds state and then affirming what Acts 15 states, which is you are not to combine Jesus with any other god, you are to honor life at all ages, and you are to honor sex. And the fact that sex is for a blood covenant between a man and a woman for life and we do not get to redefine this in the church. There is one definition in the church for what marriage and sex is for. 

Second order issues, these are denominational differences. These are issues that you might differ from someone on, but you both are still strong believers, but you’re definitely not going to go to that church and be a member there. These might be things like, how to practice baptism, how to practice communion, different views of how spiritual gifts should function, women in church leadership positions, different views of how salvation works, so a Calvinist or an Armenian, these questions revolve around how. All Christians would say, “Yes, men and women are both valuable in the eyes of God.” They should anyway, but some Christians are going to say, and this is how women are going to lead in our church. And another church might say, “Well, I don’t actually believe women should be directing or pastoring or ministering in a public way or on staff. So, we don’t actually do that. We can’t say that one of those churches isn’t saved, we can’t. We might disagree with how they go about it. We might not go to their church, but we can’t say, “Hey, you’re not saved, because this issue is not a salvific issue.” It’s not first tier, important, but not first tier. Same with baptism, believers versus infants, communion, consubstantiation, transubstantiation, simply a symbol, any of those things. I have episodes on all of these, on baptism, on communion, on spiritual gifts, on women in the church, and on salvation theology. Differing on secondary issues does not mean that Christians can’t be friends. It just means that you probably won’t be going to a church where you disagree strongly on this issue. 

Lastly, third order issues, these are issues that allow for disagreement in the same church body. You could go to the same church and not completely agree on some of these things. These might be personal convictions about how you dress, convictions about alcohol, depending on the Church, personal preferences about what you watch or what you listen to, where you send your kids to school. These will be spirit-led decisions based on your culture, your family, your current spiritual maturity, your wisdom, the application of that wisdom. God works within us and sees all of us on this trajectory of growth where he’s leading us and showing us Himself and how he wants to lead our families in different ways. And so, conviction can look differently in terms of practical application, but the actual fruits of the spirit and the actual character qualifications that scripture outlines for holiness, fruit of the sprit, spiritual gift, these will show up always in Christians. They should in a genuine Christian. The application is going to be different and that’s what freedom issues are about. The error that we see with theological liberalism, Dr. Mohler says, is that they don’t believe that anything is first tier. 

Generally speaking, progressive Christianity would say anything’s up for grabs. As a general rule, they might say the creeds, no, you have to believe in the resurrection if it’s not a super far gone progressive church. But the holiness standards, those are up for discussion. We can just get rid of those. Those don’t matter. It doesn’t matter how you talk, doesn’t matter if you drink to get drunk. It doesn’t matter if you sleep with your boyfriend. None of that matters because Jesus loves you. And you know holiness is not really a priority here. In progressive circles, the danger is making nothing first tier. There’s no requirement at all that you actually obey the God you claim to serve or to align with what scripture says. And often it starts by undermining the authority of scripture in the first place. So, there’s a spectrum of progressivism, just as there’s a spectrum of conservatism in the Church. You will see different levels of it depending on where they land. And so, the thing to be on guard if you are in a more progressive environment is, are we honoring the core authority of scripture that Jesus honored? Are we honoring the creeds? Are we honoring Acts 15 and the behavior that was just right from the get go expected? If you want something that isn’t scripture, early church document called the Didache, it is fascinating. It was written, I think, early in the second century, and it was basically an outline of Christian doctrine and behavior that the early church would abide by. It tells you plain as day what they expected from Christians and how they dealt with behavior that was not in alignment with what scripture taught. We don’t get to reinvent the wheel here. 

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, the error of fundamentalism or hyper conservatism is to take third tier issues, and actually raise them up to first tier. Every house is on fire if you aren’t dressing a certain way you’re not saved. If you’re not reading KJV only you’re not saved if you attend the specific denomination that’s not ours, I don’t know if you’re saved. In super indie fundie circles, not being able to watch certain movies, not giving any room for discernment in the leading of the Holy Spirit, very low view of the Holy Spirit. In both cases you have a church environment. progressive or conservative, they’re honestly the same. In this way. They have no respect for the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit because on the progressive side, they’ve quenched the spirit. They’re just like, “We don’t even listen to His conviction.” I can do what I want to do and no respect for His voice. On the other side, fundamentalism has quenched the Holy Spirit too, because they’ve just doused it in their fear of man. If you want to land where Christ has us land in discernment will, [laughs] then you have to walk by the Holy Spirit. That is what he wants for us. 

As we’re growing in theology, what’s our goal? Well, I love what Paul said in Ephesians 4, “We will no longer be infants tossed back and forth by the waves, blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by cunning and craftiness of people, and their deceitful scheming. Instead speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head that is Christ.” So, God desires that we know Him truly and accurately, but he also desires for us to present Him to others graciously because there is no such thing as a prideful biblical theology. There’s not. So, if you don’t want to be a Christian bully, the answer is know the Word of God, Walk by the Spirit, and don’t elevate things to the level of the creeds, the first tier doctrine that are not elevated to that level by scripture itself. Don’t do gymnastics with the Bible. I’m speaking specifically to the more conservative crowd here because that’s the majority of my listeners. We cannot form our theology based on fear. You cannot form a theology that’s always about what you’re against and what you’re trying not to do. You form your theology on the beautiful freedom that God gave you in the gospel. I think it was D. L. Moody who said this. He said a lot of great things, but I think it was D.L. Moody who said, “Basically, do you want to be holy? Well, follow Christ and then do what you want to do or listen to the Holy Spirit and then do what you want to do.” 

Well, that’s really shocking. What do you mean? Well, if my heart is truly regenerated and transformed by the Holy Spirit. If I’m walking by Him in every single minute of my day in listening for His voice, then the things that I want to do will align with the Holy Spirit and what he wants to do in me and I’m going to make choices that are holy. I will want to do what is holy and that includes not bullying other people online. To bully them into the kind of behavior that I think they should be in recognizing these people need the Holy Spirit. They need an encounter with God, not just an intellectual experience of Him, but an actual encounter with God and with the Holy Spirit so that they are convicted of their sin and they change from the inside out. So often we become bullies when we’re trying to change somebody from the outside in which God doesn’t even do to us. If God doesn’t do it to us, what makes us think that we can do it to someone else and it will be effective? Christian bullies don’t work long term. It does not lead to transformed disciples. It just leads to more Christian bullies who are afraid and who are walking in insecurity instead of security in their salvation. 

The solution here is not to say, “Oh, there’s no standard of holiness and I don’t have to be holy at all.” The solution is to say, “God, I know your word, I’m going to be in your word and I want to listen to your Spirit and listen to your conviction. Help me to do that, help me to listen to you and if I’m unsure about something, I’ll just take a pause and I’ll pray about it and I’ll wait and let you speak. Let me be convicted and led by you either into, yes, you’re free to do this thing, or no, this is either not right for you right now or not right at all, or my word speaks to it.” And that discernment process is what grows us in maturity and actually leads us to a healthy orthodoxy and orthopraxy.

Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of Verity podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, would you take the time to leave us a review? It helps so many other women around the world find out about Verity and about Every Woman a Theologian, as a ministry and a shop. We appreciate you and I hope you’ll be back next week as we continue to go deeper into God’s Word and the heart of Jesus Christ.

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