The church of Christ invented cancel culture

Of all the wonderful things the internet has given us, there have been a few that make me wonder if it’s all worth it. One of those negatives is what has come to be known as “cancel culture.” Cancel culture is that thing you hear of in the news where the internet mob gets a hold of some wrong action or social media post and does everything in their power to ruin that person’s life.

When they find one such person, they want blood. They work to get people fired from their jobs. They try to get the person’s friends and family to shun them. They want their target buried to the point where they can never come back. No amount of apologizing can ever save a person once they’ve been canceled.

The first instance I can remember involved a woman named Justine Sacco. She posted a couple of admittedly offensive, racist tweets while getting on a plane to Africa. By the time the plane landed, hundreds of thousands of people had banded together to get Sacco fired from her job. This all occurred in 2015, and since that time canceling has entered our vernacular and become a regular part of internet life.

Unfortunately, the church had a cancel culture long before the Twitter rage mob ever got a hold of Sacco.

For decades faithful Christians have been canceled over all kinds of things. The online mob stands ready to leap to action any time someone takes the wrong side on the Holy Spirit, heaven vs. renewed creation, whether drinking alcohol is a sin, or what holidays a person celebrates, or any other number of issues. Ironically, I’ll probably have some people canceling me over this article.

I’ve had people try to contact my congregation and demand I be fired over an article I wrote. I’ve had people pay for Facebook advertising to warn people that I’m a false teacher. My experiences pale in comparison to what others have dealt with, though. Some have been fired from ministry jobs, losing their ability to provide for their family over a slight difference of opinion. Some have had longtime friends turn on them seemingly overnight. Some have had it made clear to them that they are no longer welcome in buildings and events they use to frequent.

How can this be so when unity is one of the most emphasized attributes of the New Testament church? How is it remotely Christlike to cancel people without discussing your differences and giving them a chance to explain themselves? Where is grace when the slightest misstep is enough to instantly cut ties with each other?

Two considerations should be made:

First, when the time comes to take a firm, unwavering stand, it must still be done in love. And, despite what some claim, just because you’ve told the truth it doesn’t make you inherently loving (as 1 Corinthians 13:1 teaches us). Canceling someone is anything but loving.

Second, we have to be careful where we draw the line. Every Christian makes a distinction between non-negotiables and secondary matters. If we make everything (or 99.9% of everything) a non-negotiable, our standard is that there is no room to be wrong about anything. Matthew 7:2 must be kept in mind – our standard is the standard that will be used against us. If you’ve ever changed your mind on even the slightest thing, that “holding a single wrong belief makes one a false teacher” standard should be a chilling thought. We must always have the humility to be able to say “I could be wrong.”

Yes, there is such a thing as a false teacher, but we should use the term with extreme caution. Someone who disagrees with me is not automatically a false teacher. Someone who is wrong about something is not automatically a false teacher (see Apollos in Acts 18). The New Testament saves the term for those who teach foundational errors like works based salvation or denial of Christ’s deity. Additionally, we’re told that a false teacher will be known by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). Their character will show that they are not obedient, Spirit-led people.

That distinction in Matthew 7 is key. Jesus starts by teaching us to be very careful in our judging. However, He then tells us how to judge. So, if you’re reading this and asking, “how do we distinguish between a brother who is sincere but wrong and someone who is actually a false teacher?” just read Matthew 7. The first section teaches us to give grace to those who are mistaken. The later section teaches us to beware of those who are clearly false teachers by their fruits. The problem with cancel culture is there is never room for the grace that gives us time to determine the difference.

So, the next time somebody writes or says something that seems wrong to you, hit the brakes before throwing out the “false teacher” term. Before you cut someone out of your life, ask if they are truly in the wrong, or if you simply have a difference of opinion. If you’re one of those people who actively tries to harm those who disagree with you in any way, repent of your pride and spirit of division. Leave the canceling to our corrupt, graceless, Godless culture.

14 Comments

  1. Great article. I am sorry you have been attacked. I have seen a beloved long term preacher “let go”. I don’t know why but he was loved by so many. He preached both grace and truth. I have seen a youth minister let go and I don’t know why. It seemed cruel both times and in both situations, they handled it in an amazing way.

    This article has really made me think. If Christians keep cancelling one another, soon only the perfect Christians will be left.
    Ouch!!!
    Let’s study the Word but let’s be careful about how we disagree.

    Thank you Jack.

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  2. And, Jack, be cautious with very public accusations against the entire church over something said or done poorly by an individual. Even the title of this article hurts. Lift up the church regardless of your disagreement with some other person’s actions. Love ya, brother.

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    1. I think it should be inferred that I don’t mean the entirety of the church, every member ever. In the same sense that we can say the Galatians were being bewitched by the Judaizers without meaning every single Galatian Christian, we can allow for a similar use of broad speaking here.
      However, I do believe it’s a broad problem and the response to this article has confirmed that. Many have shared their experiences with me.

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    2. I agree. We must be careful how we phrase things, being “as wise as serpents & harmless as doves.” That’s often difficult, but especially necessary these days.

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  3. I really appreciate this article, but I do agree with Dennis. While the some in the body may taken similar action it’s not right to besmirch the Church of the living God.

    Who knows maybe they are weeds mixed in with the wheat.

    Also, maybe the fruits of a prophet are something else than character. The word says a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. It’s impossible. But is it impossible for a false prophet to love, be kind or patient. What about showing goodness and mercy or even grace. According to the word, not mine these are impossible for them. It seems to me that the fruit is the Gospel. It’s the means of reproduction.

    If some asks you, “What must I do to be saved.” Can you ever reply, “Nothing it has already been done for you. Believe in the Lord Jesus, ask Him, trust Him, to come into your heart.”

    What about Billy Graham? Can he ever say, “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins and you will receive the Holy Spirit.”

    All men can show a good side and a bad side even after baptism. The Gospel is the fruit to examine imho.

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  4. All Christians are a “work in progress” and as we learn better, we do better. We see examples of this in Abraham and others in the O.T.

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  5. There are good points in your essay, but the title is unfair, false and inflammatory. Surely you realize this type activity took place before there was something called Church of Christ, whether you refer to the one mentioned in the first century or to the 19th century version. I suppose you got more people to read the article this way, but saying a negative, untrue thing is wrong on its face and destructive to the church by giving ammunition to all who would rather tear down the church than to improve it and build it up. I encourage you to be more careful in your choice of words.

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    1. Well said, Edward W. I was thinking that God himself invented “cancelling” people & cultures that became egregiously ungodly & evil. That’s a far cry from what’s happening today though. God also invented “disfellowship,” although, sadly, what often passes for fellowship these days isn’t something most people would miss. We are indeed fallible humans, in need of grace – from our fellow Christians as well as from God!

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  6. I fear that soon we may become a church willing to fellowship only those who have a perfect understanding of every single brotherhood issue and doctrinal position. I’m going to feel so lonely. lol

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  7. I’ve seen this happen time after time. This lead to nothing more than a “coc creed” that is not only manmade, it’s unscriptural. The Corinthian church, even with all its “scandalous” problems, was still written to brethren. It was a warning but it definitely was not a “you’re out-a-here” goodbye letter. This makes us (and I use “us” meaning some, not all) no better than the Pharisees and Saducees.

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  8. I think that the title is offensive to the Lord’s church! Where’s the proof or examples that substantiate the title’s claim? I didn’t find it in the article?

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  9. The title was clearly tongue-in-cheek. When your kid tries to fake being sick to get out of school and you tell him “I’m not falling for that trick, I invented that trick!” – did you mean you were the first one to do it, or you’re just familiar with it from years of use? In the same sense, we weren’t the first to “cancel” people, but we’ve sure done a lot of it. The majority of those who have commented and shared understand my point.

    Reply

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