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.