"My Sister in the faith is reading a heretical book/studying heretical material. How do I tell her?"
I know that when I go to church and see a sister in the faith carrying a book by Ann Voskamp, or attending a Beth Moore study, my stomach clenches and my heart drops. Then, I worry. I know that heretical materials have just enough truth to seem good but so much heresy it will soon pollute my sister's thinking. False teaching is meant to destroy, and my sister is in its cross-hairs. This is not something we can ignore.
But how to tell her? It’s uncomfortable and difficult to do. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings yet it must be done because false teaching is a blight on the name of Jesus. In addition, we will have to answer for our failure to act in love. James 4:17 says,
"Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins."
We also know that in these dark days where the truth is not exalted, that we will more than likely be labeled as a troublemaker. I have had this experience myself. Of course we seek to be diplomatic in these kind of conversations, so take care that we are speaking the truth gently and not roughly. But no matter how gentle and diplomatic you are, there is a good chance the person will take offense. Since there are so many false converts these days, there's also a good chance they will subsequently label you as critical, intolerant, and trouble with a capital T.
In addition, we have the problem of deception by investment. (Term coined by Glenn Chatfield). This means that people who follow false teachers are invested in them. They have spent money on their books or devotionals, they have perhaps attended a meeting or conference. Thus, they are invested financially, emotionally, and time-wise. They've been seen and heard letting their chips fall in the side of what you're telling them is a false teacher. Puncturing that will pierce pride because you're piercing their very selves. They will want to be defensive. No one likes a conversation like that.
The Gentle Art of Correction based on 2 Timothy 2:23-26. It is aimed at pastors and leaders but its principles are good for ladies too. :)
So, how? I take two examples from the bible. In the first example, Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside to instruct him (Acts 18:24-28). Apollos was a believer, hadn’t sinned, but needed to have the full counsel of God given to him before he went too much further in preaching like he’d been doing. The duo did not embarrass him by correcting him in public, but took him aside and to Apollos’ credit, he sat at their feet and learned.
Secondly, in Matthew 18:15-20 it describes what to do when someone in church sins against you. And isn’t following a false teacher a sin? There is flesh involved. So in the case of Mt 18:15, even though the verse says ‘if a brother sins against you’ and technically they have not sinned against you personally but against Jesus as the Head of the Church, the restoration began in private.
I think that the spirit of the Acts and Matthew verses tell us that the first step is to go to the sister you want to talk with quietly in private. So that is what I do.
What I've done is something like this: “I see you are carrying a new Joyce Meyer book. I have learned some things about her that I think are important for you know. Are you open to me putting my thoughts down on paper and sharing it with you later?” That way they do not feel sandbagged or cornered. If they say "No, thanks, I really like Joyce Meyer," then pray for them. The Spirit might help them change their mind, and they might return to you later and ask for that information. Sometimes a nudge takes a while.
In another case the opportunity just seemed right and presented itself when it came up in a conversation. I gently and with tears, pleaded for the woman to turn from her false doctrine. She was a good listener and at the end asked me to offer her some biblical advice on it. I did so the next time we were together, I gave her a paper. I believe the 2nd situation came about because I had been praying over the issue and asked the Lord to make a way for me to bring it up. Prayer is always an important component of these conversations, before, during and after.
Since emotions run high in these situations I’ve found it helpful to have written the bible verses and issues down on paper so they can look at it later. It also guards against being misquoted. Third, it helps me maintain my focus. In these kinds of talks with sisters, since women are emotional, we tend to stray to the emotional side of the conversation. Having the verses written down helps keep the focus on Jesus. It is the Word that changes minds, not our tears, and not our persuasion.
If you are considering approaching a sister who has strayed into false territory in lockstep with a false teacher, I encourage you to read the Bible.org link above, and to pray. Ultimately the battle is the Lord's and the battle is spiritual. The dear sister we wish to approach is not the enemy but the spirit behind her favored book or curriculum is the enemy.
As you pray, the Lord will open your mind as to what He wants you to do in any given situation. And don’t be startled if the person gets huffy or angry. The more genuine a sister is, the more they may get embarrassed thinking that they have been spotted doing something wrong by carrying this book or touting that teacher, because they truly love the Lord. If they do indeed truly love the Lord, they will calm down and thank you for it later.
If they don’t, then you have a clean conscience before Jesus because you tried. Continuing to pray for them will help soften any disharmony in your own heart you may feel after the encounter. :)
Responding with Grace: When Emotionalism Trumps Discernment
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