Vol. 12 No. 4 April 2010
Neither of the phrases Cranky Christian nor Cranky Christianity is in our Bible translations, but either of them very well could have appeared on the pages of the New Testament. Certainly, there are Cranky Christians, practicing a Cranky Christianity, in the Lord’s church today; they were in the churches of Christ in yesteryears, and regrettably, Cranky Christians and their Cranky Christianity will populate the church in the future, too. By different names and descriptions, Cranky Christians doing a disservice to fellow Christians and non-Christians with Cranky Christianity appear upon the pages of inspiration as well.
Unfortunately, some of the unsavory characteristics present among people outside of the church are brought over into the church by souls, who either make little or no attempt to reform them upon becoming children of God, or despite good intentions initially, fail to surrender this disposition in favor of Christian principles. The disruption of calm and peace among Christians, besides the turn off of Christians and non-Christians, is only compounded by the reluctance of fellow Christians to curb this misbehavior. The proverbial elephant, that everyone gingerly walks around while pretending that it is not really there, ruins the joy of Christians in many congregations. Why?
Surprisingly, Christians who readily recognize most doctrinal error, and refuse to allow it to go unchallenged, fail to recognize divisive behavior as doctrinal error. Hence, divisive behavior is allowed to continue within many congregations of the Lord’s church unchecked in the least. The inevitable division that occurs often is dubbed personality conflicts, and when division occurs, brethren usually assign blame to all parties involved. Then, the cycle continues—misbehavior, hurt to individual Christians and congregations, as well as a sort of excusing of inexcusable behavior. Why? It is past time for Christians and churches to recognize divisive behavior for what it really is, and muster sufficient courage with kindness to address it from a biblical perspective.
The word “doctrine” that appears in our New Testament comes from the same word family, and Greek lexicons (dictionaries) define “doctrine” as “teaching” or “instruction” or “the act of teaching.” Matthew 7:28-29 well illustrates this biblical definition of “doctrine”: “And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” See also these passages where the word “doctrine” appears: Matthew 15:9; Mark 4:2; 7:7; Romans 16:17; Ephesians 4:14; Colossians 2:22; 1 Timothy 1:10; 4:1, 6, 13; 6:1,3; 2 Timothy 3:10, 16; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 10; 2:7; Revelation 2:14-15, 24. The same Greek word family is translated sometimes “teaching” (Romans 12:7) or “learning” (Romans 15:4).
Therefore, something is doctrinal if it is taught in the New Testament. Doctrinal error is anything that is counter to what is taught in the New Testament. Both testaments teach repeatedly about the sin of divisiveness. God hates all sin, but some sins He hates so much that He hates them even more or considers them as abominations (Proverbs 6:16-19); sowing discord or division among brethren is in God’s list of abdominal sins!
Several New Testament passages address division within the body of Christ because divisiveness within the first century church was widespread (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 3:3; 11:18; 12:25; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:15; James 3:16; 4:1-2); four different words appear in verse 20 of “the works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19-21) to amply emphasize the severity of divisive dispositions among Christians. Division among Christians escalated to the extent that they were seeking judgments against each other in courts of law (1 Corinthians 6:1-8).
Brethren, divisiveness is doctrinal error! The Cranky Christian deserves the same degree of attention by fellow, faithful Christians as would be expended upon Christians promoting any other doctrinal error. Cranky Christianity poses no less potential for damage to individual Christians and congregations than other forms of doctrinal error. It is a dereliction of Christian duty and inexcusable for the church to ignore the misbehavior of Cranky Christians; innocent Christians, non-Christians and local churches suffer, and Cranky Christians imperil their own immortal souls. What can faithful Christians do about this ever too frequent misbehavior—yea, what MUST faithful Christians do?
We are not left without a biblical answer to this question. Consider Titus 3:10. Modern readers familiar with the King James Version of the Bible have misconstrued the word “heretic” in Titus 3:10, inadvertently applying a modern definition to it that obscures the true, biblical teaching at that place. More recent translations consistently render that passage in a way that modern readers cannot misunderstand the biblical teaching here. “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11 NKJV). “A factious man after a first and second admonition refuse; knowing that such a one is perverted, and sinneth, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11 ASV).
The answer from God as to what to do with a Cranky Christian is to warn him twice, and if after two warnings he does not correct his misbehavior, he is to be marginalized so that he has no opportunity to continue practicing his Cranky Christianity unimpeded. The Cranky Christian is a sinner, whose sin adversely affects not only himself, but other Christians, the church and non-Christians, too. As such, the Cranky Christian is a candidate for church discipline. The apostle John noted a Cranky Christian in the first century and gave fair warning that he would deal with him (3 John 9-10) upon his arrival. The apostle John is not coming to your congregation, and so local Christians will have to courageously, but kindly (“truth in love” Ephesians 4:15) practice Titus 3:10 themselves.
The eternal welfare of souls depends upon decisive action by faithful Christians respecting Cranky Christians—the soul of the Cranky Christian, the souls of other Christians and the souls of non-Christians, too. Besides this, the wellbeing of the local church is at stake.
*As a sidenote, this article addresses a divisive disposition and not division that God requires of Christians (Ephesians 5:11).