I have said it before: gossip is a “respectable sin” among Reformed Christians. The Christian world, and perhaps especially the Reformed Christian world, is absolutely chockablock with gossip. From the pulpit to the pew, from the conference green room to the conference hallways, gossip is rampant. It is whispered in the name of important information and blogged in the name of discernment—both ways of dressing it up in respectable apparel. But if it isn’t true and it isn’t edifying and it isn’t necessary, it is gossip. Truly, gossip may be the besetting sin of this movement and a major contributor to her current or coming collapse.(1)
I don’t want to make it sound as if I am immune to this sin or that I’ve never participated in it. In fact, recent experiences in my life have shown how quick I am to initiate conversations that soon tip into gossip and how slow I am to redirect conversations initiated by others that also dwell on what is little better than tittle-tattle. I write to myself as much as anyone else.
If you love the Reformed faith, which is to say, if you value Reformed doctrine, then I offer this exhortation: Make it your goal to talk about Jesus, not celebrities. Make it your goal to tell about the perfections of the Savior more than the failures of the famous. Make it your goal to describe what God has done, not what Christian personalities have failed to do.
This is not to say that there are no circumstances in which it is appropriate to discuss current events and even the foibles and failures of those people who rise and fall within this corner of the Christian world. Sometimes such conversations can be good and necessary, provided they are carried out within the bounds of Christian character and that they go no further than the established facts. Paul named names when appropriate and I’m sure he sometimes gathered his protégés around himself to discuss what had gone wrong with Demas or Hymenaeus or Alexander and what they could learn from those who had first followed and then fallen away.
But a moment’s introspection should show that the great majority of our conversations about people are neither helpful nor edifying, neither concerned with truth nor spoken in love. The great majority of our conversations that revolve around those who have stumbled or fallen are speculative at best and slanderous at worst. The great majority of what has come from our lips and what has come to our ears is unnecessary and unprofitable. I am certain this is true of you because it’s true of me and true even of so many of the people we look up to. (Trust me—I’ve been around our heroes and I can attest from personal experience that they are as prone to this as any of us.)
I have often wished I could remove from my mind all the evil things I have heard about others—things that were whispered in my ear at a conference or delivered as a message into my inbox, but things I now associate with those individuals. I have often wished that person hadn’t told me, “I know his wife and she says he has an anger problem,” or “I spent time at her house and you should see the size of it.” I have often wished I could obliterate all those pieces of information that could be true or untrue, accurate or pure fiction. I have often wished I had asked that person to just stop, that I had had the strength of character to resist hearing it. And, of course, I have often wished that I myself had only ever spoken what was true, what was necessary, what was genuinely meant to serve Christ’s cause.
Though this movement was once defined by its doctrine, I fear it is increasingly defined by its celebrities. So now, rather than aligning with truth we align with people. This being the case, to participate in Reformed Christianity is to discuss personalities rather than theology. Need proof? When was the last time you had a conversation about the five points? But on the other hand, when was the last time you spoke about that guy who was accused of that transgression? When was the last time you marveled about the facts of the five solas? But then when was the last time you speculated about that pastor who has fallen under his church’s discipline? This kind of gossip is a blight on our theological tradition and a reason many abandon it. There are many who reject Reformed theology not because of its doctrines but because of its adherents—because of you and me and the way we blather on about people, people, people.
We will be a blessing to the church if instead of spending our time discussing the failures of celebrities we spend it going deeper into those precious truths that undergird it. We will be a blessing to the world around us if instead of obsessing about people we fix our hearts on Christ. So take this as my call to you and to me and to all of us: Let’s stop the gossip. Let’s stop the gossip and instead make it our delight to speak about who our God is and about what our God has done.