Jesus is able to assess the heart, we cannot. This means a good rule of thumb when dealing with others in debate is that we should seek to respond to what they are actually saying, not what their motives or intentions are. Indeed, we should seek to assume the best of others, taking a charitable view of their motives.
So, when I talked about John MacArthur and the sense of “friendly fire” the other day, was I over-stepping the line and starting to assume motives? There is certainly a risk there isn’t there?
What about when Steve Chalke denied Penal Substitution and then moved from there to support same sex marriage and as part of that movement to deny the infallibility of Scripture. Were those who accused him of false teaching crossing the line and taking an uncharitable view of his motives.
What about when a man is seen frequently visiting another woman’s house whilst telling his wife that he is working late? Is it crossing the line to say that it looks as though he is cheating on her?
I would suggest not. You see, in each of those situations we are not actually talking about motives. Steve Chalke’s motives may well have been to make money, court popularity and to devour the flock but that’s not for me to second guess. It is just as likely that he was motivated by a genuine concern to communicate the Gospel to those who find it offensive and to alleviate perceived suffering. Even the man visiting another woman may at least in his own conscience firmly believe that his actions are motivated by love. He may well have started visiting the other woman because he is aware that she is lonely, struggling and needs all sorts of help but he has in fact started to prioritise the relationship with her at the expense both of time and honesty with his wife.
Coming back to the friendly fire question. When we say that this is happening in church, we need to remember that the motives of those carrying it out are not necessary bad motives. There may well be a great desire to seek the purity of the church and the honour of Christ. However, we can comment on the way that it is done. We can’t pronounce judgement on their motives but we can identify which way the guns are pointing!