I'm going to ramble here for a while, hopefully it will make sense :-) Please know that at times I was writing with a lump forming in my throat.
I have been very conscious of the concern about offensive speaking styles since my teens. My dad was an exasperating person, but I loved him anyway. He was diagnosed with Leukemia (CLL) when I was 12. God through his word tells me I should honor him, and I felt a great burden to do so, because I knew he wasn't going to be around forever. He was very Scripturally wise, (even though he was somewhat Arminian) but he often thought the worst of me and my motives. But he was the one who taught me to compare all things to Scripture. Even though he himself did that, we of course still ended up locking horns. He was pessimistic and suffered from depression, always saw the bad things coming long before they got there, and would be quietly anxious about those 'approaching horsemen' all the time. Mostly he was worried his girls would depart from the faith. For the most part I have little assurance that any of his other children are interested in the real Jesus. Two seemed like it, until I really started waking up and smelling the coffee about false converts these last 6-8 years. I hope I'm wrong about that, but as I said, I have little assurance as of now.
I share Dad's "gift" of cynicism; I guess it's his legacy. sigh. But when I first got on the net back in 1995, it was a real learning experience to think you could speak your opinions freely without getting slapped. I used to get chewed out for just having a differing opinion on dog care/training, let alone being a conservative Christian. This struck me as ridiculous, of course, but at the same time I would go into a depressed funk for days, sometimes weeks, after someone flamed me for having an opinion.
I'd already spent years really analyzing what I was saying and trying to make sure it was the message and not me that offended most of the time. And still people were flying off the handle at me.
I still think that sarcasm is a useful tool and should not be considered off limits. Even Jesus used it. (oh, come now, a LOG in someone's eye? People who 'sound a trumpet' before their good deeds?) People who regularly use sarcasm and personal attacks are the first to cry foul when they run across someone trying to correct their unscriptural doctrine. Such is life.
It was during our sojourn into the Evangelical Covenant denomination that I really focused on trying the "Minnesota nice" thing (e.g. if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all... or say "Hmmm interesting!"). After 6 years, coupled with health issues and constant pain and pain killers, I was so depressed from running the Christian rat wheel, I could hardly make myself get out of bed. I kept thinking something was wrong at church but couldn't put my finger on it. Discussions with like minded friends at church led to someone bringing up the fact that pastor Todd is all gung ho about this Purpose Driven Church thing... but "It doesn't sound right" (something along those lines). I inquired further and found that Todd was requiring all council members to read that book, but one new one refused, saying she knew three churches that that book broke up in her hometown.
That was like throwing a ball in front of a dog and expecting him not to chase it (well, most dogs anyway). I took the book home from the church library and was appalled reading it. And the rest is history. The odd thing is the same lady who REFUSED to read the book, ended up just as much an instrument of the Purpose Driven church as someone who read the book and agreed with it.
It doesn't matter if you read the book, all they want is for you to comply with the program, so you may as well read it and decide if you're pro or con, rather than risk being duped into following an unBiblical program. Which this lady did wholeheartedly. She considered it the council's job to protect the pastor, and said so in so many words to a friend of mine (still stuck there) after we left. She also remarked on how she thought I was about to "lose it" because I trembled through every council meeting with them, though I never raised my voice. A few weeks later I went to a defense of marriage rally with Michele Bachmann and some people who were pro-gay-marriage stood up and started to rant, and I found myself similarly trembling. For whatever that's worth.
In the process of this whole "church discipline" process, I really started to better understand GRACE and what an eye opener that was. My husband has always shown me much grace. He through all of this has been almost a 'Mr Spock' sort of infuriatingly level headed, teaching me how to debate as best he can with such an overly emotional learner.
But what really highlighted grace for me was seeing it withheld from me (along with others for the same reasons) due to my perceived 'bad behavior' because I disagreed with the pastor. On the other hand, those who played along with the pastor's program got plenty of 'grace,' even though their behavior was blatantly sinful. Other people jumped down the throats of those who were trying to keep things Biblical, and that was ok, but quietly voicing Scriptural concerns over teachings that were veering off track got you the cold shoulder or outright shunned.
Still, through the incredibly hurtful trial that was, God, primarily through Bob DeWaay's and White Horse Inn's excellent teaching back then, (WHI was going through ROMANS! woot!!), was causing me to learn about hisgrace in an even deeper way than I had ever before understood. Not this cheap fleeting human acceptance/relationship stuff that the Purpose Driven Church baits and switches people with, dangling it in front of you like a carrot in order to obtain your cooperation in their grand vision.
It is very hard to describe how you can be trembling with emotion and anxiety and grief on your way to a church discipline meeting, knowing in your heart that you cannot comply with their demands, while at the same time you know the Lord is there right beside you. Through the Scriptures hidden in your heart, he isgiving you underlying peace and certainty in your mind about the whole thing, to where you could almost hear him saying "well done my good and faithful servant" and at the same time knowing you have done ANYTHING but a good job at it.
Back to the 'tone of voice' used in writing. In the course of this, their 'main' problem with what I said was with how I said it. But when I offered to apologize to pastor Todd for my tone, but that the issues raised still needed to be dealt with, I got no response. I figured then that their issue was not actually with my 'tone,' but they just did not want to actually SAY what their real problem with me was, because "we don't think anyone should ask our pastor to be more Biblical" would sound bad for a church to say.
One little gem that was reported back to me after some of my friends went to ask questions of the leadership about why so many of us left, especially why we were effectively forced out (the others left voluntarily in protest, which was a little gratifying): Pastor Todd said "well SHE wants truth at all costs!"
I think I laughed out loud. I felt strangely victorious on hearing that.
So, I have been beaten over the head with the complaints about my 'harsh tone' so many times that I don't know what to think anymore when I get it from someone. Maybe that's my blind spot, I don't know. I'm sure plenty of people will say "it sure is!" But oh well. When I get that from someone it kind of sounds to me like the adults in the Peanuts cartoons. I see so many differing standards of niceness, so many of them have nothing to do with Scripture. I see the popularity of someone like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter.... and think well, then, why do people have a problem with *me*? I don't sound nearly as in-your-face as them. And they get paid big money for their words. Yes, I know, they have their detractors too, but generally it's the LIBERALS that go after them. Hmmm.... could be a pattern here.
So... I got to the point where I said I can't figure out how to please people, that I should just work to make my speech as pleasing to God as I can, which means that it expresses his truth as clearly and effectively as I can. This does not mean always being dry and academic, so as to not offend...because one's passion is often lost in that sort of writing. And passion and depth of conviction is very important in Biblical exhortation too. It doesn't mean writing ambiguously so that a wide swath of worldviews can assent to what I write. It doesn't mean stroking anyone's ego. But write so that the truth of the Gospel is clearly held up in stark contrast to the issue being raised against it. That Gospel, is the only hope for sinners like me, and sinners like you, and like each of your hearers/readers: those weighed down with sin, who know they deserve God's just wrath against their sin, and know they have no hope of escaping it without Christ's righteousness imputed to him through his blood shed on their behalf, to take away their sins, and his being raised from the dead on the third day, just as he said he would.
Again I think this little "Battle quote" often mistakenly attributed to Luther fits in:
“If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.”
In the case where you are speaking to a group that is in error (as is the case with 'discernment' sorts of writings), or for example, speaking in a venue where all the other speakers are in error (like in Ray Comfort's speaking at the Inspiring Excellence Word Faith conference that Ken Silva and Ingrid Schlueter tried to warn him against) -- if when you are done, the people who hold to this error are both 1. not repenting of their error and 2. still happy with you, you have not been clear or pointed enough. You may have presented the gospel, but not in clear enough terms to mark it out as 'different' from the false teaching surrounding you. The goal, when invited to a heretic's venue to speak, is to be clear enough in presenting Christ Crucified for our sins, and contrasting that one saving truth with the heretic's false teaching, as to not get asked back.
But oh, dear Christians, it is not to punish the heretic, or to make ourselves look better. In my heart of hearts, what I truly long for is the repentance of the false teacher, so that they too may come to understand grace, that their souls may be spared eternal suffering, that God may be glorified in their merciful salvation rather than their just condemnation, and that they may know the true freedom with which Christ blesses his flock!
Understanding the Role of the Pastor: Called to Proclaim the Word - Ezekiel 2:1-5 says, “And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2 And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me an...