In my 19 years since I returned to Lutheranism, and this time to Confessional Lutheranism, I have pretty much been constantly surrounded by pastors, theology students, and other very devoted laymen. I've been in live discussion groups (as in, actually WITH real people), on email lists, in the blogosphere, and on Facebook. And one question has plagued me the whole dang time:
How come the Eighth Commandment doesn't apply to theological discussion?
I'll break this down into other questions to clarify --
Why is it okay to basically assume that a person is not "solid" until they have proven otherwise?
Since when is it considered perfectly acceptable by some to openly mock someone, just because we don't agree with their doctrine or practice?
Who actually believes that someone will be open to change in their doctrine or practice when they are being ridiculed for what they are doing now? Why should they take guidance from you when you are treating with disdain something that matters very much to them (right nor not)?
If someone shares a quote or an idea over lunch or by email because they think it is interesting or sweet, is it good manners to pick apart the phrasing to show how theologically inadequate the statement is? In the end, even without the best confessionally-correct choice of words, you probably knew what was intended, and so does everyone else; so why cause frustration?
When did orthodoxy stop becoming a journey that we sinners are all traveling toward? When did it become a competition?
When you point out your brother-in-Christ's flaws, Are you really trying to correct him out of love for him? Is it his well-being that you are seeking, or are you seeking to make a good theological point? Are you really the best person to address the issue, or do you think there is a better way to bring about repentance and reform? Are you willing to respectfully walk him through the issue that has drawn your attention, or do you just want to point out the fault and move on?
Don't get me wrong, I know there are certain issues that should be corrected, but there are plenty of statements made by your average Joe that can go either way; and while they may not be phrased quite right, they still don't do any harm. In these situations, it is just more civil to assume that it is meant in the best possible way. After all, most of us don't expect to face the Spanish Inquisition over an "interesting" link on Facebook (NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition).
We also need to be careful because in these discussions, we might completely miss what our brother is saying when our own "issues" get triggered. Sometimes the person is just sharing their love for Jesus and actually didn't intend to bring up the issue of sovereignty or Arminianism at all (as examples).
We are called by Christ to love each other. Jesus bore with a whole lot from His disciples, and only corrected things that were terribly crucial. Really, He ignored a lot of the nonsense, and when He did find need to correct, He generally did so with gentleness. The "Get Behind Me Satan" response is not appropriate just because someone shares an inspirational quote that gets in your craw. Jesus reserved this treatment for Peter's denying the need for the cross.
This is not talking about true theological error. However, before we open our mouths, we should ask ourselves whether or not we are truly being loving, especially in a public forum. We should ask ourselves if this is worth hurting someone's feelings or causing a lot of exasperation. Important theological issues are definitely worth it, because the person's well-being is at stake. But again, it might be better to address the topic privately or even go to the person's pastor for assistance if it is really concerning. If you find yourself getting actual pleasure from it, you probably should walk away, hang up the phone, or turn off your computer.
In the end, when we are discussing the very topic that is most dear to our humanity -- our relationship with our Creator (through Christ), it is important to remember that Christ died for the person that we are arguing with, and it is a pretty safe assumption that in our quest for theological purity, our Lord doesn't want us to forget that.