WARNING: This post is SERIOUSLY offensive. I MEAN SERIOUSLY OFFENSIVE. If you're a sensitive soul, go and watch Veggie Tales with your kids instead.
Steve Chalke, in his thoroughly rubbish book The Lost Message of Jesus ,believes that a distinguishing mark of the Pharisees was their "disempowering and alienating rhetoric" (p43). There is something revealing about Chalke's assessment of the essence of Pharisaical transgression. In short, it's pretty trendy. Doug Wilson, with whom I rarely agree, accurately described Chalke in this respect as a "zeitgeist-meister if ever there was one". In other words, in our ultra-modern super-sensitive culture, one of the biggest sins you can commit is being mean about someone and disparaging their viewpoint. There's nothing worse than making someone else FEEL bad, or FEEL disempowered, by something you say or the way you say it.
So, among many evangelicals, the essence of Christian charity is "being nice". It's about not being mean. You never say anything hard-hitting, especially about one's doctrine. After all it's faith in Jesus that counts, not the theological i's dotted and t's crossed blah blah blah.
In short, that view of love is warped. An ethic like this doesn't stand up in the light of Scripture. For example, God himself uses pretty scathing language when talking about his people. Read the LORD's alienating rhetoric in Ezekiel 23 where he describes his covenant people, Israel and Judah, as a pair of slutty sisters. In verse 8 the LORD says, "You let everyone grope your breasts and shagged any passer by"! "Now come on LORD," says the focus on the family campaigner, "that's pretty extreme language. Sure these people are bad, but your language is a little gratuitous. My mother-in-law was offended and my kids have started cursing as a result."
If you're still reading and you haven't joined the fundamentalists burning effigies of me, we also see a similar brand of alienating rhetoric from God's servants. We read in 1 Kings 18:27 of Elijah mocking the priests of Baal saying, "I thought Baal was a god? Why can't he hear you? Maybe he's taking a dump?" "Now hold it there Elijah," says the evangelical, "maybe if you witnessed to these guys and showed a bit of love you might win them for YHWH? Try giving them a tract." "Nah," replies Elijah, "think I'll just call on fire from YHWH and then go medieval on their asses."
"Ah," says the pastor in a cute lemon tank top, "that was the OT. The NT is a lot more full of love and grace." Well Mr. Sensitive Pastor, let me get you in a head-lock and take you to the words of Paul in Galatians. Paul gets so mad with the gospel-gutters he says, "they should go to hell" (1:10), but not before he wishes that they would have a nasty accident and "emasculate themselves" (5:14) in the process of circumcision. Along the way, Paul also gives Peter the razor edge of his gospel sharpened tongue (2:11). "How judgemental! How mean! How could he speak to the pope like this? Peter had been with Jesus since the beginning. Who did this Johnny-come-lately apostle think he was? He was power mad!"
Peter goes on to write a letter describing false prophets metaphorically as "dogs that eat their own puke." (2 Peter 2:20) "Oh Peter, didn't your experience with Paul teach you a little humility? You got it wrong before, you could be wrong now. Show them a little Christian love."
Our blessed Lord Jesus himself, uses the strongest language in describing the Pharisees in Matthew 23. He calls them "hypocrites" (v13), "sons of hell" (v15), "blind idiots" (v17), "filthy inside" (v25), "whitewashed graves" (v27). He even says of the Laodicean Church, saints of God, that he wants to spit them out of his mouth (Rev. 3:16).
So sometimes God and his servants have used shocking language when describing the sins of covenant people and the status of false prophets/teachers. So what am I saying? I'm not condoning vile language for the sake of it (Eph. 5:4). I'm not condoning being mean for meanness sake. What I am saying is that if a servant of God, in zeal for the the name of Christ and the glory of the gospel, and in compassion for His dear church, says words which are wounding, hard, nasty, shocking and mean, perhaps he IS fulfilling God's command to walk in love.
POSTSCRIPT: This is the new, post-rebuke post-repentance sanitised version.