A blog post has been rumbling around in my mind for many months now. Last year a well-known Christian figure stated on television that if your spouse got Alzheimer’s disease, it was okay to divorce them because it was as if they were already dead. This set off a fury of response, and rightly so. Many Christian leaders appropriately spoke out in disagreement. Yet, I also noted that some Christians said it was wrong to criticize. “Judge not” was the cry, and they said it was not right to criticize or disagree with Pat Robertson.
Indeed, I find that this is a common attitude among believers and unbelievers alike in our world today. In fact, I’d say that the most known and memorized Bible verse is likely “Judge not, lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1) – perhaps even more known that John 3:16! But it seems to me that this concept of “not judging” has been taken way out of context, misunderstood, and wrongly applied.
Different types of judgment come to my mind…such as moral judgments. Non-believers often take issue with Christians speaking out on hot-button issues such as abortion or homosexuality. But there is also judgment regarding theological teachings. Within Christian circles, there are some believers who seem to think it is never appropriate for one Christian to critique another Christian’s theological approach, book, blog post, sermon, etc. “We all just need to get along and be unified! Maybe you don’t like it, but it might really help someone else…so stop criticizing!”
While it is true that Christian unity is important, does that mean we can never speak out in concern? I’d actually say that critique is sometimes necessary precisely to keep unity! All kinds of unchecked aberrant teachings will bring chaos and ultimately disunity.
And we all need to be humble enough to accept critique from those with different views. Every view point has a weakness and we are often blind to the weakness of our own view. But those with the opposite viewpoint can usually see our weakness like a bright glaring light! We need this critique in order to grow spiritually. We need to learn to listen, even if we still disagree with them on other things.
Here are some questions we might want to ask ourselves:
1. Do we spend as much time examining ourselves as examining others? Please take a look at Matthew 7:1-5. It often seems like the only point that people draw out of these verses is “don’t judge others.” They read verse one, and stop. They don’t keep reading. Read all the verses.Verse 5 actually says we should judge others! – “then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” However, to “see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”, means we must first pay attention to our own sin. Note verses 3 and 4. You can’t help others unless you first look thoroughly at your own life and deal with your own sins without excuses, rationalization, or evasion! When we have been humbled by our own sinful condition, only then are we in a position to help others face their sins too. I think perhaps the main point of these verses is that:
As the Christian grows in grace, he or she should become more severe in their judgment of themselves, and more lenient in their judgment of others.
So…how are we doing in this regard? Are we critiquing others all the time and failing to critique ourselves? Do we let ourselves off the hook, but never let another off the hook? We somehow, very sadly, seem to get the above quote reversed! We become more severe in our judgment of others, and more lenient with ourselves! “Grace for me…justice for you!” – This is the terrible hypocrisy that non-believers detest in Christians.
2. What is the underlying attitude or purpose behind our critique? Please take a look at Ephesians 4:14-15. Clearly there is false teaching out there. Many other similar scriptural references could be given. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said:
Indeed it might almost be said that the New Testament came into being in order to warn Christian people to beware of the terrible ever-present danger of being led astray by false teaching concerning our Lord Himself and His great salvation.
Note that verse 15 states that we need to speak out in love. We are to speak out! In love. I think that is the key. What is our motive? Is it genuine concern that Christianity is being misrepresented? Is it loving concern that a teaching might lead down a wrong path? Or…do we just like to criticize? Do we think we are always right? Do we have a chip on our shoulder?
Another question we might ask ourselves is: Are we instructively critical or destructively critical? Are we able to point out positives as well as negatives? Are we speaking out in hopes of it being improved, or do we just want to see it torn apart?
We might want to step back and look at our track record. The Bible also has many verses stating that we are to focus on things that are right and virtuous, and encourage each other in the faith. There are times to critique or judge, but there are also times to be positive! Are we balanced? Or are we always on a witch hunt, sniffing out falsehood wherever it may be found? Unity does not mean uniformity, and there is certainly room for differing views on non-essential issues within the faith. We need wisdom, and it is not necessary to speak out on everything we might disagree with. Somethings should be left alone.
Please know my friends that this post is mostly a speech to myself, but maybe it can help you too. I believe I have the gift of discernment. We need people with this gift in the church…people who are able to more clearly or easily distinguish between truth and error. Yet, it can be all to easy to confuse the gift of discernment for the gift of ripping people to shreds! Discernment can deteriorate into a critical and proud spirit. And then this gift is no longer a help, but a detriment to the faith.