Christ to Critics- “Stop Attacking My Wife!”
Here’s the thing. Some people are going to read the title of this blog and totally miss the message of this blog. What do I mean? This is what I mean. It is absolutely appropriate to criticize the church. Frankly, we probably don’t criticize the church enough. We are counseled in Ephesians 4:17 to speak the truth in love and that passage is in the context of the church.
But we must not only speak the truth in love, we must speak truth to power. Walter Brueggemann, one of the most prolific theologians in the modern era, reminds us in his book, Truth Speaks to Power, that Jesus was a persistent thorn in the flesh of unethical power brokers inside and outside the church. Church criticism is critical for church development.
But there is a difference between criticism and attack. Frankly, they feel about the same. For most of us the difference between constructive and destructive criticism is pretty clear. Constructive criticism is the criticism you give. Destructive criticism is the criticism you get!
But attacks are more personal and generally counterproductive. They rarely offer a solution and they are often too cowardly for face to face confrontation. Attacks are rarely looking for real answers. In fact, when you offer answers they find more questions. Attacks come from the left and right, from conservatives and liberals.
I don’t have any steps or keys or laws or secrets for addressing church attacks but let me offer some observations for those who are prone to attack.
Observation #1: Examine Your Own Motives
Church attacks often say as much about the attacker as they do the church. Why do you return to this spot over and over? Why is the topic so sensitive to you? Make sure that the church has not become a convenient platform for you to project your own issues. Mad people are often hurt people, and hurt people hurt people. I’m not dismissing valid criticism but attacks are often coming from a damaged place.
Observation #2: The Good Old Days Weren’t All That Good
People who are constantly calling for that “old time religion”, have selective amnesia. The church has always had problems- big problems. And I’m not just referring to your local church or the contemporary church. Just look at the “glory days” of the precious New Testament church.
- The Church at Corinth had so many divisive issues that Paul addressed them in 2 long letters. Members were sleeping around. The worship service was out of control and members were regularly suing each other.
- The Church at Galatia battled over the nature of the law, the role of the law, and freedom of conscience.
- The Church at Ephesus struggled with the nature of the church, the function of church leaders, had problems with domestic relations, and the nature of spiritual warfare.
- The Churches at Colossae and Thessalonica struggled with the nature of Christ-which incidentally was an early issue in the Adventist church. There was confusion about the second Advent and some of the members had retreated to a mountain to wait for Jesus to come!
- The Church at Phillipi had fights at “business meetings” that were so intense that Paul called out the trouble makers by name.
So if you’re looking for a return to the good old days-don’t.
Observation #3: Make Sure You Have The Whole Story
I can’t tell you the number of times my perspective has changed after I’ve heard the whole story. I look at the number of posts online of Christians complaining about how they’ve been mistreated by the church. I’m sure that a large number of them, if not most of them, are true. But I remember the members I’ve pastored over the years who practically lived off of the special assistance of the church but complained to outsiders that the church “never helps members in need.” Really? Get the whole story.
Observation #4: Church Attacks Damage You and Yours
Now this one is fairly obvious. The church is not brick and mortar, the church is you and me. When you unfairly attack the church, you attack yourself. You could be undermining the very hospital you’ll need for your own recovery. And it gets worse. The next generation is watching and listening.
As I said earlier, the church needs more thoughtful criticism. We are paying a steep price for being painfully political or downright unchristian. Some of our conference constituency meetings and decisions by our conference committees have had university classrooms buzzing. But the way we address these church problems can either raise a generation of constructive critics or hopeless cynics.
Observation #5: If You Can Identify A Problem, You Can Probably Identify A Solution
Here is where you see the value of criticism versus the damage of attack. Every great church reformation has begun with criticism. The prophets leveled blistering criticism at Israel. Jesus was not a bit bashful about bashing the religious right. But it was all done with an eye toward reformation. It was done with a clear solution in mind.
And here’s another critical distinction between attack and criticism. Attack generally functions from outside in. Criticism generally functions from inside out. In other words, you are generally in the best position to make lasting change if you’re operating from the inside. If you are a part of the group. Not always, but more often than not.
I hear it all the time in one form or another. “I’m spiritual but I’m not religious.” “ People love Jesus, but they don’t like the church.” Think about it. That’s like you saying to me, “ I love you man, but I frankly can’t stand your wife!” My wife and I have been married for more than 33 years. That statement is not going to go over very well with me.
The Bible makes it clear that Christ loves the church. That Christ is married to the church. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. Even through death. Be careful how you treat His wife.
So what do you think?