Choose Your Stick: On Critics of the Church

It has been said that any stick is good enough to hit the church with, and I believe it. If critics are a dime a dozen, then critics of the church are a dime a baker’s dozen. If your church patiently disciples a couple through a difficult marriage, someone who witnesses a less than cordial exchange between them at Walmart will say, “Those Christians…they say they believe in marriage but look at how they treat each other!” On the other hand, if your church ex-communicates a couple because they are mutually adulterous, someone from the community is bound to say, “Those Christians…they’re so judgmental!” Any stick will do to attack the church.

The Congress of Critics

There is a congress of critics who make it their purpose to tear down every good thing that God is doing. I’m thinking here of those critics that I would called Cultural Critics as opposed to those whose criticism is personal in nature. These are the critics who write books about everything the Church is doing wrong, or post memes of how hypocritical Christians are, or make “insightful” applications of curated Scriptures though they themselves refuse to submit to its authority in total. At the popular level are the Richard Dawkins and the Christopher Hitchens types. I ran across a gentleman (term used loosely) who accosted one of our members at a community event and explained why our church was doing everything wrong and how we needed to correct it, even though he had never visited our church and knew nothing about us. It was enough that we were Christians.

Legitimate Criticism

There are useful critics of the church who embody the admonition to “speak the truth in love”. These are critics who have a solid foundation of biblical truth and are also motivated by a desire to edify. They may help us correct course when we are drifting into dangerous waters or they may use their discernment and experience to help develop specific skill sets such as teaching or administration. The 2 key identifying marks of these useful critics are that 1) they are manifestly FOR you, not against you, and 2) they are rooted in Truth (as opposed to theological and cultural fads).

The Cool Kid Fantasy

There is a fundamental misunderstanding in Christendom that persists despite the clear biblical teaching, which is this: the people of God will be criticized by the world for failure to live up to Jesus, or the people of God will be criticized by the world precisely because they do live up to the standard of Jesus. There is no universe in which criticism is avoided. Peter tells the church that it is better to suffer for well doing than for evil doing, but he never suggests that it is possible to NOT suffer.

The egregious error of the cool kids is in thinking that if the church could just, you know, get with it a little bit, then more people would come to church and like us and recognize how truly cool we are. What they don’t realize is that the more the Church pursues Christ-likeness, the more the Church will be attacked by the world. The condemnation is NOT that light came into the world but it just wasn’t quite winsome enough; the condemnation is that men love darkness rather than light. The more the Church incarnates Truth, the less appealing the Church will be to the World.

Having said that, it is vastly preferable and profitable to be persecuted for righteousness sake than to be punished for evil doing. If I may be so bold, it is vastly preferable to be John MacArthur than it is to be Jerry Falwell, Jr. In MacArthur’s case, believers are criticized for acting as though the regularly assembly of the body of Christ is as essential as public protests. In Falwell’s case, believers are mocked for denying the legitimacy of homosexual marriage while engaging in their own sexual escapades. Pick your stick.

There are too many church critics today whose goal is rooted in pragmatism instead of holiness and who judge according to the flesh and not the spirit. If the criticism is rooted in love and aimed at being pleasing to Christ then we may profit from it. But if the critics love the applause that comes from men more than the applause that comes from heaven, we ought not waste too much time on them.

Those who choose to follow the path of Christ and be culturally subversive today reap a reward denied to those who chase the world’s applause. There comes a day of visitation when some, usually not all, will glorify God for your upright testimony. If you walk in the fiery furnace with Christ, something of His glory will remain on you when the trial is over. More on this soon, Lord willing.

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