Criticizing the Church

Christians have received their fair share of criticism throughout the history of the church. Some of that criticism has been well deserved and much needed. That’s true whether it’s come from outside the church or, prophetically from within. Reproof and correction is two-thirds of the word of God if you consider 2 Timothy 3:16’s formulation that Scripture is for teaching, reproof, and correction. All three are needed if we are to receive the “training in righteousness” of which the same verse speaks. As Proverbs 6:23 says: “For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (ESV) Christians should not only expect reproof and

The Prophet Jeremiah

correction, we should desire and love it. The truly wise certainly will.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. ~ Proverbs 12:1

Not all criticism is equal though. Constructive criticism is good; but not all criticism is constructive. Some criticism of the church is indeed godly and prophetic. The reproof from Jesus himself in Revelation chapter 2 and 3 come to mind. Other criticism aimed at the church in general or at individual Christians in particular, however, is not intended to bring life, and it is not of God. The devil, which literally means “the one who slanders,” specializes in criticism himself. Another name for the evil one from the Hebrew is Satan. Satan means the adversary or “the accuser.” The criticism of the devil is anything, but constructive. To slander is to direct false and damaging accusations against someone. It is to bear false witness. Of this the evil one is the master and that in more ways than one.

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. ~ Revelation 12:9-11

Satan uses criticism to stir up hostility against Christians and to pressure the church to conform to the ways of the world. Much of the positive change that has taken place in the history of the church has been in response to godly prophetic criticism. We would call this transformation more into the image of God by the renewal of the mind. Not all change, however, is for the better. A lot of change in the church has been in response to slander. The result has been conformity with the fallen world, which is still under the sway of the devil. If we change too hastily in response to criticism we just might find ourselves dancing with the devil rather than walking with the Lord. Some of the bad criticism has come from people outside the church; lately much of it has come from within. Interestingly, Robert Louis Wilken, in his book, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, notes how Enlightenment arguments against orthodoxy, much of which comes from “critics” within the church, in many ways mirrors—sometimes uncannily—the arguments of pagans against the church in the ancient Roman Empire.

Wisdom is knowing the difference between genuinely prophetic godly criticism in which there is life, the life of God, and criticism that is ultimately destructive and leads to death. One will lead us on a hard, narrow path to life; the other on a wide, easy path that leads to destruction. May God give us discernment to know the difference and courage to take the right path.

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