I may be stepping into a great big pile of…well…trouble. The SBC has a lot of critics, from those who love the SBC but have a few small areas of critique to those who think the denomination is dying, even some who seem to think that would be a boon to the Kingdom! Some have been productive and measured in their criticisms. Others, in my opinion, have been overly harsh, heaping condemnation on our convention.
But what I would like to do today is to give some criticism to the critics. More to the point, I want to challenge critics of the SBC to filter their criticism through a biblical lens and be careful that what they say and the criticisms they make are done in a way that honors God, advances the Kingdom and is in line with God’s Word.
What I am NOT Saying
1) I am NOT saying (not…not…not) that all criticism is ungodly or out of bounds. My remarks on the topic have been consistently interpreted to say such (and maybe I have been unclear). There is a time to confront, a time to rebuke and a time to criticize (hold accountable – whatever term you use). There is a place for that criticism to be appropriately lodged. But that criticism must also be filtered through a biblical, spiritual process to make sure that criticism is godly and helpful, not destructive.
2) I am NOT trying to put myself in the place of the Holy Spirit or be any man’s judge. That is why I will not name names or be more specific, though friends have said I should. I have an opinion about a few of the louder voices of criticism within the SBC, but it is not my right or duty to say, “A is okay, and so is B, but C, D, and E are out of bounds. I am going to make a case and each person has the choice to accept my perspective and advice or reject it. I am asking that each of us engage in self-evaluation, so for me to pass out grades would be contrary to my purpose.
3) I am NOT trying to squelch criticism. It would be unhealthy to the SBC (in my, perhaps self-serving, opinion) if bloggers and others stopped criticizing the SBC entirely. Much good has been accomplished in opening up the entities of the SBC by the fact that people can speak publicly when they do not agree with actions our leaders take. I have written dozens of articles criticizing leaders, though now I wish that I could reconsider or rewrite some of them. Alas…
I am not calling for an end to criticism, but I am saying that all of us who make criticisms need to to check our actions and attitudes according to the Word of God. Those who defend the Bible, who claim to be promoting truth and doctrinal accountability, ought to open themselves to accountability to God’s Word.
Frankly, if I am willing to set myself up as a critic of the SBC, ought I not at least be willing to open myself up to the criticism of those I criticize?
Several years ago, I wrote a (devastatingly insightful, powerfully argued?) post about one of our entities. I sent it to a VP at one of the entities, to tell him, “I’m posting this soon.” He confronted me. He said he thought that some of the force of my post came from personal feelings toward the entity head. You know what, he was right! I was mad. I still think that most of the things I said were true, but I trashed the article because I realized that my own motives and intents were wrong. I was not confronting from a pure heart.
I only wish I’d had someone to challenge me before I posted several others I’ve put up over the years.
My point is not that we ought never criticize or rebuke, but that we ought to be very careful when and how we do that, that we ought to judge our own motives and be careful that God is honored and the Kingdom is advanced.
So, if you feel you must, then lodge your criticism. Speak your mind. Have your say. But I would point to some truths from God’s Word that I would ask you to consider before you do it, or at least as you are doing it.
A Plea to the Critics
1) Our rebuke and correction must be kept in NT proportion.
The fact is that the church leaders in the NT did rebuke sin and call people to account. But these are relatively rare situations. They spent far more time feeding the sheep than hunting the wolves. If all you do is kill the weeds in your lawn, it won’t grow. You need a lot of fertilizer and a little weed-killer. I’m convinced that too often, we reverse that proportion.
Try an experiment. Get a couple of those Bible-marking pens and a New Testament. In honor of my brother, a lifelong Oakland A’s fan, get a green pen and a yellow one. Every time you find a verse in the NT epistles (or the gospels, as well) that advocates church discipline, rebuke of false teachers, or calls someone out by name – mark it in yellow. As you read, also mark, with green, every time there is an admonition to love, unity, humility, gentleness, forgiveness, reconciliation, and such, mark it in green.
When you are done, your NT will look like a forest with a few yellow flowers.
That means that our Lord is concerned with doctrinal accountability and truth and such, but that he seems to be MUCH MORE concerned about the unity of the Body of Christ.
If you must criticize, make sure it is a small part of your ministry, not the focus of it.
2) Our rebuke and correction must be done to promote love and restoration, not condemnation.
Of course, every person who ever lodges a criticism says (and perhaps honestly believes) that he or she is doing so out of love and concern for the sinner. Only God knows the heart, but I have doubts about the love demonstrated in some of the criticisms I have read. Again, I’m no man’s judge. But I would appeal to the criticizers to examine their hearts and see how often the criticism truly comes from a heart of love.
Look at Galatians 6:1.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Rebuke is designed to restore in a spirit of love, for the good of the person whom you rebuke. We rebuke not to “get it off my chest” or to “settle a score” but to restore the other and to build the Kingdom.
Only the critic himself, with a Bible and the Holy Spirit, can answer this question:
Is your criticism truly coming from a heart of love, a desire to build up and edify?
3) Our rebuke and correction must evidence the Fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the flesh.
Galatians 5 distinguishes between those things which mark the work of the flesh (sinful nature – whatever term you wish to use) and the Fruit of the Spirit – the behaviors that the Spirit of God builds into those in whom he dwells.
Galatians 5:19 says that the works of the flesh are “evident” – all too common and noticeable in our lives. Among those fleshly works are:
“…enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy.”
He then contrasts the all-too-evident work of the sinful flesh to the internal work of the Spirit and the behavior changes it produces. In Galatians 5:22-23, this Fruit is delineated:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Read the two lists, honestly and openly, and ask yourself this question: Is the criticism I am lodging more a product of the first list or the second? Am I evidencing love, joy, peace, patience and kindness, or strife, jealousy, anger, rivalries and dissensions?
Again, this is a question each of us must answer before God.
Do my criticisms give more evidence of the works of the flesh or of the Fruit of the Spirit?
4) All Rebuke and Correction must be done in God’s love.
Love can be an overused, misunderstood and even abused concept. One frequent commenter at this site repeatedly questions our love as a people because we believe that there is only one way to God. We are painted as arrogant, cruel and unloving because we believe that those who do not repent and put their faith in Christ face eternal hell. Many call us unloving because we call sin sin. Obviously, both the concept of love and the application of that concept are prone to misinterpretation.
But God clearly defines love in Romans 5:8. While we were sinners, unworthy, wicked, and undeserving, God sent his Son to pay for our sins. Love is selfless action for the benefit of others – self-sacrifice serving others. We are told to walk in love as Christ did.
So, love means that we always act for the good of others, not our own. Defining that would be difficult if 1 Corinthians 13 did not do so clearly.
The passage begins with a statement on the importance of love.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
If my words, either in my pulpit or by my pen, pour out strong words of truth, with powerful rhetoric, but do not evidence love, there is no effect. They count for nothing!
Then, Paul gives, in verses 4-8, the definitions of love – practical, real-life definitions.
I will confess this. As I look back at 8 or 9 years of blogging, it saddens me to think how often I have failed to live up to these words, how often I’ve displayed the flesh instead of the Spirit, how often I’ve walked in selfishness instead of imitating the love of Christ, how often I’ve been impatient, angry, vindictive.
I think if we are honest, we will see how often we all fail this noble standard. But our general failure does not negate our responsibility to that standard.
Two Things Love Always Is
- Love is patient – this word means to put up with the faults and failings of others. People who walk in love do not act as prosecutors, seeing the worst in others and magnifying their faults. No, they are patient, enduring wrongs
- Love is kind – this is the flipside of patience. Instead of striking back against those who hurt you or insult you, you respond in kindness – seeking to be a blessing to the one who has offended you.
Note that there is no limit to love. “I was nice the first 7 times you offended me, but now you’ve gone too far.” Love (as we will see later) keeps on loving, and being patient and kind.
Eight Things Love Never Is
- Love is not envious – it is not jealous of the blessings God gives others.
- Love is not boastful – brag, pump oneself up. There are few things more contrary to the love of Christ than self-centeredness.
- Love is not arrogant – puffed up with one’s own self-importance. More concerned with my ego than God’s glory.
- Love is not rude – one who loves cares how his words and actions affect others, attempts not to hurt or injure with them.
- Love is not selfish (does not insist on its own way) – in many ways, a summary. When I am walking in love, I don’t have to win the argument or get my way.
- Love is not irritable – this word means many things, but it seems here to have the idea of easily provoked, a quick fuse. When we are operating in love, we are not quick to take offense.
- Love is not resentful – this is the BIGGIE, folks. Literally, this says, “love does not record the wrong” or “love does not regard the wrong.” That is why several translations go with some version of “love does not keep a record of wrongs. Do you have a long list of grudges going back weeks, months or years that affect the way you deal with others?
Unfortunately, the internet is an aid to record-keeping on this matter. You can keep a record of every word anyone has ever said to you online. But the Bible specifically commands us not to keep records of wrongs. We are called to live in grace, to love in spite of faults, to bear with one another and love sinners, as Christ did. You cannot do both! You cannot keep records of wrongs and walk in love. They are inimical.
- Finally, love is not happy when sin wins out. It is not weak-kneed or tolerant of evil. The truest form of love is the proclamation of gospel truth, and it rejoices when the gospel is proclaim and when souls are won to Christ.
Four Things Love ALWAYS Does
Verse 7 is powerful. God’s love seeks us and pursues us when we do not deserve it, when we have not earned it; no more than that, when we have rejected God and run from his grace. But his love is stronger than our sin.
When we live in love, we must remember that, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” How much sin, mistreatment, insult and injury does love bear? Not a little or a lot. ALL THINGS. Love believes that God by his Holy Spirit can produce fruit of repentance and restoration in others. Love trust the Holy Spirit to do his job and just keeps believing that the process will continue. Love hopes in God and looks to eternal things, not just the things of this world. And love endures unbelievable wrong, injury and pain to accomplish that.
Wow, I am bad at love! I tend to resent all things, lose faith, lose hope and give up. But that is the flesh, not the Spirit. But that does not free me from my responsibility to continue to seek love and to let God’s love govern my actions.
One Thing Love NEVER Does
Love never fails. It never ends. It is permanent. It doesn’t quit, give up, or throw in the towel.
How many times have I failed since I was saved 50 years ago? How many times has God given up on me? I’m not sure of the first number, but the second is ZERO! He doesn’t quit, he doesn’t consign us to the flame, he doesn’t despair of us. Since he completes what he starts, we are secure in Christ.
If I am walking in love, then I don’t give up on God’s people either. I offer a rebuke in love, but I may not act as if those for whom Christ died are beyond hope or help. That is not love.
Remember, when you are feeling you must critique, rebuke, criticize and correct, do so in love, because the greatest of these is love!
A Closing Thought
For the past few years, I’ve watched American Idol. I blame my daughter, who got me hooked on it. But I noticed something after Simon Cowell left the show. The singers got better! Simon was often vicious and cruel to those who performed. My son, a musician, defended the truth of what Simon said. But the problem was not with the truth he spoke, but the effect. He tore people down. After he left, the talent has gotten better. The new judges, much more encouraging (and at times, bizarre!) seem to have brought the best out of the singers.
Criticism is helpful to God’s people and to Christian entities. But we must be sure to be constructive, godly, and loving in all we do. We need so Southern Baptist Simons telling people that they are the “worst I’ve ever heard.” We need accuracy in confrontation of sin, but we also need to be careful not to violate the calls of the Scriptures we seek to defend.
There is only one reason that any of us should ever use pulpit, pen, or keyboard. It is to influence people toward Christ. We preach the gospel so sinners can repent and we speak truth so that our brothers and sisters in Christ will draw near to him and grow in grace and knowledge. Ultimately, when we criticize wrongly, our criticism will have no effect. It will not produce godly change. It will have no fruit. Only when we operate God’s way do we actually accomplish God’s work.
So, I appeal to the SBC’s critics (and in many ways, I am one of them) – go for it. But do so within the boundaries of Scripture you defend. Walk (and talk) in the Spirit not the flesh. Let love govern all your actions. Spend more time building up the body than fighting the disease in it. Fight the wolves, if you much, but be careful you do not injure the sheep in the process.