I know it’s popular in our time to voice our grievances about everything that we do not like. We have all become increasingly critical of one another and everything. This hypercritical attitude has made its way into the church and how we view the body of Christ. Every generation seems to have developed a smug intellectual spirit that assumes it knows more or understands things better than those who went before. This cannot always be true though.
Some say that we need more doctrine and we need to stick to the old paths. Others say that we are too heavy on doctrine and do not care enough about people and loving our neighbor. Still, others say that we are not speaking out enough in the social arena and against social discrimination of various sorts. While there is merit in these claims, we should be careful that we do not become overly critical of another man’s bride (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25). The church can always improve, but there are a few reasons why we should be slow to criticize her as often as we sometimes do.
Outsiders Are Looking
Paul told the Corinthians they needed to be careful not to bring their civil disagreements before the unbelievers (1 Cor. 6). The Corinthians enjoyed an exalted state in Christ and had no business arguing like lunatics before non-Christians. While the circumstances may be different, the principle is the same. When we argue about how bad we are doing in practicing New Testament Christianity before unbelievers, they may reason that we are all crazy and confused and want nothing to do with us.
When God was going to destroy the Israelites for disobedience, Moses appealed to the reputation of God before the Egyptians and Canaanites as a reason why he should refrain (Ex. 32:11-14, Num. 14:15-20). Paul continually encouraged Christians not to do things that would have the Lord’s name spoken against (1 Tim. 6:1; Tit. 2:3-5). While criticism can be constructive, we should not forget it can also be destructive and it can hurt our influence with those we want to convert.
We Appear Self-Righteous
To assume that we have found all the blemishes in the church and can fix all of her perceived problems in this generation is to put too much confidence in ourselves. Knowledge truly does puff us up (1 Cor. 8:1). As we see areas of fault or blind spots we need to point those out, but it would be nice to focus more on what the church is doing right. Though Paul had much to correct the Corinthians about, he was sure to acknowledge their areas of obedience and faithfulness (1 Cor. 1:3-7, 11:2). It is arrogant to assume that everyone has viewed countless Bible passages wrong for centuries until our “enlightened” age has come along (see Job 12:2).
Most criticism comes from a heart that wants to see the church be all that she can be and this is commendable. However, too much criticism will discourage people from doing anything at all lest they fall under the same condemnation as those before them. The Pharisees became experts in how every Jew was wrong about the law and they eventually became stagnate in their obedience (Mt. 23:1-4).
Paul told Timothy to reprove and rebuke, but also to encourage (2 Tim. 4:2). So many are doing their best to follow the New Testament and live pleasing to God and when all they hear is that they need more doctrine or more devotion, or the church is too silent in the cause of social injustice, they will think they never do anything right. God’s commands are not a burden and we can please him, Christians need to hear this message (1 Jn. 5:3).
As Christians, we need encouragement daily or else sin will harden our hearts (Heb. 3:12-13). Yes, Paul, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others challenged and rebuked God’s people for their error but this was always after they had been encouraged, uplifted and given countless chances to make corrections (2 Cor. 12:3).
Paul often used the sandwich method in his writing. He would begin a letter with praise for a faithful church, rebuke or make recommendations in the middle, and then end the letter with praise in the expectation that what he has said will be done. We could learn a lot from this. Jesus challenges the churches in the book of Revelation, but he is sure to point out the good in each congregation and encourage them to overcome. This is how it should be done today. We talk a lot about balance but we all struggle to show it.
No One Will Listen Before Long
Maybe most of the criticism levied against the church is rightfully deserved, but if that is all we are known for we will eventually be tuned out. This is true in many areas of life. The boss that only sees what employees do wrong soon loses respect. The coach that only points out mistakes as he breaks down film soon loses the ears of those he is coaching. Maybe the congregation where you are a member is not perfect (welcome to the club), but if the only time you speak up is when you speak against something, people will not listen after a while.
Timothy was encouraged not to be quarrelsome. He should contend for the faith without constantly being contentious (2 Tim. 2:24-26). If we want to be heard and actually make a difference when we speak out against blind spots in the church we should not make it our hobby horse.
There Will Always Be Problems
The church is perfect on the divine side but the human side will always have problems (1 Jn. 1:8, 10). This does not mean we should throw up our hands and cease our efforts to be all we can be, that would not please God (Phil. 3:13-14). However, we must realize that the church will always have weaknesses as long as human beings are involved and live in a fallen world.
Jesus thought enough of the church to give his life for her, we should have a high view of her as well. Someone may get the impression that we are not happy to be Christians if all we ever do is criticize the body of people we willingly aligned with. There are things to be corrected—there always will be—but there is much t praise God about while the church is shining her light in all the world.
The church is criticized by outsiders and enemies enough, we should not add to it with unnecessary criticism. It may be cool and trendy to find all the fault with God’s people and plaster it everywhere, but it is not what God wants. We should be careful not to bash the body of Christ before unbelievers, not to appear self-righteous, surrender our balance, and lose our audience. The church is not perfect but her husband is and that’s enough.