In the last 2000 years, Christians have done more than their fair share of stupid things. From insisting that the sun revolves around the earth, and persecuting those who say otherwise, to boycotting the anti-Christ that is Mickey Mouse, we have certainly made ourselves look silly. And those are only the minor infractions–I am ashamed to look back on the crusades, or the institution of slavery, knowing that Christians endorsed those murderous practices in the name of Jesus. Amidst all of those hypocritical decisions and behaviors, Christians certainly deserve some criticism.
Given this reality, it has become trendy in Christian circles to join in the chorus of mockers. The world wants to know if we recognize our own short-comings, so in an effort to be authentic, Christians are becoming increasingly vocal in their self-criticism.
This is, in some measure, healthy and warranted. We should never be so arrogant as to think that we are perfect. As 1 John 1 reminds us, when we believe we are without sin, then we deceive ourselves. What’s more, we strengthen our credibility when we admit our own faults. After viewing each documentary on the latest corrupt televangelist, my brother will call and ask what I think about it. For me to respond, “I disagree with that preacher. He is clearly in the wrong” assures my non-believing brother that I have not, in fact, been brain-washed, and that there are Christians who can think for themselves and recognize right from wrong.
But what concerns me is that this trend is frequently taken too far. It’s one thing for Lutherans to tell the occasional joke about themselves, or for Presbyterians to laugh about their “frozen chosenness”, but there comes a point at which this criticism is no longer fruitful. At some point, it stops being helpful and starts turning into slander.
Now the line between constructive criticism and slander is often hard to discern. I would liken it to gossip in the form of prayer requests–there are times when Christians deserve critique, but how do we go about voicing such concerns without tearing one another down, or ruining the Church’s reputation? Are we stating our thoughts carefully, gently, discerningly? Or are we throwing out defamatory statements merely to vent our frustrations, or to sound politically correct? Many times, I fall into the latter category.
As a member of a Baptist church and as a staff person in a Baptist ministry, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Baptists dog one another. “Baptists who don’t drink are so narrow-minded,” or “Baptist bureaucracy is worthless. It’s just a waste of time and money,” or “Most Baptist pastors only care about conversion numbers, but you’ll never hear a sermon about the poor.” Whenever I hear people talk like this, I often think to myself, “Then why are you a Baptist??”
And the truth is, Baptists are not alone in this practice. Most denominational members engage in some degree of self-loathing. In fact, most Christians talk this way about other Christians in general. And when we do this, I can’t help but wonder what non-Christians think. If I were them, I would probably ask, “Why the heck are you a Christian if you seem to hate other Christians so much?” Not exactly the kind of group you’d want to be a part of.
That is why I challenge you to watch your tongue when you speak about the Church. Yes, the Church is populated by sinners, so we are all bound to mess up, but we are still the very Body of Christ–his hands and feet–so we need to speak about that Body with the honor and reverence that it deserves. This does not mean that we are always above reproach, but it should at least challenge us to dress our criticism in respect, grace and love.
Perhaps the best way to know if your criticism of Christians is fruitful, as opposed to slanderous, is to monitor the motivation and the quantity of it. Why are you saying these things? Is it because you are genuinely concerned about a problem, and you are willing to bring about change, or are you going to sit on the sidelines like a whining hypocrite who points out problems that you’ll never do anything about? And how often are you spewing this venom? Are you constantly complaining, or are you balancing your concerns with praise and affirmation of those Christians who are out doing the Lord’s work?
And finally, remember that you are a sinner saved by grace. I often think about how those slanderous comments are as so utterly ironic. It’s as if the speaker has never sinned, and is scandalized by the fact that God actually let sinners inside His Church. If we were to have any sort of grasp on our own sin, and the extent to which we’ve been forgiven, then we would spend less time judging each other and spend more time showing the grace that has been shown us. We only reveal ourselves to be the greatest of hypocrites when we judge others for being judgmental, or we gossip about others who gossip. Let us stop this nonsense now, and instead do the hard work of being known for love. It’s not as easy as complaining about the latest “dumb decision” that your convention made, but God didn’t exactly call us to “easy.”