Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Always the critic

Whenever I encounter other believers, I find myself ashamed at all of the critique that automatically flows like a river through my mind. I'm painfully aware that I've prided myself on being able to find something doctrinally wrong with any religious person or group I've ever encountered. What was I thinking? Of course, I can find something wrong with anyone, because we are all human!

When out of town recently, I visited a larger congregation than I'm accustomed to. I found myself very distracted from thinking about good and useful things. Unfortunately, it was not really because of anything they did that was against the scriptures; it was because of my own desire to find fault. That was the distraction.

One of Satan's most useful tools is distraction. If he can get us distracted from thinking on whatever is pure and good, away from things that will direct attention at our own faults--if he can get us thinking about how bad the other guy is, he has won the battle. There was nothing I can say was "wrong" or "sinful" in this other assembly. It was just different, different enough to make me say to myself "boy, that's silly" or "we sure do that better." I'm always the critic, and too often, not of myself.

I recently listened to a sermon on a CD that was given to me by a friend. I popped the CD in and immediately started criticizing. "He needs to calm down, he sounds like he's giving a pep rally" I thought. "You can tell he's talking to a large audience. He sure couldn't say that in a small intimate group."

"STOP IT" I finally said to myself, engaged in an internal struggle to control my feelings of superiority. It's true there were things about the lesson and its delivery that were distracting to me. But I'm certainly no Ronald Reagan when it comes to speechmaking, either.

When I recognized my hypercritical attitude, I actually found some very good things in the sermon. This "senior pastor" (yes, his title was one of the criticisms I leveled at the guy) had no problem telling the congregation they were sinning by not getting involved in outreach. By failing to utilize their talents and skills for the Lord in whatever capacity they could find, he noted that they needed to repent and become the kingdom of priests that the Bible says they are. That level of forthrightness is pretty refreshing, when you think about it.

These experiences, along with many others, have impressed upon me the fact that I'm no less fallible than other believers. We're all in the same boat, with varying amounts of knowledge and wisdom about the things of God. Others work, fallibly, to motivate their congregations just like we do. They want all Christians to participate as mutual ministers just like we do. They have reached different conclusions as to the best ways to accomplish that within the systems they have adopted, but they are diligently trying to accomplish it in the way they understand best. I at least have to grant them that.

That doesn't mean we just accept everyone and everything as OK at face value, content with their sincerity. No, but we do need to accept sincere believers who have been added to the body of Christ, and be longsuffering and patient with them, even as God is longsuffering and patient with our own faults.

I, for one, need to examine my own heart to determine whether any criticism of my brothers' beliefs and practices is done for the purpose of "justifying my position" or acting in love to correct the misunderstandings of people who sincerely want to be a disciple. My task is to lift my brethren up by the bootstraps to a greater understanding of God's truths, and I can't do that by snubbing my nose at them for some error they may hold.

Too often, I mutter criticism just to make myself feel like I hold the truth instead of them, rather than realizing neither of us understands fully the truth on any subject. Does that mean we "compromise" with error? No, it means we are longsuffering with erroneous brethren as they (and we) are brought to better understandings of the truth throughout our lifetime.

I have plenty of beams in my eye to worry about, but it's so much easier to see the splinter in my brothers' eye. If half of the energy I've spent finding fault with other Christians had been spent in self-critique, I'd be a whole lot more like Christ than I am.

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