Affirming the Faith While Handling Criticism

Have you ever done something with the best of Christian intentions, only to get rebuked for it by other believers? Have you ever sought to encourage others in God, only to get criticised for doing so? It really can be quite a painful and discouraging experience.

But I guess that is the risk any believer takes when he speaks out about his faith. I guess that is why so many believers keep everything to themselves. They don’t like the controversy and opposition which so often can come in response. And here I refer just to criticisms from other believers.

A while ago someone set up a page on a social networking site called “Hating sin doesn’t make me a legalist: it makes me a Christian”. I thought it was a great line and a great idea. This is because to simply seek to stand up for God’s holiness and for God’s holy standards for us today will result in some believers criticising you.

They really do think you are being legalistic when you even quote a Bible passage on this topic or quote a great saint who writes about the holy life. They attack you and accuse you of being unloving and judgmental. I find this rather amazing and really have a hard time comprehending how believers can take this stance.

It seems we have so bought into the spirit of the age in which we are to tolerate everything and judge nothing that to simply uphold God’s righteous and just standards turns us into heartless legalists and cold judges. Sadly I get this often from believers.

The ironic thing is, often these believers who go on and on about how we should never judge and never point the finger and never accuse and never be critical tend to do exactly that. They will attack others, criticise others, judge others, accuse others, often in a rather unloving and ungracious manner – all in the name of love and grace of course.

It would be one thing if they practiced what they preached – one might be able to receive their words easier that way. But it simply baffles me how judgmental these folks can be all the while saying how very wrong and unbiblical it is to be judgmental!

Now I expect to be criticised from other believers. To be honest, I probably quite often deserve to be. But what can be especially discouraging is when I simply quote a Scripture or cite a great man of God, and still get rebuked for doing this! That I find most puzzling indeed.

I love some of the great men and women of God who sought God with all their heart, who sought holiness, who hated sin, and who loved righteousness. I would think that all believers would be blessed by such great men and women of God.

So I often quote from these great saints in the hope of encouraging other believers. We are told in so many places in Scripture to exhort one another, encourage one another, spur one another on to more fully and deeply love Christ. Thus it just did not occur to me that simply citing such folk could somehow actually offend other believers.

For example, I once posted a quote from Oswald Chambers. Most people know of him. He was a tremendous man of God noted for his close walk with God and his emphasis on biblical holiness and purity. He was also the author of the famous book of daily devotions, My Utmost for His Highest.

The quote of his which I posted, without any commentary, was this: “Our Lord never sympathised with sin; he came to ‘proclaim liberty to the captives,’ a very different thing. We have to see that we don’t preach a theology of sympathy, but the theology of a Saviour from sin.” I thought it was a terrific and thoroughly biblical quote which all of us could benefit from and be blessed by.

Yet when I posted it, I got a reply from one believer who made it quite clear that he thought that I was rather off the wall for even posting it. He felt it was all very un-Christlike. I must say I was taken back by this comment. I had to read it several times over.

I could not understand what I or Chambers did to warrant such a rebuke. After a few exchanges I decided it would be wise to move on, seeing that we were obviously at different places here. But I had to get on my knees and ask God to search my heart.

I don’t want to be defensive and right in myself. I do want to be right in God. So I asked God to help me more graciously take on board such criticisms. I have much to learn and of course have much more progress to make. I certainly need to listen to others, even when they give a hard or stinging word.

I have said before that we all need to heed criticism; after all, we all have blind spots and shortcomings. But we should use the old fish dinner method: eat the meat but reject the bones. That is, prayerfully ask God which parts of the criticism are warranted and which are not.

Those that are we can prayerfully take on board, and seek to grow thereby. Those that are not of God we should simply ignore. We need each other, and each other’s emphases. I need to get the full picture even as I share what I am being led to share. And at the moment I think the church today tends to be woefully inadequate in terms of holiness and the fully consecrated life.

So that is the message I so often give. But yes of course the message of grace and mercy are part of the package. It just seems that Bonhoeffer had it right when he said that today we have far too much cheap grace. We want all the benefits of the faith without any of the hardships. We want the crown without the cross.

So I will keep writing and speaking on what I feel led to do. And I will have to expect plenty of criticism along the way. Pray that I rightly respond to all the criticisms, and become all that I am meant to be in Christ. And pray that in the process I still proclaim the word which I am meant to share.

[1081 words]

28 Replies to “Affirming the Faith While Handling Criticism”

  1. What true prophet of God was popular among the crowds? People didn’t think much of Noah. He had more responsiveness from the animals.

    William Wilberforce wasn’t that popular either. He said:
    “So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the [slave] trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.”

    Annette Nestor

  2. Dear Bill. There is a fine line between correcting a person with love and wisdom, and wanting to prove that MY point of view is correct. I know! I am almost 83 years old, and I still have problems with it. The more a person’s public identity is shown, the more he/she can expect “assaults” and/or be misunderstood.
    No wonder that Jesus withdrew so often after being misunderstood.
    I think you are doing well Bill! Your backbone in Christ is getting stronger and stronger. I wish I could write and teach like you do. The manifestations of the Spirit in each of God’s children are so varied. You are an encouragement for all who continue to speak up for Christ and His Kingdom. Blessings!!!!
    Evangeline Rykes

  3. The hypocrisy of those who judge others for making judgements has always astounded me, but far more amazing to me than that is that they don’t even notice the hypocrisy!

    I have discovered however that gentle words are better than harsh words in response, and sometimes even just “walking away” is best because that person just can’t see what you see and any words at all will just drive them deeper into their bitterness. (I put “walking away” in inverted comments because some of these experiences I’m referring to were online!)

    John Symons

  4. Annette, Wilberforce is our model of how to fight opposition not only from those who blatantly oppose us but from useful idiot Christians, like the Honourable Baroness Howarth of Breckland (said in love, much in the same way that Paul called the Galatians “foolish”). In 2007, in a previous debate in the House of Lords, on the issue of gay adoption rights, she said:

    “My Lords, I speak without a prepared speech but with a heavy heart. As a Christian woman, I find this an extraordinarily difficult and distressing debate. It is distressing because we are not really prepared to face the fundamental issue. I have listened to speeches in which noble Lords have said, “We respect gay people, but…”. The issue is not about rights; if it were, we would not be having this debate. It is about whether noble Lords accept gay people as equal human beings. Two hundred years ago, William Wilberforce made a speech in Parliament that freed black people to be equal human beings. I hope that this evening your Lordships will vote for these regulations. I have some quarrel with the way in which the regulations have been brought forward, but I hope that noble Lords will vote to underline that gay people are equal human beings with others. I say this as a Christian woman. I have listened to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, and I listened to the Catholic archbishop on the radio this morning, a very dear and wonderful man.”

    Wilberforce did not work to make black people human; it was precisely because they were already fully human, made in the image of God – not determined by evolution to behave mechanistically but free to behave with dignity and responsibility – that he worked to free them from oppression, slavery and bondage. To suggest that the committed Christian is in some way denying the homosexual the freedom to become fully human is a disgraceful travesty of the beliefs and work of William Wilberforce, made worse because she is attempting to lead Christians astray. Jesus Christ said It would be better for someone to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than for them to cause children to be led astray, as is happening on an industrial scale with sex education programmes being promoted by this present government and which she no doubt would endorse.

    Sodomy, buggery, fisting, rimming, water sports, felching, scats, coprophilia, sado-masochism, whipping, giving the gift and bondage are dehumanising homosexuals and lesbians. Such bestial acts reduce them to lumps of meat. Such acts do indeed lead to slavery, bondage and addictions that sooner or later lead to an early death and are totally inconsistent with the aims of Jesus Christ and William Wilberforce.

    David Skinner, UK

  5. How refreshing it is to read such an honest and introspective post. I must admit my guilt is my silence when I receive so much blessing from your work, and yet, don’t take time to write a thank you or an encouragement note. Thank you Bill for your your stand for God’s Word.
    Bill Vorhees

  6. The Christians concern for upholding truth and compassion, for justice and mercy, Satan perceives to be both our strength and weakness. Like a Judo fighter, he pushes us in the direction towards which we will naturally fall.
    The Christian’s tender conscience can be pushed to the extreme and encouraged into confessing not just a lack of love, compassion and care, but all manner of hidden hatred. The enemy is only too willing to assist us in beating ourselves up. And like the show trials in Stalin’s reign of terror, hatred will be found and we will confess. And having confessed once we will be forced to continue confessing for surely there must remain unconfessed hatred, lurking somewhere.
    The Christian knows however that the real need of the homosexual is the love of Father God; it is only this and this only that can truly satisfy but this is not what they are searching for. Militant homosexuals and their useful idiot Christian allies do not seek our sympathy, our love, or even the love of God but unconditional acceptance of their drives and urges. They use not just emotional blackmail into accepting their behaviour, but repressive, pink legislation. Indeed the gays even have their own community police support teams to hunt down anything that smells of homophobia.

    David Skinner, UK

  7. Appreciate your vulnerability Bill. Ya can’t please everyone can ya? Christ certainly didn’t. This is dramatically illustrated in John’s Gospel Ch. 6. It starts with Jesus being sought by thousands of ‘fans’ and Him feeding them. Then He preaches a challenging sermon and by the end of the chapter only a few staunch followers are with Him.
    Terry Darmody

  8. I’ve just started reading Mike Horton’s “Christless Christianity”. In the introductory chapter 1 he states that we complain that we are persecuted by “Hollywood and the Democratic Party”, however ” In my experience, substantiated by countless stories of others, believers who challenge the human-centered process of trivializing the faith are more likely to be persecuted – or at least viewed as troublesome – by their church”.

    We are too easily satisfied and too easily swayed, we want our have own way and to think we are in control; all the while forgetting we cannot serve two masters.

    Thanks be to God that he places people amongst us, like yourself Bill, who continue to remind us to seek after Christ and him alone.

    Greg Randles

  9. As a meandering gospel singer I’ve met just about every kind of Christian. So many differing opinions, perspectives, levels of commitment, personality and character differences. I certainly can’t please or agree or feel cosy with all of them. Still it seems that we share the unity of the Body of Christ. ‘The eye needs the hand’…’in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be’.
    So my advice is: be gracious and ‘Christ-like’ but stick to your guns. You do a great job. Thanks.
    Terry Darmody

  10. The importance of being grounded in and knowing Bible truth and discipline will help us to stand strong, faithful and upright.
    Judith Bond

  11. Dear Bill,
    great article and well thought out comments by the bloggers. I believe that one of the greatest forces unleashed by the powers of darkness today is the spirit of intimidation that seeks to intimidate believers in to silence on every significant issue. That where we are game enough to speak the truth in a measured manner, that our ancient foe will seek to intimidate us into confessing our so called arrogance, judgementalism and error.
    Of course we have to walk in a spirit of humility in the knowledge that no matter how mature a believer we consider ourselves to be, we are all subject to error at times. Therefore when people criticize us, whether with a right or wrong attitude, we have to exercise integrity and give the Holy Spirit due opportunity to convict our hearts where necessary. But for those of us with hypersensitive consciences, we also need to guard against coming under the condemnation of our critics. There are going to be things we say at times, that we will not know with absolute certainty at the time, perhaps not even in this life, as to whether we spoke by the Spirit of God or not.
    There is certainly a lot of confusion over what constitutes loving speech and what does not. One of the reasons for this confusion is the fact that so many have edited the theology of holiness and judgement out of their understanding, even though this is constantly evident from Genesis to Revelation.
    Something I know I need to learn more, is not needing to be liked by people and loving them enough to speak the truth in love. How they respond to that loving expression of truth is not my responsibility and when they do respond negatively, neither should we receive into our souls the fiery darts hurled at us. We can rest in the assurance that our conscience is clear, not loving the praise of men, but in humility, continue to pursue the fear of the Lord.

    Peter Magee

  12. Bill,
    Thanks for all your effort to proclaim Christ. I am praying for you to with stand the criticism of supposed Christians and other people

    Neil Herbert

  13. Is it any wonder that the church today (in Australia and other Western nations) is so enfeebled and irrelevant when so many of its members reject the wisdom of great Christian saints that went before us? Those who reject the wisdom of a Chambers or an Edwards, should perhaps reflect on why it is that compared to these great men we are having such little effect on our culture? When one of these modern critics manages to spark a revival perhaps it would be time to pay some attention to what they are saying, but until then I will continue to consider Bill Muehlenberg to be one of the very few Christian voices in our land to be making any sense at all!

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  14. Well, this being an article whose title begins with the name of my website [new look emerging very soon!] I think I must respond to this article. Actually, the worst time for me was when a clergyman friend, who I much respected, condemned almost the whole of my website and its articles (how dare I refer to The faith?); and I discovered that, being very “liberal”, some people (even Christian clergy) could believe things very much post-Christian, or “extra Christian”; it was indeed a baptism of fire into the (often discreet) realities of mainstream-denomination revisionism.
    Johhn Thomas, UK

  15. Bill,
    I am grateful for what you write, and for your heart for God.

    There are so many things I could say about persecution, carrying your cross, and the reward you’ll one day receive, but I’m sure you already know it all (and far better than I do).

    May you continue to grow in wisdom, grace, love and holiness.

    Kathy Scott

  16. Thanks Bill.

    I have just two weeks ago posted on FB, “Why are Christians offended by the Word of God, The Bible?”. Well that was sufficient to illicit a sharp rebuke as to “Why do people like me make statements from the Bible that I know will offend?” Utterly absurd, but nevertheless true.

    We have no alternative but to do what you have said, check our motives, our attitudes, correct that which is wrong and continue, not expecting any let up from fellow believers.

    In Him

    Mark van Niekerk

  17. Thank you Bill, your article makes me feel as if I maybe don’t have 2 heads after all. And good point Ewan. I feel very much for those souls who are, as someone put it “offended by the Word of God”. It must mean they are not listening to the Holy Spirit who, as Jesus promised convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgement. I would rather be in your shoes, Bill, any time than in the shoes of those who use Jesus forgiveness for justification of their sin, rather than the starting point for sanctification, purification, the growing in grace and holiness and becoming as He is more and more. We are supposed to greive at the knowledge of our sinfulness and seek to be made holy, without which incidentally we cannot see the Lord. Heb 12.

    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  18. Come on Bill, don’t go soft on us now! 🙂

    Keep standing and keep fighting the good fight. We know our side wins in the end.

    God bless.

    Mario Del Giudice

  19. Bill, don’t ever stop in voicing your ideas and opinions, particularly when it coincides with biblical truth. St. Paul never stopped defending the Gospel, and was known for his rhetorical boldness – and I admire that very same courage and boldness in you. At times, your opinions can be confronting, but always they are informative, biblical and thought provoking. I thank the Lord, that there are people out there like you to inspire us and to lead us (the flock) towards the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Paul fervently prayed for the church to be filled with the Spirit of wisdom, knowledge, hope, and revelation, power and enlightenment in Ephesians 1:15-23, and, I speak this very same prayer over your life Bill. God bless you and keep up the stewardship.

    Panage Kontos

  20. Be assured you’re in the best of company Bill, the prophets, St Paul and Our Lord Himself all copped it big time from inside and outside. We all need to be both humble and discerning when criticised and I’m quite certain you’re capable of doing that without advice from those who don’t have to answer to the Almighty for how they respond to such a demanding calling as He has asked of you. There are heaps of us praying for you and you’re scoring 99% as far as I’m concerned (nobody’s perfect!) —- Cheers an God Bless
    Anna Cook

  21. “Why do people like me make statements from the Bible that I know will offend?” (Mark van Niekerk, above). Mark, I think the answer is: “Why do these passages, from the Bible, offend you, actually?” – and the true answer is that offended people are probably possessed of materialist/this-worldly values. If our faith ceases to offend, it’s lost something, namely, true, other-worldly values.
    John Thomas, UK

  22. Cmon Bill, with a complaint like that against simply quoting those comments, we both know that the person is following another jesus and is a religious devil, send him over to me, i’ll fix him up, maybe he will get saved, heck give him my phone number it’ll be my pleasure.

    On another note, yes criticism is always good to listen to but in this case…….nuff said.
    Dorian Ballard

  23. What a great encouraging lesson, full of confirmation! I always tell my best friend, “The worst feeling in the world is to be misunderstood”, and i believe with the antichrist spirit existing around us, we are slowly being silenced by that spirit, as he uses the homosexual agenda to empower the world against the church. I used to be afraid to comment on my gay friends fb sites on articles about “Born Gay”, but the Holy Spirit gave me a boldness to give my views, (didnt want to bash them with scripture, but just use parables…LOL). My godfather, Art Katz (R.I.P) use to say, “persecutions won’t be fought first against the world, but firstly, against fellow christians”, with all the ignorance in the church, regarding scripture, i see it! I’m accused of being unloving, judgemental and ungodly if i say things against gay rights (and most of this is from my own daughter!), but i hold and i stand on The Holy Word of G-D, and i would rather die standing, than fall cowarding to the worlds mindset! The war is just beginning, let us pray for each other and stand fast as the wind of unsound doctrine sweep within and without the church.
    Robin Magee, US

  24. Bill, you say that you will continue to “keep writing and speaking on what I feel led to do”. Might I suggest you mean that you will write and speak what God constrains you to do? Because for mine, you rarely do otherwise.

    Geoffrey Bullock

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