CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Never-Ending Stream of Critics and Criticism

Mar 4, 2020

Some Christians exist solely to criticise other believers:

Here is a truth you can count on: dare to say anything in public as a Christian, and you will very likely be attacked and criticised – by other Christians! As night follows day, criticism follows the believer as he shares things in any public forum.

Now some attacks and criticisms might be deserved. If we say wrong, false, foolish or unnecessary things, it is to be expected that criticism – often much-needed criticism – comes our way. But here I am speaking about saying things that are not only basically right and biblically sound, but are said with all good intentions and from a godly motivation.

So why do believers still attack you in those circumstances? They may do so for a variety of reasons:

-Perhaps they are just not too bright or can’t read or think well, and so may misinterpret or misunderstand what you have said.
-Often they are just leaning on the arm of flesh. That is, they are walking in the flesh, not the Spirit, and so cannot spiritually connect with you. While others are being blessed by what you are saying, they are left cold.
-They may be Pharisees who think they are so spiritually superior and who look down on other Christians.
-They may just be argumentative trolls who get their kicks out of attacking and criticising others.
-They may have some legitimate concerns but they are still missing the point or are missing the spirit of what is being said.

Most of these folks you can just ignore. There is no point trying to engage with them. But some of them you can try to talk to, and see if they can be reasoned with. My rule of thumb is this: if a person proves to be an argumentative, fleshly, pharisaical troll who keeps going on and on, there is zero reason to keep dealing with such a person. Let them go so you can do the Lord’s work.

But if you can build a bit of a relationship with some of these folks, and they show a modicum of humility and a teachable spirit, then they can be well worth spending further time with. We need to pray for wisdom and discernment in these areas.

Let me discuss one type of critic that I encounter so often. When I write an article or post a social media piece urging Christians to fully press on with the Lord, to seek holiness, to be salt and light, and to be sold out disciples of Christ, urging us to move beyond lukewarm Christianity, I often will get critics saying that I am being judgmental, that I am attacking the Body of Christ, and that I am being too sweeping in my remarks.

One big problem here is they do not understand the use of rhetorical language, including things like hyperbole. Such language is found throughout Scripture and with all great orators. One uses exaggeration and the like to make an effect and to add rhetorical flourish to their remarks.

Let me offer an example of this from today. The day before I had written a piece on radical Christianity. It included quotes from radical Christian Salvation Army co-founder Catherine Booth. You can see it here: billmuehlenberg.com/2020/03/03/now-thats-the-christianity-im-talking-about/

Early on in this article I said this: “Only an on-fire, Spirit-filled, and courageous church can rattle the gates of hell and make a lasting difference. Thankfully there are some pockets of resistance in this ever-darkening world. There are some Christians who are willing to go to the gates of hell and proclaim biblical truth.”

When I shared this piece on the social media, I got one rather offended Christian reply with a long comment (rant), chewing me out for that quote and the rest of my piece. He actually claimed that I was “Bride-bashing”! I was quite gobsmacked to read his lengthy criticism. I did not reply to him, but this is the sort of response I had in mind:

Um, sadly you have completely missed the spirit of what I was saying, and the point of what I was saying. To have a strong prophetic voice is NOT bride-bashing, but stirring up the Body of Christ to bigger and better things – the same thing Christ, the disciples and all great Christians have done for 2000 years. And when people start attacking me for the same things that they are doing, it always baffles me to be honest. You say it is wrong to chew out parts of the church while you spend a lot of time chewing me out.

I might as well accuse you of prophet-bashing. It is always such a pity when folks completely miss what others are trying to do and to say. By your reasoning, the prophets, Jesus, the apostles, Studd, the Booths, Spurgeon, the Wesleys, Finney, Moody, Wilkerson, Tozer, Ravenhill, Washer and all the great revival preachers were church-bashers because they used strong prophetic and rhetorical language to stir a slumbering church.

And by the way, my statement that got you so bent out of shape happens to be 100 per cent true and is not something to apologise for. Why in the world any Christian would take offence at such biblical truth utterly baffles me. When Paul said believers must put on the full armour of God if they want to stand against the devil, was he bride-bashing? Was he looking down on other Christians? Good grief!

This guy seems to tick all the boxes: he is judgmental, spiritually proud, pharisaic, argumentative, and fleshly. And he also seems to have no clue about what I mentioned above: rhetorical language. I have written about this often before, as in these four pieces:

www.billmuehlenberg.com/2007/04/18/rhetoric-the-bible-and-the-believer/
billmuehlenberg.com/2014/02/15/on-biblical-rhetoric-and-prophetic-speech/
billmuehlenberg.com/2019/07/20/hermeneutics-and-figurative-language-part-two/
billmuehlenberg.com/2014/02/15/on-biblical-rhetoric-and-prophetic-speech/

It seems I might need to routinely post these pieces and remind people about these basic matters. But let me quote a bit from the last linked article:

I might say any number of things which use rhetorical devices of all-inclusion or generalisation:

-we have become slaves to the world
-where are all the men of faith?
-God’s people love the world more than God
-we are nothing like the New Testament church
-we are in great need of repentance
-why are we so far from where Christ wants us to be?

Does that mean I or others believe there are no true believers or churches anywhere? Of course not. We are using deliberately strong language to make a point – and to also include ourselves in such warnings or concerns. We all know (did I just make another all-inclusive claim?) that God is at work in the world and many good things are happening. But we also realise there are many problems.

As we will see in a moment, such rhetoric is a common feature of biblical testimony, especially among the prophets. But often when I use such language, the critics seem to come out of the woodwork. I often will write an article, post something on social media, or say something with a fully biblical rhetorical fashion, only to get attacked for it.

As a simple example, I might make a comment such as this: “the church is in a mess”. It is a generalised or all-inclusive statement designed to have some effect, and challenge the hearers. Thus it is a rhetorical device, but one which is meant to add some punch and stir up my hearers.

It is a very common rhetorical device. So do I mean by that that the entire church everywhere on the planet is only always screwed up? Of course not. There are always exceptions to anything, and many churches are doing a good job, but generally speaking this is a fully correct statement – certainly when describing things in the West….

So these folks are committing two errors in my books: One, they are missing entirely the point of what I am trying to say, and two, they seem to be clueless as to how prophetic utterances and biblical rhetoric work. As but one example, a friendly critic recently said this: “The church is wide. The title should read ‘time for some spring cleaning in one of the church’s cupboards’. I know it wouldn’t be as catchy but it would be truer.”

No, it sure isn’t catchy. Which is exactly why such watered-down and half-hearted statements are rarely used when God is stirring up his spokesmen to get his message out. But these critics, instead of getting the gist of what I am trying to do, and instead of letting God speak to them and spur them on to bigger and better things for Christ, actually get all in a huff. Instead of letting God’s Spirit speak to them about how they can go further on for Christ, they get all defensive and grumpy.

One thing I have learned over the years is this: those who are the most humble and open Christians are those who will always hear God speaking from any quarter. They will always apply the word spoken or prophetic utterance given to themselves first.

But the proud and self righteous will always (there I go again, using generalisations) get upset with you, want to argue with you, and not receive what is being said, or receive the spirit in which something is being given. So we have a double problem here of misunderstanding rhetorical language, and of not being receptive to God’s word.

I encourage you to read that entire article. If more folks were aware of these things, maybe they would criticise a bit less. Sure, the critics will always find something that they will pick a fight over. No matter what you say and how you say it, there will always be some self-appointed Christian critics who will find fault. But having an understanding of rhetorical speech and how it is used can perhaps help save a few fights at least.

[1645 words]

14 Responses to The Never-Ending Stream of Critics and Criticism

  • I guessed Jesus was doing the same thing (church bashing) in His comments to the seven churches in Revelation.
    Keep up the constructive critique Bill, as a member of the church we all need to be reminded of our failings and neglect to follow our Lord.
    All scripture is profitable for doctrine, for correction – have we forgotten that we too are to rebuke, exhort and encourage each other?

  • Thanks Henri. Yes I was thinking of the 7 churches and the criticism they received as well.

  • I agree Bill. Henri is right but many only want the exhortation and encouragement-definitely not the rebuke! Unfortunately it’s not only the world trying to shut down any voice that speaks the truth – Biblical or otherwise – but often times fellow believers. Many times when we speak up we are shut down and labelled as negative or accused of being trouble makers – no matter how loving or tactful we may try to be! Thankfully GOD looks at our heart motives and ultimately it is HE we need to obey and please. Keep up the good work. Someone sure needs to rev us up to be salt and light to the world. Time is running out and there are countless millions in desperate need of Salvation. GOD bless. Cheryl Ciccotosto

  • The first possible reason for attacks you mention is likely the most common. Modern education rarely includes formal logic or critical thinking skills nor is the subject of rhetoric formally taught.
    Other possible reasons for attacks:
    – They may be lashing out in anger over guilt or culpability your words prompt in them.
    – They may have been roundly criticized by other Christians and are merely following their lead.
    – They may have had a long history of a Wormwood’s interference and consequently become milquetoast, a position they need to defend.
    Blessings to you sir.

  • Great message Bill ! Your paragraph that starts with “One thing I have learned” is imperative to hold onto. It is for us you preach, and so stirringly. Those of us who have finally matured enough to be humbled and really take the advice readily to heart, and search there first. Don’t let them stop you from feeding us. This IS your calling. Thank you for following His leading in such a difficult task, that’s incredibly needed. The more attacks from the enemy, the more effective you are likely being to help other true believers. Never forget that. We need you to keep up the good work. You are more appreciated than you will ever know down here. May God continue to bless you and your ministry ! Amen

  • Many thanks Cheryl, Téjeanne and Ken.

  • I’ve given a talk on John 15 previously.
    Verses 7-16, which I studied shows that the relationship of Christians with each other is supportive – in love; following remaining or abiding in Him (1-6); & an expected hostile relationship with the world (15:7-16:4), which I studied this week.

    Just a real example; I am trying to encourage a relative to grow in her faith; but am met with resistance; still insists on reading questionable authors (eg Osteen), does not attend any Bible study, & responds with criticism of me, relatives & Christians in general.
    Some of it is fuelled by substance abuse, even by her own admission, but despite her apologies, her behaviour has not changed.
    One day, I just got fed up with this barrage, & blocked her number on my phone.

  • Yes I hear you Stephen.

  • I’ve had a thought that is on the same page; though a little toward the edges. It’s about our tendency to divide the Body of Christ through theological correctness instead of Biblical truth. You’ve written very Biblically I reckon. You’re quoting the Bible and it sounds like Jesus. When Christians attack Christians like I’ve done, we can be dividing the Body based on learnt theological understandings that haven’t passed the Berean test.
    You can do an essay on this if you like Bill?

  • Bring it brother Bill! We are truly in that last days run of time when, “itching ears”, are not going to be prone to hearing from non-ticklers as yourself.
    Perhaps a number of your critics you refer to may fall into that Barna polling group back in ’07. The ones that checked off how they were devoted regulars in year ’round church attendance, yet with 42% of these same respondents then stating they did not consider themselves to be “born again”!
    Seems I caused a number of former fellow Sunday Schooler’s garments if not rent to be in some what of a wad last year when I pointed out how it has become like hen’s teeth nowadays to encounter a sermon with hell fire, or heaven forbid, The White Throne Judgement even mentioned in passing.
    My wife and I attended our first AG Section Meeting representing our new home church here in the North Georgia foothills. There were five church pastors and leaders in attendance, and when the question came from the host to all of us about what we were finding and following on the internet, and I plugged Culture Watch. Yes, keep bringing it Bill!

  • Hi Bill,
    Never lose your heart or zeal as you are a very large burning light in the ever increasing dark world…. I am always lifted whenever I see a new post from you as I know that they are carefully worded and researched…. Thank you again for the tireless work / blessed calling…

  • Many thanks indeed Kylie.

  • This tells me much ‘time for some spring cleaning in one of the church’s cupboards’ it is a problem I see in much of the church… UNDERestimating the size of the problem. One of the church’s cupboards sounds like the problem is just in a tiny area of the church and spring cleaning makes it sound like the fix is simple. Like your body is riddled with cancer take an aspirin. OR multiple body parts have cancer so to fix it all we will treat the pinky finger with chemo. If the problem was bigger I certainly would have noticed it is their mantra. Or God would have told me I have a direct pipeline. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Leave a Reply