The irony of the title of this blog post won’t be lost on most of you if you also happened to read the Oswald Chambers devotional today.
“Beware of Criticising Others” was the tag-line that would be enough to instantly seize the conscience of anyone with even half an interest in loving and following Jesus Christ.
Sadly, (and perhaps mainly a reflection of the relatively sheltered times of another century and, in many ways, another world and church) Chambers very wrongly conflates ‘criticism’ with a raft of other conditions of heart. I’ll cover them in brief, below, and ask you to reconsider Jesus’ words (and Paul’s) throughout the New Testament during which breath-taking criticism is never at odds with their respective gentleness and lowliness. (You can listen to City of Temples – a study of 1 Corinthians – here if you’d like some help).
I’ll quote Chambers directly and then respond.
Criticism is one of the ordinary activities of people, but in the spiritual realm nothing is accomplished by it.
1. Criticism is an essential prophetic element of the prophetic mantle and a core component of divine pathos. Truthfully, in the spiritual realm, affinity with the Man of Sorrows and His extreme displeasure with sin and the gross compromise of His people, heresy and majority silence, is the litmus test of true Christian discipleship. Chambers wrongly conflates criticism with futility.
The effect of criticism is the dividing up of the strengths of the one being criticized.
2. Criticism is essential if one is to love God and love the Church. It is not loving to reduce the effect of criticism as being merely that of the weakening of individuals or the corporate whole. Criticism is often the sharpest edge of the Word of God that results in the strongest building up in agape. Chambers wrongly conflates criticism with destruction.
The Holy Spirit is the only one in the proper position to criticize, and He alone is able to show what is wrong without hurting and wounding.
3. This is like saying that the Holy Spirit is the only one in the proper place to love, (inferring that we shouldn’t). Does the Holy Spirit, who has poured his love into our hearts (Romans 5:5), who has made us new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), not also produce in us His indignation and sorrow regarding sin? (2 Corinthians 7). Chambers wrongly conflates criticism with enmity with God and effects that only hurt and wound.
It is impossible to enter into fellowship with God when you are in a critical mood.
4. Moodiness of the sinful flesh is infinitely other to the holy communication of God’s heart to those who love Him more than life itself. In my experience, the boldness and freedom from the fear of man (to say what needs to be said), is almost always because I am experiencing intimacy with Him. Chambers wrongly conflates criticism with immaturity, emotionalism and distance from the Lord.
Criticism serves to make you harsh, vindictive, and cruel, and leaves you with the soothing and flattering idea that you are somehow superior to others.
5. There is a multiplicity of conflation here! Firstly, harshness is conflated with vindictiveness and cruelty. What a poor foundation this is. Were ‘all the prophets’ of old (of which Jesus was Chiefest Captain), motivated by vindictiveness and cruelty in the harsher tones and rhythms of their emphases? Remember Jeremiah’s raging criticism and his blood-shot eyes. Then there is the classic enemy tactic that Chambers falls prey to here where he wrongly conflates criticism with superiority. (What a wicked lie of Satan this is) – just read 1 Timothy 1:15.
If I see the little speck in your eye, it means that I have a plank of timber in my own
6. And here we have the classic chestnut spin regarding criticism and “judgment” – why would you ever hope to criticise others when you have a plank of wood in your own eye? However, the answer to misuse (a critical spirit motivated by the sin of the flesh) is not disuse but, rather, right use – right? Therefore, to conclude that Jesus says we must never judge is profoundly misleading and ignorant of our future roles in the millennium, not to mention our responsibility within the Church now. I fear that the reading of this post today will mainly pander to the ‘wokerati’ pilfering our culture and languishing church. Are we really never to criticise others? Just ask the boy in John 9. Chambers wrongly conflates criticism with spiritual blindness.
There is always at least one more fact, which we know nothing about, in every person’s situation.
7. Paul commands us to expose the deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). Do deeds of darkness possess a “get out of jail free card”? Should Osama Bin Laden have been offered rehab rather than prison? Should holy, Jesus-riveted worshippers not call attention to evil and so on? Should Christians not lovingly imitate Paul as he imitated Christ? (1 Corinthians 11:1). Chambers wrongly borders on conflating criticism with (when taken to it’s only logical conclusion) universalism.
I have never met a person I could despair of, or lose all hope for, after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God
8. Chambers’ final point here is very dangerous and not at all how radicalising disciples of Jesus should think: that criticism is opposed to grace rather than the very oil by which the skids of it are greased. Chambers wrongly conflates criticism with law. As Paul Tripp says, God’s grace is not always a soft pillow.
I’ll still read Chambers most days but this devotional post today was easily the worst I’ve ever read from him (a nauesating echo of our modern world) and I hope that my criticism of it may point us all more maturely – and more prophetically with more discernment and much less squeamishness – to our Bibles.
Finally, in the words of J C Ryle:
It may be laid down as a rule, with tolerable confidence, that the absence of accurate definitions is the very life of religious controversy. If men would only define with precision the theological terms which they use, many disputes would die. Scores of excited disputants would discover that they do not really differ, and that their disputes have arisen from their own neglect of the great duty of explaining the meaning of words.Knots Untied