(Not) answering the critics

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote two posts on what I see as a huge problem in the American church: that our leaders are not necessarily challenging their congregations enough to help them grow in the ways of God, and that people in those congregations are getting restless.  (You can read those posts here and here.)  A friend of mine — the same friend that invited me to both the events described in those posts — thought enough of what I’d said that he forwarded links to them to the senior pastor and the head of the men’s ministry at his home congregation.  I didn’t expect much to come of it; after all, pastors are busy people and don’t have time to read everything that falls into their inbox, right?

Well, I missed my guess on that one — something came of it almost immediately.  And … let’s just say my words weren’t received very cordially for the most part.

The response wasn’t entirely hostile; a couple of people were very supportive and agreed that there was a problem that needed solving.  At least two made suggestions that there were positive things going on that I may have overlooked in my attempts to point out weaknesses.  But the rest of the responses I got (and those that my friend got, which he was nice enough to forward to me even when the responders didn’t) fell into three categories:

  1. People who chose to attack my character and my motives, even though they’ve never met me.
  2. People who completely missed the point of the posts.
  3. Both.

Well, that hurt a little.  Hurt my friend, too.  In retrospect, it was probably naive of us to expect that my statements would be received with open arms — after all, we were questioning the effectiveness of methods that many of them have been using for decades, and upon whom some of them depend on for their living.  But I wouldn’t say that it excuses their harsh treatment of two brothers in Christ, or one of the original recipients forwarding the links (and his intemperate response to them) to about ten other people whom my friend had never met and whom had never met either my friend or I.  After all, if he wanted to correct us, the proper method according to Matthew 18 would be to talk with us directly before involving others.

It was a bit stressful, especially because there were people — ministry leaders, no less — saying things about us that were clearly untrue, as well as making other statements that were laughably illogical, completely unprovable, snarky or some combination thereof.  So I prayed about the whole situation, and out of that felt it would be wise to hold off for a bit before addressing the jibes of the critics.

And in the process of waiting, I realized something important.  To put it in the form of a question (which was how it came to my mind), am I required to answer them at all?

Thinking about Jesus — whose example all Christians are supposed to follow, after all — I was struck with how He rarely answered the criticisms leveled against Him.  Often He would answer the false suppositions that lay behind their questions; at other times He remained silent or ignored the question for a period (the case of the adulterous woman in John 8 is a good example of both methods used together).  Being God incarnate, He knew of the whispers against Him by some of the religious leadership and could have confronted them, publicly or privately.  For the most part, He didn’t.

I think it’s worth pondering why He often didn’t choose to answer His accusers.  Maybe there’s a complicated reason that only the infinite God could understand, but I have the suspicion that it may be simpler than that.  Perhaps Jesus trusted His Father to take care of those things, so He didn’t feel He had to.

It’s a common malady among Christians (I’ve suffered from it myself) to feel that we have to make sure every last detail of everything is taken care of, otherwise we’re not being faithful enough to God.  Having tried living that way, I can testify that it doesn’t go well — I tire myself out, and God just shakes His omniscient head and says, “when ya gonna learn, kid?”  In truth, Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21:22 are more applicable — He basically tells him, “your job is to follow me — don’t worry about what I want from Tom, Dick or The Disciple I Love, just do what I want you to do.”  That leaves God on the throne, us and others free of unnecessary expectations, and is just plain easier.  It’s a win-win.

So is it my job to defend myself from people who insult and accuse me?  Am I supposed to spend my time answering the slanders of folks who wouldn’t know me if they passed me on the street, or correct those who read into my words things that aren’t there?  Based on my reading of Scripture, not unless God specifically calls me to — and I get the strong impression He’s not.

And it’s His view that matters in the long run, not anyone else’s.  After all, when I die and stand before the throne of judgment, it’s not going to be Pastor So-and-such of Second Methopentiscopal Full Faith and Credit Tabernacle sitting up there deciding my fate.  It’s going to be the Almighty God.  It behooves me, then, to concern myself with what he wants me to say and do and think, not anyone else.  As Paul put it in Romans 14:4, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

If I am wrong (and I often am, being a fallen human saved only by the grace of God), I have full confidence that God will bring correction by His Holy Spirit, and I pray that I am open to recieve what He has to say, and act accordingly.  If others are wrong, I have the same confidence that the Holy Spirit will show them their errors.  I don’t have to worry about defending myself, protecting my reputation, or saying anything to anyone else other than what God wishes for me to say.  Anything else, that’s probably someone else’s job (if it’s anyone’s), and He can assign it to whomever He wills.  So I’m not going to miss any sleep over it.

And as for my critics, they are my brothers in Christ, my family, and I love them.  I pray God continues to draw them (and me) closer to Himself, and am fully persuaded that He can work out whatever needs working out, in our separate lives and in our life together as Christ’s body.

Let others say what they like.  That’s all I have for now.


One Response to (Not) answering the critics

  1. Hey Ray,
    No matter what the critics say, you continue to do what you do. I enjoy all of your stuff but especially the Congregational Journey posts. As the lead pastor of a 40+ year old church, I take your insights to heart! I have encouraged our people to read your blog and have made it required reading for our Greeter Team. I must admit that if you were to come to Pennsylvania and visit us, we wouldn’t fare too well in really getting to know you. But we are working on that. Thanks, man!

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