October 19, 2010
Criticism Is Always in Fashion
News & Culture Editor, Crosswalk.com
The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector." Luke 18:11
Luke 18:11Can you be humble before God while criticizing others? That's my question of the week.
We modern-day Christians like to put as much distance between the Pharisees and ourselves as possible, but trying to get away from self-righteousness is like stretching one end of an exercise band. Just when we think we've pulled as far away as possible, the band snaps, yanking us back where we started. That's how pride works.
Think about it. Have you never sat down with like-minded friends and started to criticize another group? Maybe you're a dyed-in-the-wool Presbyterian thanking God you "get" how salvation works better than those poor Baptists. Maybe you're a charismatic who feels sorry for - and a little superior to - those "frozen chosen" who don't have the Spirit's gifts. Or maybe you're a libertarian who turns up her nose at those poor lemmings following a political party. Maybe it's about a particular style of dress, of school choice, of the million principled choices people disagree over. No matter the topic, these conversations usually have two things in common: first, the group has a homogenous opinion on the topic at hand, and second, no one is aiming for better understanding. I'm not talking about conversations where iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). I'm talking about conversations where the end result is mere validation. Where in the Bible is that encouraged?
Also, consider how little empathy the Pharisee has with a tax collector - he has exactly zero experience in common with "that sinner." He never tried to take the role of the other. If I'm honest, I often have very little experience with what I criticize. In reality, condemning the beliefs and practices of another group is really my way of highlighting that I comprehend God better than they do. Sure, God's infinite and all that, but clearly I have a better handle on Scripture than a person with those convictions. Can I get an amen?
An easily forgotten verse in Romans 14 says simply, "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind." That's not a glowing endorsement of individualistic faith, but Paul's reminder that every Christian will be called to account for his own convictions. Not our parents' convictions, not the church down the street's convictions, not the president's convictions. Our own.
In the rush to confer with our "like-minded" friends, we are Pharisees scurrying away from the tax collector. In the rush to point out the speck in our brother's eye, we forget the plank in our own. Because it's so difficult to live consistently with our own convictions, criticism is always in fashion.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Christ demands that his followers be discerning so that they are not "blown and tossed by the wind" (James 1:6). But even discernment can be exercised in a spirit of love "without passing judgment on disputable matters" (Romans 14:1). Let's each live according to our convictions and focus our outward attention on how we can love the people around us. As Christ said, the mark of a Christian is not her ability to parse other's beliefs and actions. Instead, he said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).