Consider this quote from Screwtape Letters, a fictional correspondence between two demons about how to tempt a new Christian. Screwtape wrote, “If a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches…The search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil.”
You have to be very careful listening to demon chatter. But this fictional account hits on a truth that I came across tonight while talking with a godly, spiritual mentor. We were talking about all the problems in the modern church. This man said that we have to be careful because I guess we have to separate the truth from lies no matter where we are. At the same point, we must avoid developing a critical spirit, which can poison our lives.
It seems that Christians are called to walk a thin line between discernment and judging other Christians. Many times we may think we know the heart motives of others when we do not. I am remind of the question raised in the New Testament, “Who are you to judge some else’s servant?”
Criticizing churches or particular leaders seems to have become a professional hobby among many professed Christians. I know that I have participated in this ‘sport’ from time to time. Certainly, I am not dismissing the duty of a Christian to rightly divide the Word and to examine the teaching of various leaders. But it can be easy to cross over from this God-ordained responsibility to slander, a judgemental spirit and even hypocrisy.
A critical spirit makes it hard for us to receive from a leader even when they are right and teaching truth that we need to hear and follow. No matter what the person says, once we have tuned them out, we might as well not even be in the pew. As the demon pointed out, it is hard to be a pupil when we are preoccupied with being a critic. This makes it easy for Satan to divide and conquer as we all rally behind our favorite leaders. Then we throw theological grenades at the other camp to try to make our doctrine or ministry approach come out on top.
I believe the key is to take any of our concerns to Jesus first. Avoid discussing your concerns with others until the Holy Spirit released you to do so. Then, it is best to go directly to the person that you have the concern with. You may take a third party if absolutely necessary.
You may find that God wants to work on your heart first before moving in the life of person you like to criticize. The Holy Spirit may remove a veil or prejudice that has kept you from walking in fellowship. You may have to overcome a previous wrong or experience where you were hurt. Being overly critical can be easy to do. That’s why we have to be on our guard and always take our concerns to Christ in prayer. He will help us know how to walk the thin line and avoid any critical mistakes.