Helpful Critique or Sinful Slander?

April 28, 2014

Recently, I read a review of a book critiquing the theology and methodology of a very popular pastor in the PCA. The review appeared in the magazine of a sister denomination. As I read, I wondered, “With all of the unbiblical ideas and behavior that exist in the world, why is it so important to critique a pastor who shares the same biblical and doctrinal commitments?”

I know what Proverbs says:

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (Proverbs 27:6 ESV)
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17 ESV)

But James, who is very familiar with Proverbs 27 (practically quoting 27:1 in James 4:13–14), writes:

11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12, ESV)

I agree with those who say the “law” being judged is that which finds concise expression in the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). This section of James has in view personal relationships within the Body of Christ. Quarrels and fights are not to exist among the people of God—but they do (4:1). The solution is humble submission to each other (4:7, 10), what earlier James termed “the royal law” (2:8) or “the law of liberty” (2:12). James is merely repeating Jesus, when he said that the Great Commandment was to love God with all your being and your neighbor as yourself.

We must be very careful with the common defense: “I’m just having a public discussion of public teaching.” To a watching world, an unsolicited public critique of the views of someone with whom you share so much in common appears to be rivalry rather than love. And Jesus clearly said the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35).

So how do we help others stay sharp? How do we faithfully wound a friend (who is straying)? We do so in love by holding our tongue in public until we have spoken to the friend in private—even when the issue is the friend’s public teaching. If our relationship is not strong enough for that level of communication, we should reserve our comments for blatantly unbiblical views or behavior, and pray that God will lead others to offer the needed correction. Or even more radically, we could begin the work of building a friendship, and in the process come to understand better the one we were so eager to critique.

Jesus commanded his followers to love, but he never said it would be easy. Neither did he say it was impossible. To love well means you die to self, and self-sacrifice is only possible through the redeeming work of Christ. He gave himself so that people with imperfect theology and bad behavior could learn to live together in love.

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