Letters to Emerging Christians

Letters to Emerging Christians February 22, 2007

Dear Matt,
I agree with you. The Church is sometimes too critical, too judgmental, and sometimes known too much for what it is against than what is for. And I agree that sometimes perfectly wonderful people — friends and family members — can become Christians and then become snooty. They can then convert their sense of God’s grace into a private grace that others are just not worthy of. And, yes, I also agree that for all the talk about forgiveness and transformation that we hear from Christians, there isn’t enough of the former practiced nor enough of the latter on routine display.

And this problem comes from folks both on the conservative and liberal side. I see it among the emerging crowd and the neo-fundamentalists. I confess to participating in it myself at times. Some might think this letter participates in it. I have ambivalence about writing this for that very reason — I apologize if my intent is anything other than to help us get rid of the problem.
Let’s also admit this with each other: being critical is easy, sometimes we find a sad delight in tossing darts at others, occasionally we find criticism the easiest way to take out our own anger, and it is simpler to criticize than come up with a better solution to a problem. But, if we believe in the power of the gospel to heal and transform, then we Christians ought to be better at avoiding the critical spirit than we do.
There is an insidiousness to the critical trend among some today, Matt. Let me refer to these folks as “parasitic Christians,” a term I heard from a friend at coffee the other day.
Parasitic Christians are those who “show their brilliance” by criticizing others, by showing how someone doesn’t measure up, by revealing how someone made a slight misstep, by making it clear that someone might be veering off the course. These parasitic Christians, instead of being known for positive and fresh insight into God, into Jesus, into what the Bible says and the simple practices of compassion and grace and love and justice, spread a cancer of we-are-holier-than-thou throughout many pockets in the Church. They make people think that either one is the devil of hell or a saint in glory. They feed off of the slips of other Christians. They seem to find the Church to be the problem. Instead of putting forward good ideas, new ideas, creative conclusions, their approach is attack.
What I find in most of the parasitic Christians is a self-congratulations about their own faithfulness. Put differently, what they are doing in criticizing another is finding a way to feel good about themselves. We learned in grade school that most people who criticize do so not to help others reform their ways but to feel good about themselves. Parasitic Christians, so it appears to me, feel very good about themselves. They have, to use the words of Jesus, their reward.
More often than not, Matt, and this often helps me to understand them, parasitic Christians are just frustrated — with their own hopes and fears. Often they may not even know what is making them tick. Out of frustration, they turn to prophetic rhetoric.
But, and I’ve learned this myself, the best passages in the Bible for the frustrated are not to be found in the vituperative rhetoric of the prophets but in the laments of the Psalms. That is, when the wise are frustrated they complain to God in prayer rather than talk about others in public. So, when you and I get frustrated, maybe not even knowing what we are so agitated about, it is best to pick up the Bible, find the Psalms, and read them — before long we’ll come up much more satisfied and much less inclined to feed off our fellow Christians’ apparent weaknesses.
What I’ve said, Matt, is harsh but it is something we need to understand. Maybe I have not gotten it as right as I might, but I do sense that the judgmental and critical spirit we see so often in the Church arises from these parasitic Christians who sometimes find their way behind pulpits, in leadership positions, on watchblogs, and even in Bible studies.
It is as easy for me to criticize them as it is for them to criticize others. I think we can deliver ourselves from this cancer if we will accept the challenge of following Jesus. Here’s what I mean:
Our challenge, Matt, is to make Christ known by following him and teaching him. The challenge is never to prove that we alone survive as faithful or that we alone are right, or that everyone else seems to be slipping and we’ve got the evidence to prove it. If we simply spend our time advocating the gospel, opening the eyes of others to Jesus and his kingdom ways, we will find ourselves following Jesus and summoning others to join along. And most importantly, we always discover that we have a whole lot less energy for feeding off the supposed weaknesses of others.
Here’s the question I often ask myself: Is my intent the desire to prove someone wrong and therefore myself right, or is my intent to open Jesus to others? Do I want others to walk away from me saying “Man, he’s smart” or “He helped me in my walk with God”? That question searches me at times.
I’ll put this one more way: If you are filled with the Bread of Life, you will not need to feed like a parasite on the Body of Christ. I’d rather be filled with the Bread of Life. As Peter said it, he’s “tasty.”
Wow, Matt, I just looked at this letter and realized my language was strong. Do you think it is too strong?
Prayers and Blessings,
Scot

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  • As Peter said it, he’s “tasty.”
    Ha, ha, ha…that made me laugh out loud – only because it is true and it really resonates with me.
    Good question, Matt.
    Helpful response, Scot.
    I just finished reading the Seven Woes of Jesus in Matthew 23. First I thought of those faceless Christians in my head that taint and distort Christianity. But then by the end I was seeing myself as the recipient of the woes.
    Sometimes I feel like I’m too hard on myself, but I guess I’d rather be too hard on me then too hard on others, especially if I’m having to guess at their motives and make unsubstantiated assumptions (even if it is based on observed words/deeds that lead to seemingly logical conclusions).
    May Jesus “the Tasty” Christ gather us together (Matt 23.37) and may we not chew each other up instead.

  • “Here’s the question I often ask myself: Is my intent the desire to prove someone wrong and therefore myself right, or is my intent to open Jesus to others? Do I want others to walk away from me saying “Man, he’s smart” or “He helped me in my walk with God”? That question searches me at times.”
    Is the language too strong? No, but it does sting because what you have said is so true and right on. Well done and thanks for the reminder.

  • Mark Perry

    Scot, your language is not too strong, but lovingly clear. Jesus’ strongest (and clearest) words were for those who were self-righteous. I am convicted by the notion of being for something rather than against something. Your question at the end points to what we need to be for: seeing people becoming like Christ. Too often, I want people to be like me – God forgive me.

  • Scot,
    Great comments. Thanks for your own example and humility to honor others while not losing discernment.

  • CAS

    What a wonderful and challenging post. It pierced my heart in a good way! Thanks for the exhortation.

  • Matthew

    Excellent, excellent, excellent.
    One example that came to my mind when I read What I find in most of the parasitic Christians is a self-congratulations about their own faithfulness is alchohol. Some Christians are proud that they have never touched the stuff (even though Scripture itself does not lay down such a standard) and yet are guilty of gossip (even though Scripture DOES prohibit it).
    The concept of someone criticizing because they themselves are frustrated is very interesting. It implies that some people who have been critical for years perhaps didn’t start that way.
    Just thinking about this makes me … want to read some Psalms!

  • If we simply spend our time advocating the gospel, opening the eyes of others to Jesus and his kingdom ways, we will find ourselves following Jesus and summoning others to join along.
    Awesome post. I take a lot of encouragement from that.

  • Larry Schuh

    Wow!
    The description of the Parasitic Christian reminded me exactly of the modern day Pharisee.
    I see the Pharisee in Jesus’ day as feeding off the people in 2 ways.
    #1 They fed off the people’s praise(Lk 11:43)in order to make them feel more righeous.
    #2 They fed off the people’s unrighteousness(Lk 18:11)in order to convince themselves that they appeared more righteous.
    Both involve an inherent trust in one’s own righteousness and a failure to be broken before and trust God.
    My 9 year old daughter has a problem with parasites. They are robbing her of any nutrition from the food she eats. She often looks sickly and deals with seizures all because of her problem with parasites. I have found Christian parasites/pharisees to have a similar debilitating effect upon the spirituality of those whom their lives touch. What’s more, as a pastor, I have endeavored to demonstrate love to such individuals and have found that more often than not, my expressions of love are rejected.

  • Paul Johnston

    Hi Scot,
    Found this post both compelling and troubling.
    Compelling in that it speaks to a desire for people to engage in more loving relationships with one another but troubling in that it might be advocating an exclusion of correction and discipline as part of that expression.
    Your in Christ,
    Paul.

  • Just what I needed to read, Scot. I wonder how harsh one can really be about this. I look at “parasitic Christians” and in myself judge them, but I wonder how often I’m just doing the same thing. My question is this: Many people who are overly critical are in deep need themselves, but how can you love the one who believes that you’re the one in real need? I wonder if there is a sort of mutual learning that can occur among all branches within the church, liberal or conservative.

  • Matthew

    Matt #10,
    In my mind, the best thing for the cycle you describe is if both people are allowing the Spirit to lead them and are pursuing the fruit of the Spirit in their own life and desiring for the other person as well. If that were to happen, then it would accidentally become a constructive cycle of bringing out the fruit of the Spirit in each other. Sort of an iron-sharpens-iron relationship. Thus, despite each person’s initial reaction to the other, an authentic and meaningful relationship would arise.

  • I love it Scot. I find your letter both convicting and encouraging at the same time. Sometimes you have to be blunt and share what you have to share.
    (Sidenote: I am going to sign up for your class on Galatians, Lord willing, if I can sign up fast enough for it). God bless.

  • I so much agree with what you say here. I do think in the Spirit of love and of Christ, we should both be open to correction as well as to correcting a wayward brother or sister. But most often, for me, I’m better off keeping my thoughts to myself, and praying. Then, sometimes, I note that whatever exchange occurs seems to be healthy, and seems in harmony with the grace and truth of our Lord. The key for me, oftentimes, is, keep quiet, or let your words be few. And avoid that, which you may have to take back. And listen!

  • Matthew #12,
    I think that could work only with the Spirit, but the issue is that a critical or judgmental attitude is clearly not of the Spirit. The primary feature of the fruit of the Spirit is love. It’s hard for me to imagine a loving relationship in the midst of criticism. I think that an iron-sharpening-iron relationship can only work in…a relationship. Certain people tend to be very forward, and others choose to say nothing, but their judgment is no less real. I sometimes think that many critical Christians haven’t yet encountered Jesus (who, conveniently, did not come to judge), and if that is the case, then I feel that it is my responsibility to show them Christ’s love in me. How to do that is what I am stuck on. The people that are better acquainted with a statement of faith often use that statement as a test of fellowship. It may be that the only way to show them Jesus is to conform to their standards…to be under the law to those who are under law.

  • Matt #10
    “but how can you love the one who believes that you’re the one in real need?” This is the Million Dollar Question. Openness to transformative relationship with him/her should almost always be present, but reality is such that for the parasitic Christian/self-appointed prophet, a relationship like this is too threatening. Or it digresses into something that he uses to “convert” the other. And yes, I think we do this, too, though I hope not as often. (Oooo. That sounds kinda sanctimonious!) Sometimes I think loving the kind of person to whom you’re referring means refusing to wish him the worst even when it appears that this is exactly what he wishes you. I often feel that these are the “enemies” that it is most difficult for me to love, and the very best thing I can hope to do at a given moment is not wish him anything other than the peace of God.
    By the way, Matt, hello from your friends in slushy Ohio.

  • Larry Schuh

    The key is what we mean by critical. When I hear critical, I’m thinking one who is negative and not interested in building up. If that is the kind of “critical” to which we refer, then the one who is continually critical qualifies for being a “scoffer.” Proverbs does not speak highly of a scoffer. In the NT sense, I would say that if one is a believer and yet a perpetual scoffer, they have long since quenched the Spirit. The Holy Spirit quenched is not active and therefore no fruit of the Spirit would be flowing from that person’s life.

  • Matt (#14), I like your statement that iron sharpening iron can only happen in a relationship. Point very well taken. And relationships should be our goal in community in Jesus and in mission to the world.

  • Matt #15
    “It may be that the only way to show them Jesus is to conform to their standards…to be under the law to those who are under law.” I admire the selflessness behind your statement, but I wonder if this would be helping the other person become a professionally weaker brother. It seems like Paul’s intent in making such a statement was to help others make the initial turn to follow after Jesus, not to maturity. I wonder if conforming to the other’s legalistic standards would have the desired effect anyway. It seems like it would either become a point of personal success (thinly veiled as the work of God), or it would create a need to find something else wrong and a new, stricter standard to which you should conform.

  • oops. my last post was supposed to say Matt #14.

  • Let me come in from the other side. I know that there are carnivorous Christians who often attack and devour others in the faith. I have been bitten more than once, but they in no way out number those who are much quieter and who extend grace to those around them. The come in all ages and life stations. I have senior women come around young mothers and love them and help them and older men who adopt cantankerous young boys. I have been on the receiving end of their care more often than having been wounded by the parasites.
    I think we ought to shine a light on the damage of the parasites, but it would be wrong to let the impression that they are majority in the church go unchallenged. In churches of dozens to hundreds to thousands these caring and loving followers of Christ outnumber the parasites.

  • Quote « Project Genesis

    […] Here’s the question I often ask myself: Is my intent the desire to prove someone wrong and therefore myself right, or is my intent to open Jesus to others? Do I want others to walk away from me saying “Man, he’s smart” or “He helped me in my walk with God”? That question searches me at times. Scot McKnight […]

  • Linda, I thought about what you said, specifically, “It seems like it would either become a point of personal success (thinly veiled as the work of God), or it would create a need to find something else wrong and a new, stricter standard to which you should conform.” I think that you are right to a large degree. But I also find myself in a situation like the one we’re talking about, and I notice that I am unable to be any influence unless they have some sort of respect for me. It is a struggle, indeed. Usually (and I probably shouldn’t do this) I just take rest in the fact that I don’t like someone, and am very comfortable avoiding them. I recently decided to start praying for the people that I don’t like. And I suppose that even in that decision, it is more selfish than anything, because I’m doing it for my own conscience more so than for their good.
    Tell all the friends in Ohio that I said hello. California is beautiful, by the way. Nothing like Jersey.

  • Brad

    These parasitic Christians, instead of being known for positive and fresh insight into God, into Jesus, into what the Bible says and the simple practices of compassion and grace and love and justice, spread a cancer of we-are-holier-than-thou throughout many pockets in the Church.
    No argument here, Scot, but we also see self-righteousness in those who possess the attitude that Tim Keller so rightly pegs: “We think we are so much better than those who think they are so much better.”
    Many emergents that I have known protest on this very basis and end up fleeing one self-righteousness in order to embrace another.

  • An outstanding post, Scot. All of us (including myself) need this very timely word.
    I like your expression, “Parasite Christians.” I think it is sad when people in various camps(from the most conservative to the more progressive) take cheap shots in public gatherings at other Christians. How sad to make fun of another’s faith–encouraging laughter in a gathering of believers at the expense of others. While it is fine to raise questions or even object to certain conclusions drawn about Scripture, it is quite another matter to belittle and mock good people.
    I just think we have been called to something higher.

  • WJY

    Interesting post. I just wish I knew a little better what y’all are talking about. So much generalization. Isn’t it a truism to say there are a goodly number of negative and critical people around. All the best for an embodied presence of Christ within the American empire!

  • Test

  • Howard Walters

    Having recently come through on the receiving end from one of these folks who felt “called to be a prophet” in my life…I think these are some lessons I’ve taken to heart:
    a) It is much, much easier for me to confess my own sin than to honestly forgive someone who decides to chew on me. I need to learn how to live forgiveness more deeply.
    b) It is much, much easier to love “pagan lost people” sometimes than to feel the love of Christ for a brother who chooses to shoot at me. It is interesting to me how I can so easily find love in my heart for a homeless person, but let a fellow church-goer be critical of me, whether he is right or wrong, and I have to really stretch for that love.
    The reason we have to watch carefully for these parasitic church people is that our enemy seems to be able to use the attack of a brother on us to particularly devastating effect.

  • I read this this morning and didn’t quite agree with it, but wasn’t ready to voice a question into the outpouring of approval. So let’s see if I can phrase it appropriately now.
    While I agree that the overly critical/parasitic attitudes are dangerous (and I fully admit that I am guilty of such from time to time), I think there is a healthy and helpful place for criticism. Maybe it’s just the Gen Xer in me, but the freedom to question and critique where one has come from is often a vital step in the growth and healing process. I have encountered too many people who have been denied that freedom – told that questioning and criticism are wrong – who then became stunted in their faith or worse developed a bitterness that consumes them.
    To steal a U2 line – “You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been, A place that has to be believed, to be seen” When we’re still trying to figure out what’s ahead, often the only place to start is by defining what’s wrong with what’s come before. To identity the discontent – to give a name to the disease. Of course the point is to move forward, but it seems dangerous to me to deny people the starting point. I doubt that was your point, but the message could be understood that way.
    Sorry for the long post, just trying to put into words what I’ve been thinking about today…

  • Julie,
    Thanks; there was the occasional observation today that the letter could be read as discouraging critical thinking or expressing discontent. That was not my intent, and I think you indicate that.
    There is a place for critical thinking and for negative judgment on things being done. There is a place for discontent.
    My point is about feeding on it, feasting on the criticism, and the sense that one is the only one faithful — so a kind of dual action at work: negative judgment about the slipping of others with the sense that we alone are faithful and the rest a bunch of borderline apostates. The post is concerned more with a disposition rather than the propriety of criticism when needed.
    Some live off of this; they have nothing else to say; they begin every lesson or session or article with this sense that others are wandering away and I need to be the one to remind them that we are watching.

  • Karen

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I praise God for pursuing the deconstruction of my self-righteousness. Besides sources like this blog, he is also using an in depth study of Romans, the teachings of N. T. Wright (ntwrightpage.com), and the book The Peacemaker by Ken Sande. In my family, there is a history of this “spirit of criticism” and I’m praying against that family legacy with my counselor. None of these sources would be soft on discipline or accountability. In fact the pain of being shown my sin in this area is excruciating because I see how far I’ve failed to love as Jesus loved.

  • danB

    Spent the past few weeks in James… came away with a personal challenge to take to heart during Lent 4:11-12. A brother came into the office today with a major question about his being “pharisaical,” judgmental, feeling deeply troubled about the very things you address here!
    I’m listening… and the whole of james 3 and 4 seem to be much the same admonishment (?)
    GRACE and peace

  • danB

    opps forgot to check the followup box…

  • Scot,
    Maybe the parasitic emerge from an impoverished spirituality that confuses truth with attack and defend, rather than a loving justice that seeks to follow in the footsteps of the crucified and risen One.

  • Larry Schuh

    Truth minus love can simply be a club used to bludgeon another.
    Even truth shared when void of love is worthless(1 Co 13).
    I have found modern day Pharisees/parasites to love truth, but their compassion for the individual is void. When someone is being Jesus to another, the love is seen and felt. When love is vacant, that too is equally seen and felt.

  • RJS

    Julie,
    I have not commented on the post, because I also couldn’t quite get a handle on it. The freedom to question and critique is an essential part of growth. Certainly I do it – quite a lot in fact. We move forward and grow as individuals and corporately by considering both what has been done right and what has been done wrong. Identifying and naming discontent is important.
    But as I think about it, I think that the real issue is one of attitude and appearance.
    If/when I ever, for what ever reason, turn that critique and questioning into an attack (real or even just perceived) on the persons or motivations of others; if I use it to show that I am smarter or better educated; if my intent is to show others wrong and improve my self-image or projected image; if I concentrate on the negative and overlook, dismiss or trivialize the positive; if I even come across as overly antagonistic or aggressive, intended or not, – then I am in the wrong. (And my husband often calls me on the last one.)
    So – don’t criticize, don’t be judgmental, doesn’t mean don’t think critically. As I see it, it simply means to treat others always with the same love and respect you crave for yourself.

  • April

    Julie I also needed some time to process this post yesterday. Thanks for asking your question. Scot and RJS pretty much answered my question as they answered yours.
    I’d add one thing. How do you know when you’re crossing the line? How do you know when you’ve thought critically, presented truth and correction vs when you’re putting yourself as superior to others and feeding off the criticism?
    I’m a high-truth person. I’ve been told I have a prophetic gift. But I sometimes don’t want it because I’m accused all too often of having a critical spirit. It’s happened enough to silence me much of the time.

  • Good point, RJS.

  • April,
    You’ve asked a good question — and it is unanswerable which often means to me you’ve touched on the hot nerve of living reality.
    There isn’t a set of categories we can apply to know when we’ve crossed the line. I suggest two things: listen to others whom you respect and listen to your heart. Let me assume in this that you are trying to do what you know is right in following Jesus, that you know enough about the Bible to know what is good and bad, and that you are seeking to live in the Spirit. Our own self-judgment is not always right so we need others in the family of God.
    Ask yourself what’s making you tick, what you “enjoy” about the criticism, what it does to you, what you get out of it, what your motive for the other person is — do you want to show them wrong or do you want them to change? These sorts of things come to mind.

  • Larry Schuh

    April and Scot,
    I have seen truth dispersed in two manners.
    #1 I have seen truth addressed and a wound was clearly given, but recieved as the person who shared the truth stayed in order to comfort and re-assure, displaying compassion.
    #2 I have seen truth given with no care for the individual. The person wounded is left to be wounded by the one who wounded. In my mind, this is where that line was crossed.

  • April

    Thanks for the quick reply, Scot.
    My motivation is usually to bring about change, to bring people closer to God. But sometimes it gets personal and I just want to be right. My gift is tainted by my own pride. It’s like I’m a kid learning to ride a bike. I crash into things, or fall off hurting myself and others.
    You’ve encouraged me to bring this up in the community I’m part of now as a way they can help me grow.

  • Scot – thanks for the clarification. I guess I’m left with a similar question to April and wondering how fighting for justice works into this. To stick to one’s convictions and fight for what one sees as Biblical, true, and right, often involves criticism and being labeled as a negative trouble-maker. For example – since researching stuff for Amazing Grace Sunday last week, I’ve been really focused on the issue that a lot of our chocolate is grown/harvested by by children who were trafficked into slavery – but the response from most of my friends has been get over it/shut-up/stop crticizing the chocolate companies and the US government. Remaining silent just allows the horrors to continue, but my critical attitude is not acceptable by “polite” society. Where is the room for the prophetic voice or should we all just never rock the boat?

  • CAS

    Glad the other bloggers expressed a little dissent here. They make great points.

  • Julie,
    I would do better by pointing to what I just said to April at #38. No need to repeat that.

  • Scot,
    Knowing how my words are viewed by others, I refrained from commenting until now. Let’s just say I was sipping my coffee while watchin and listening!
    Let’s just say that for those who have a high threshhold for Truth and Justice, and probably have for much of their life, non acceptance of their words by others is a common theme in their lives. “Non-acceptance” is a broad term which encompasses much, most of which is definitely negative. Receiving prophetic pronouncements or denouncements just does’t seem to be on the “to do” list of very many people.
    What is seen, many times, in the midst of delivery of an unpopular message is finger pointing……finger pointing by those not wanting to hear and heed the message. And the most popular refrain against those resisting?
    No Love!!!! You wouldn’t say such things if you were acting out of love!!!!!! You don’t know how to love others!!!!
    There’s been a few previous comments about Truth and Love. 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love rejoices in the Truth.”
    I wonder how many of us, instead of casting stones at the bearer of an unpopular message, would actually examine the message to see if it is true. If we are as loving as we say we are, it’s the least we can do. If we love, and love rejoices in the truth, then the search for the truth in the message of another should be a joyful exercise because we will know it is for our good.
    The fact is, many of us are cowards when it comes to the truth about ourselves. Why do I say this? Becasue most of us are deathly afraid to look at our lifes truthfully. We don’t won’t to go there. Looking at others and their shortcomings is easier than gazing upon our own sins. So we, out of fear, look every where else.
    If we were so full of love as we tend to think, we wouldn’t be this way. 1 John says, “Perfect Love casts out fear.” Fear separates us from Love. Fear keeps us from rejoicing in the Truth about ourselves, especially when it means repentance, even though repentance means we’ve corrected our wrong actions and attitudes pursuant to the desires of our Lord. He is pleased with this, yet we are kept from His pleasure out of fear, a lack of love, a lack of joy in the truth.
    So……….Many of us abide in our cowardice……. comfortable in our fear.
    But we are not afraid to blast the prophet. We are more than happy to dwell on the surface issues of his or her message while the substance is ignored. We may seem to win these surface arguments, but substantive Truth is never addressed.
    And yet, for all the words uttered by prophets, their most powerful and unnerving message may be delivered when they say absolutely nothing. If you want to see a coward start to squirm, let the prophet be silent…..and watch. The message is deafeningly, silently loud within the heart of the rebel.
    The sad part of a scenario is that it is preventable. Love cause us to constantly search for the Truth. Proverbs says to, “buy the truth and sell it not.” But can we such things when we don’t have ears to hear? Are we “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath?”
    I know one thing. It’s alot easier when you love, when you can rejoice in the Truth, even when that Truth is not what you want to hear. How many of us want to rejoice? The choice is ours!

  • Sorry for the mistakes! I forgot to proofread!

  • Thanks Scott. I think your letter is a powerful reminder to me again to apply judgement to myself first – i often want to rant about what is wrong with everyone/everything else but seldom want to rant about what is wrong with me. Your encouragement to experience the psalms reminds me of the psalm writers enquiry ‘search me oh God’ and that is something i need to pray more often.

  • BeckyR

    I have 2 experiences with people who were critical, devourers, from being people who carried anger in them all the time, at that time in their life. I also think they were poeple with personality disorders and it’s hard for such people to see their owon responsibility in things. One person, coming to our house church which was small at the time, kept telling us what was wrong, week after week after week, with rejection in it. Perhaps rejection is one of the characterisitics that make it not godly. After months of this I finally countered her accusations by saying to each one as she hurled them – “I think that’s your issues,” over and over and over. She was gone the next week. It is my experience when devourers are given boundaries within which they can operate, they go rather than accept the correction. I would say they are unable to take in and process the correction. Instead they have stories of how this person in this church or how this church did them wrong, as they move to another church.

  • Better late than never but, Thanks for a convicting and insightful post. I often wondered how a person who is sincerely correcting me can be so insensitive to my reaction. It took some years of ‘receiving correction’ to realise that for some folks, how the hearer takes the message just doesn’t seem to matter, the message is delivered and so done with!
    Made me pause and think as very often I must have said things myself without wondering how it will be received or if it will be taken too personally…authority is a two way street!

  • Ben,
    I’m trying to make a connection to the post … not at all clear what you are talking about with respect to the post.

  • Scot,
    Most of the time everyone gets caught up in being critical of others about the manner in which they deliver a message instead of looking at the potential truth of a message. Most are afraid to engage in that sort of honest evaluation. It’s far easier to focus on issues that don’t require us to face our own sin and repent.
    This doesn’t negate the potential truth of a critical spirit, but, is truth delivered with a critical spirit somehow changed into a lie? Or does it remain truth?

  • Paul Johnston

    Hey Ben,
    Would it be fair to catorgorize a truth cruelly expressed, as capturing the letter, but not the spirit of the law?

  • Paul,
    I’ll answer with another question.
    Would it be fair to categorize a truth cruelly “rejected” as capturing the letter but not the spirit of the law?

  • Paul Johnston

    Hey Ben,
    In answer to your question, I think to reject truth is to miss the “letter” and to reject it cruelly, is to miss the “spirit”.

  • Paul,
    Tell me this.
    When Jesus gave his cruel message to the Pharisees, calling them Vipers and Hypocrites and identifying them with their father the devil, did Jesus deliver this cruel message with both letter and spirit?
    When the Pharisees cruelly rejected this Divine message, were they missing the letter or the spirit of the message?
    If we apply to Jesus what you’re suggesting, would He withstand our scrutiny? Or would we reject His message? If we reject his message, have we rejected the letter or the spirit of His message? Or both?

  • pat

    Great post, Scot.

  • pat

    Pat again..I know sometimes I feel less of a Christian when around these types of people…they make it seem like their way or no way.

  • Paul Johnston

    Hey Ben,
    Jesus’ understanding of what is right, unlike mine, yours or anyone elses is and full and complete. Combined with His sinless nature, again unlike me you or anybody else, allow Him perogatives that I think people shouldn’t neccessarily assume they also possess.
    Simply put Ben, my experiences in life suggest to me that I am better able to influence and convict (do God’s work)when my postures reflect compassion and humility. Postures that, while intended to correct, reflect as well the undeniable truth of my own incomplete and compromised nature.

  • Paul,
    Tell that to the Prophets! They had to deliver messages in manners and with demeaners and postures which reflected the Holiness, Judgment and Wrath of God. Did this automatically negate any compassion, love, mercy or humility of the prophet or the God he served? Absolutely not!
    Prophets and their messages of today are no different. If I personally have not been called to the ministry of a prophet, I should at least attempt to recognoize that Gift in another who may be delivering an unpopular message with an unpoplular demeaner and manner. Just because they are not Jesus, not perfect in every way, does not automatically annul their message. In fact, they may be the most aware of their own shortcomings. But when called By God to do certain things, “woe unto them” if they don’t do them. And woe unto us if we don’t listen to the substance of their message and examine it before the Lord and His Word.

  • #54 Benjamin, apologies for jumping into your question to Paul. Jesus first went out of his way to get the Pharisees to see the truth of what He said. We see this very clearly in Luke 7 and in John 3. When all else failed then He didn’t hesitate to challenge them to their faces.
    In any case, Jesus is talking here to paople in power, and more to the point, they are those whom God has given the responsibility to be the shepherds of His people. What we see in Math. 23 and elsewhere is Jesus final call to these to turn from their smug propositions and superior doctrine and instead to be God’s humble servants.

  • Paul Johnston

    Hey Ben,
    For the sake of brevity and for what I hope is truth’s sake, I operate from the assumption that even the prophet’s declarations while, from God, so of truth, were still incomplete, or perhaps better said, not the whole truth. I support this contenton simply by the reality of Jesus Himself. Something was missing and could only be made known by the very presence of God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ.
    For me, and with regard to our dialogue, our understanding of God’s mercy was being crucially misunderstood by His people In Jesus’ time.
    While God had every right to inflict wrath as a consequence of sin, in the greatness of His being, and as an expression of the true fullness of His love, he chose instead to absorb it unto Himself.
    There is a lot about truth that I need to learn Ben, but I honestly believe that mercy trumps wrath. I believe that because it is for me what makes Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross real and alive for me and in me.
    Thank you for your reminders that love should never be misunderstood to mean that it excludes righteous criticisms, as I by nature, have a tendency to forget.
    Your brother in Christ,
    Paul.
    PS. It is time for work and as a consequence I won’t be able to respond for the rest of the day….peace

  • Sam,
    No apologies are needed!
    What you say is true. But while Jesus delivered his hardnosed message to the rulers, there were others present not intended to receive the brunt of this type of rebuke and warning. Yet they could benefit greatly by taking it as a warning. Remember, Jesus warned his disciples about not being as the Pharisees.
    If God calles a person to deliver a message, this person doesn’t necessarily know for who it is intended. There could very easily be people present who hear its delivery, but are not intended to be the specific recipients. Do they reject the potential truth of the message because of the apparant criticism and caustic nature of its delivery? Or do they take the message for what it is and take heed that they don’t come to the point of receiving such a message personally meant for them in the future?
    Which is smug and which is humble? Is it possible that one person’s smugness is another person’s humility? Remember that the Pharisees considered themselves humble in many activites. Do we place the same emphasis on what we do before others and how we are perceived.
    We all should know that what we view in another person’s life can be completely and innocently off target. We should be careful about judging another man’s servant, even when that person appears critical while delivering a message of God.
    I know I have my hands full keeping myself in line and on track. Actually my wife has her hands full, but that’s another story!

  • #61 Benjamin, Scot’s questions to April (#38) sum up the needed final steps before we decide to “deliver a message” to someone and even before that we have to be in a relationship with that person such that “the message” will get across. What’s the point of just going up to someone and saying “xyz” if that is not received properly?
    The way in which it will be received is also the responsibility of the bearer of the information! i.e. one should be lovingly relational in the approach, knowing that person’s personality well enough, and being trusted by that person well enough, that they receive what you have to offer.
    This is what Jesus did and as we can see from Nicodemus He was successful! In spite of this and after a lot of public and private discussion, when the rest set their faces against Him (publicly saying that He was a heretic and demon possessed), then Jesus went public with His challenge and it was a challenge to those much more socially and politically ‘powerful’ than Himself!

  • I think some of our posts are missing the point of the kind of person in question: a person who feeds off of criticizing others. Jesus didn’t get energized by flinging condemnation around at others. If he did, the Disciples would have never hung around because they would have been objects of it over and over again. It seems that his criticism/judgment toward others is a last-ditch effort kind of thing when all other avenues of persuasion have been exhausted. I think about Christ’s treatment of the woman at the well, and while there appears to be plenty to criticize in her life, he pursues a conversation, not a Drive-by Condemnation. The kind of person Scot is talking about is the person who doesn’t seem to be happy or fulfilled unless they have something with which to confront another person, often very petty things. They don’t enter into mutual relationships with the people they feel compelled to criticize and usually don’t have the relational “right” to say such things.
    I wonder, too, if we ought to be careful about thinking God wants us to deliver a message from him. How do we know that the “message” isn’t simply satisfying a need within our own psyches and has nothing to do with God? As I see it, out of all of God’s people there were very few people called by God to engage in the “Woe unto you!” messages typically associated with the prophets of old. This causes me to be quite skeptical of people who believe they have a word of judgment from God. I think more often than not they are people just looking for a way to sanction their own critical spirits.

  • Sam,
    Does God require something of us He didn’t do Himself? Was God in such a relationship with this World before Christ Came. Was there such a relatiohnship that the World would receive Him and His message? “He came unto His own and His own received Him not.” I thought Jesus came because there was a lack of relationship. I thought Jesus came in response to a need only He could meet. He came with a message, a message detailing the answer to their relational needs, yet they rejected this message and its remedy. They rejected the offer of a reconciled relationship.
    You’re right about the manner in which Christ addressed the multitudes. Yet the multitudes, as a whole rejected Him.
    Was this rejection the responsibility of the bearer, Jesus the Messiah? Didn’t Jesus, in His omnipotence know their personality enough? You and I both know He did. Yet the point is that they didn’t trust him, but He wasn’t responsible for that.
    It is true that we should be careful about delivering messages of God. But they are a necessary part of ministry. “Reproving, rebuking, exhorting” are not reserved for another time. The nature of reproving and rebuking is not exactly equated with a tea party. It’s not exactly the most pleasant of activities. That goes for the one delivering the reproof and rebuke as well as the one receiving them.
    Yes, what Scot has said is a valid concern. Yet, I have found that many people are “offended” by that which is nothing in reality. When someone says something we don’t agree with or if they make their disagreement with us known, we tend to be just as critical towards them as we have accused them of being towards us.
    My point is that, what we term critical spirit can be nothing more than a sensitive and selfish spirit from within ourselves. Because sometinmes we don’t want to receive the message. So we employ an age old tactic started with Cain, we attack the messenger. If the messenger is gone, so is the message.
    Or we try to convince the messenger to change his message to us in the manner of Scrooge trying to persuade the Marley brothers to “speak words of comfort to me.” Repentance is not comfortable. Repentace means we were wrong. It means we’ve been rebuked or reproved or corrected, a highly uncomfortable process. It means we’ve been criticized.

  • #64 Benjamin, the point I was trying to make (poorly) is that Jesus reserved His harshest words for the social and political leaders and that too after trying every other way first. To the multitudes or to His close disciples Jesus was always mild even when they were being dense. About the only times He was really harsh (that I can recall) was with Peter after the transfiguration and to His family when they wanted Him to take a break.
    As Linda pointed out we may not now be talking about Scot’s post. Perhaps the best advice for interaction within the body is to start out with a bit of healthy self-examination. I always need to ask myself, am I poking around looking for that elusive speck in my brother’s eye?

  • There are alot of comments here … some of them have wandered so far from the intent of my post that I’d like to bring us back … if you want to comment, try to keep yourself to talking about the post — parasitic Christians and how we learn not to be that way.

  • Dr. Platypus » Blog Archive » Christian Reconciliation Carnival #2

    […] Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed occasionally writes Letters to Emerging Christians. This letter deals with how the church is sometimes (often?) too critical and judgmental. […]