The Critic

Picture a young, blushing bride minutes from walking down the aisle and plunging into the biggest day of her life. Months have been spent preparing for this moment, but they do not begin to shadow the years she has been playing it out in her head. Every piece, every detail has been meticulously attended to and shown the uttermost care. Not one thing about this day has been overlooked.

As the bride turns in the mirror for that final look, you notice that in her motion she has upset a flower in her hair. And stepping closer you see that part of the stitching in the seam of her dress has come undone, only slightly, but still undone. Upon further inspection you notice that the ribbons on her shoulders are not symmetrical at all. In fact she naturally leans just slightly to the left, a fluke that can be attributed to a broken leg when she was 8.

At this point you become faced with a difficult situation. Some of these problems can be mended easily, some will take longer, and some are out of your hands. You realize that something must be done. You have to intervene.

So you pause, assess and naturally begin to verbally and acutely critique the bride from head to toe, taking pains not to miss the smallest flaw. After a complete critical review, you give her a look over to ensure your accuracy, and then briskly leave the room with the satisfaction of a job well done.

I hope I have conveyed the absurdity of this story.

In an attempt not to insult you with the obvious symbolism, I have to wonder if it is any less absurd when Christians do the same with the Church. C.S. Lewis wrote in his Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, “He would be a more helpful critic if he advised a cure as well as asserting many diseases.”

How perverse would it be for a person to constantly analyze his every action and behavior, recognize his shortcomings, mercilessly beat himself up over it and then walk away without ever doing anything to correct his mal-behavior? James, one of the first leaders of the early Church, wrote, “Any one who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

I have always applied this in a strict literal and practical fashion, but I think that if the Church is also referred to as a body, then we can apply this same approach in this context. Deconstructing the “program” of the “modern Church” (insert your own personal connotations here) in its attempt, or lack of, to make any significant ripple today is easy sport and can sometimes even bring a personal sense of noble genius.

Upon an objective reading and comparison of what Scripture has to say about the Church, one could easily come to the conclusion that the Church today is struggling at best in the hostile sea of American society and culture. And anyone with a mouth and even half a brain can spout off their personal opinion of how the Church in America is sinking faster than the Titanic. But few are offering solutions, and even fewer are offering solutions in love.

Spiteful critique is like a self-inflicted wound on the body. It’s one thing to critique the Church; it’s another thing to offer a solution, and still another thing to offer a solution that promotes unity and love. Sadly enough, there are several “solution” groups that are genuinely attempting to relate the truth of the Gospel to society and culture but have been born out of a negative, in some cases even rebellious, reflex to the “modern Church.” This cannot please the heart of God. Not only is the bride being verbally assaulted, but she now has several internal tumors eating her alive. It cannot be healthy for the body to be at war with itself.

Jesus prayed for the Church, saying, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” Jesus also told His disciples, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

In these passages, Jesus expressly states that the Church will be proved true with its love and unity. America is a land of several diverse culture groups that did not exist back during the glory days of the strong influential Church, and these culture groups speak several different “languages” that necessitate the several different solution groups.

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There are people who need a church with programs, pews, hymns, three points and a poem. And there are others who need candles, paints, blogs, guitars and film clips. I believe it is the heart of God for all His body, no matter what “language” they speak, to be in complete love and unity, uplifting and encouraging the body.

I have written this in fear of being ironically hypocritical, but would like to conclude that negative criticism offered without a solution promoting unity and love is nothing more than attacking the bride.

[Chris Troutman has a job in media but only works to live. He enjoys film, music, literature, people, coffee and the Church.]

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