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,