I know that sounds strange. When we think of criticism, we think of something negative and destructive. But being critical does not necessarily have to be a negative thing. Judging something critically involves an intense analysis of what is being presented and measuring it against an objective criteria. Now that can be done in an unloving manner. The blogosphere and numerous pulpits demonstrate show no end of unloving and vicious criticism.
But the other extreme is considering any mention of criticism to be mean-spirited. In the wake of the Shai Linne Fal$e Teacher$ brouhaha, it is no surprise that this charge is levied against him and those who support his song – charges of self-righteousness and unloving criticism. I have encountered it myself, at times when I tried to point out how so-so and so’s teaching didn’t line up with the message of Scripture. I’ve been told that it was corrupt to engage in such criticism.
However, when I look at Paul’s letter to Timothy, I see a different picture. Young Timothy is the pastor of the church at Ephesus. Now Ephesus was as pagan as it comes and Timothy was a bit timid in confronting some funky stuff that was seeping into the church. Paul as an apostle commissioned by Christ is giving him instruction concerning the church;
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work – which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do now know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm (1 Timothy 1:3-7)
Apparently, there were already some who had infiltrated the church with strange teaching. This means they were in the position of teaching and had the potential of disrupting the faith of believers. Now, Paul doesn’t say exactly what they were teaching. But we do have a profile.
1) It was false or strange. It didn’t line up with his apostolic instruction. The apostolic instruction was built on the testimony of Christ, which had a foundation in the OT scriptures since it foreshadowed Christ. There was a connective thread based on what has already been written.
2) It was based on myth. In other words, it was conjured up by the teachers. Speculations about genealogies meant imposing their own spin on the redemptive story of Scripture.
3) It was built on untrained teachers who did not understand the content or purpose of God’s law. Instead, through the speculations they promoted novelty about Christianity and removing Christ’s work from the foundation of OT promises and/or distorted the OT application towards the church creating legalism or licensiousness.
4) It was empty for producing fruits of righteousness. That doesn’t mean the teachers weren’t persuasive or claimed to promote godliness. But the ultimate impact of their teaching did nothing to further the people of God into conformity of Christ and maturity in the faith.
But out of love and a good conscience and sincere faith, Paul gives this instruction to tell these perpetrators to stop it. Paul was adamant that it be known that what was being promoted was distorted and wrong to the Christian faith. Paul was levying criticism regarding what was being promoted. He was able to critically evaluate what was being instructed and concluded that this was not in accordance OT scripture or the testimony of Christ or God’s intention for the church.
Paul wasn’t on some superiority trip although he could have been. He wasn’t just going around nitpicking just because he felt like he was right and these perpetrators were wrong. He was not just fussing about doctrine because he was anal.
He had a legitimate concern. His concern was out of love…
For the triune God and his character
For the salvific work of Christ
For the church as Christ’s body
If this can be said of those who point out error and disruption in the body, then it is a loving thing to do. Especially if it can be said that they themselves have demonstrated Christian character of love, of good conscience and a sincere faith.
“Oh, my brethren, bold-hearted men are always called mean-spirited by cowards.” – Charles Spurgeon
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