Words Words Words
In the multitude of words sin is not lacking,
But he who restrains his lips is wise. (Proverbs 10:19)
Social media has given us all a platform. Some use that platform for good; to edify and encourage others. Some use it profanely, while some find other unprofitable ways to express themselves. In one sense, social media is good because it levels the playing field. In another way, it’s bad for the same reason. What I mean to say is that with everyone swimming in the free market of ideas, it is difficult to recognize an informed opinion from one that is not so informed. There’s something about giving everyone a say that causes us to lose our sense of what is true and authoritative and what is merely opinion. Certainly, we are all free to agree or disagree with the supposed experts in any given field, but there is something in the proliferation of opinions that is disconcerting to me.
One of the things that bother me most is the criticism I see from Christians regarding the Church. It may be an opinion about the Church in general, certain ministers, or about a particular group or denomination of believers. Everyone is an expert from the cheap seats. I know we all play “armchair quarterback” on Sundays from the comfort of our sofa, safe from the heat of the competition on the football field, but that is entertainment. I get concerned when it happens with things as important as the Lord’s Church.
I’m not an expert on anything, but I have been in ministry all my adult life. God has given me the privilege to pioneer churches on both coasts, travel the nation ministering in scores of local churches, and going overseas to minister to the hungry masses. I have seen ministry up close from just about every angle, and I’ve seen pastors of churches, both big and small, laboring faithfully to their congregations, loving people, and endeavoring to fulfill the mandate for service that God has placed upon their lives. I love the Church. I love God’s people, and I am a champion for the local church and particularly for the local pastor. You don’t have to tell me that no church is perfect any more than you have to tell me that water is wet. Some think the fact that churches have flaws and are filled with imperfect people is a justifiable enough reason for them to exclude themselves from participation. I don’t have the influence to convince them otherwise, perhaps, but I know that they are in for a surprise when they arrive at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The fact is that God often has us live and serve around people that rub us the wrong way to perfect US! There’s nothing like friction to rub off the rough edges. Families work through things, or at least that is the way it is supposed to work. The bonds that come from developing relationships, through the good times and the bad, are what enable us to grow in character. It makes us more like Jesus. It is sure a lot easier to simply sit on the sofa and criticize, but all such opinions are just that: opinions. Criticisms from the world are to be expected, and it is our job to give our unsaved friends as little as possible to justly criticize, but when we who profess to be believers set ourselves up as the judges over God’s servants or God’s flock, we are treading on genuinely dangerous ground.
The apostle Paul said, “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:17). The words “defiles” and “destroys” in this verse are translated from the same Greek word, so Paul is essentially saying that if someone sets himself up to destroy the Church, God will destroy Him. God is jealous over His family. You can try to soften it if you want, but the language is pretty plain. God is provoked when people, even His own people, lob verbal grenades at His servants and His people. What are we trying to accomplish by our criticism? I’m not talking about the constructive criticism that comes from those desirous to see others rise up to their full potential, but rather a negative critical spirit which is never from God. Certainly, there are abuses in the Church, but shouting at them from a distance doesn’t do anything to solve them. For that, we must get our hands dirty by being involved and committed to God’s people.
I have noticed that much of this criticism comes from those who hold loosely to their commitment to the local church. Either they don’t go, or they go sporadically. One recent post I saw suggested that all the churches in their area were either dead or falling short in some other way – this coming from someone who, by their own admission, is not committed to any particular fellowship. The thing that grieved me the most, besides the obvious implication that they were sufficient in wisdom and experience to criticize every local fellowship out of hand, was that others were so quick to jump on the bandwagon. I have to admit – it made me angry. I can’t say much about the conversation that followed since I was too busy unfollowing, but while these voices seem to get much attention, those burning the midnight oil to hear from God in order that they might feed their flocks are often passed off by these critics as somehow undeserving of respect.
When I hear this kind thing, or see it posted on social media, it reminds me of God’s words to Job when He spoke to him from the whirlwind. He said, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). Loose words have influenced many an undecided heart and turned them away from good churches where they could have formed strong relationships and grown in their faith. Jesus said that men would give an account for every idle word spoken (Matthew 12:36). I don’t know about you, but that makes me tremble. I have spoken plenty of idle words, and I know that some of them found their mark, doing damage to God’s people. Thankfully, we can all learn from such mistakes and learn to use the power of our words for good, be they spoken or posted.
James said we should all be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19 NLT). I think we can all take a lesson from the way God made us. He gave us two ears and one mouth. Maybe we would do well to do twice as much listening as talking (or posting), and endeavor to genuinely communicate with those with whom we disagree. It’s harder work than criticizing from the stands or ranting on social media. Real communication requires respect and the realization that our ideas are all, to some extent, uninformed. Even Paul said that “we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12 NLT). That being said, we should be careful with our words, knowing they have the power of death and life (Proverbs 18:21). Paul said we should only speak those things that minister life and grace, building others up, rather than tearing them down (see Ephesians 4:29).
Not every church is for everybody, and you may feel led to another church someday, but be careful how you leave and be careful what you say. Sometimes the bridge we burn is the one we need to cross to get where God has called us. Better to leave the bridge intact than have to spend time repairing the damage.
Dr. Randy Bunch is the pastor of West Kern Christian Center, located at 1000 6th Street in Taft, California, as well as a graduate advisor and adjunct professor at Summit Bible College in Bakersfield, California. He is the author of several books, including his new devotional, Immutable: Changeless Truth for a Changing World. For more information, or to purchase your copy, go to randylanebunch.org. For more information on the ministries of WKCC, you can go the ministry’s website at wkcconnect.org.