Recently, I've written a couple of posts about judgmental, antagonistic and critical Christianity. Back in the 1980s when Amy Grant was very popular she appeared on The Tonight Show. We had a guest speaker at our church, and while talking in the fellowship hall on a Sunday night over ice cream, I remember him very distinctly criticizing Amy for not being more bold about Jesus on national television, that she was compromising on the truth. I heard this speaker preach at least 50 times, but his comments about Amy Grant stuck in my memory more than anything else.
Jesus said, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." However, it seems like now that we are waiting until the erreturn of Christ, that we in the church take the opposite approach.
Some might retort, "We, as Christians, know the truth, and we have the responsibility to tell the world what is right and wrong. Unless someone names the truth, moral relativism will rule the day. Don't you see how the news media, entertainment, and social media is destroying our youth. It's time for the church to stand up and tell the world what is right and wrong. After all, the Bible says, 'Judgement begins in the house of God' (1 Peter 4:17).
I've heard this point of view spoken for most of my life, justifying critical and antagonistic talk about everything they disagree with. Recently I actually read the entire chapter from which this phrase is quoted. I had never done so before. (My bad!)
When you read the entire fourth chapter of Peter's first letter, it is clear that this is not talking about those within the church judging the culture. Nor is it talking about passing judgement upon individuals inside or outside the church. It is speaking to the state of suffering that the recipients of this letter were enduring, specifically to Christian slaves who were suffering at the hands of unbelieving owners. The "judgement" mentioned in this verse is about the refining fire that comes from unjust suffering. Paul was correcting their grumbling. He is challenging them to grow up. This begins in the "house of the Lord." This is not about telling others outside the church what they are doing is wrong. This is about discipleship.
The so-called and self-proclaimed "duty" for the church to be the moral compass that tells the world what is right and wrong is exhausting. I've been there. It requires that we operate in a role that we are not called to operate. We have no evidence that the early church leaders expended energy on judging others and criticizing the majority culture, political leaders or even other people within the church. After all, it does no good.
Being the critic of other Christians is equally exhausting, whether about Amy Grant-like figures or the person sitting on the same pew? While there is a place for public conversation about truth, ethics and the like, when I expend effort on criticizing others' ideas, I don't like who I become. Criticizing other Christians from a distance just makes me a judger and makes me into something that is less than loving.
I'm not sure where we got the idea that focusing on the negatives makes for a compelling message. The literature we have on the early churches reveal that they were much more focused on expending their energy on constructive endeavors. And when they did challenge one another, it was done relationally. (Read about Paul's challenge to Peter in Galatians 2). There is a place for challenging one another with truth, but that is different than criticism.
Don't worry. I'm not a moral relativist. Right and wrong still exist. I have major problems with aspects of normal life in our culture. I even have huge concerns about a lot of stuff that I observe going on in church circles. But if other people want to do stupid stuff, I don't have to spend my energy on talking about it. It's time to focus on what I am offering as a constructive alternative rather than focusing so much energy on what's wrong with everyone else.