By Larry Ray Hafley
Before we discuss specific slurs that some sling against the church of the Lord, we shall notice a few effects of the critics’ complaints. Evil men with evil motives unwittingly may benefit the cause of the Christ. How? First, they may lead us to silent introspection and reflection upon our own hearts course and direction (2 Cor. 13:5; 1 Thess. 5:21). This does not justify the evildoer, but it may help the friends of the Father to sharpen their focus against the foes of the faith. Second, their scathing, scurrilous complaints help us to identify them. A guerilla fighter is most effective when he works anonymously, out of sight. One cannot shoot at an enemy he cannot see. Their criticisms mark and stamp them; their camouflage is removed. We know where to train the cross hairs of our scope. We know where to aim (Rom. 16:17). Third, unfairness and injustice often stir the languid, lethargic soul. One who is placidly content may be aroused to zealous, vigorous action by the sting of unfair, unjust complaints. After Pearl Harbor, a Japanese official said, “I fear that we have only succeeded in arousing a sleeping giant.” He was right! Americans were incensed and infuriated by the “dastardly” sneak attack. Enlistments increase the ranks of the righteous when some are pricked and prodded by a sense of righteous indignation (Mk. 3:5). Fourth, they increase our dependence on God. Our enemies would like to wound and weaken us, and they do for a time, but with the apostle Paul we can boldly say:
If I must glory, I will glory in the things that concern my weakness. . . . Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries. in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong (2 Cor. 11:30; 12:10ASV ). I can do all things in him that strengthened) me (Phil. 4:13).
David’s success against Goliath is an object lesson of these things. David was stung and stirred by Goliath’s insolent challenge (1 Sam. 17:26). Next, he trusted in God. He acknowledged Goliath’s physical superiority, noting his sword, spear and shield, “but I come to thee in the name of Jehovah of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied” (1 Sam. 17:45). So, today. We thank our adversaries for their adversity. They have helped us. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations. Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (Jas. 1:2, 3).
Despite the positive effects, there are, unfortunately, some negative effects. See the chart:
Whats Wrong with The Church of Christ?
Effects of Critics Complaints:
1. Belittles Truth 2 Peter 2:2
2. Heightens Error Acts 13:44-46, 50
- Error wins without having to answer a single argument (Acts 17: 2-10).
- Opponents Emboldened
3. Disciples Discouraged
- “Guilt Trip”
- Ashamed of Truth (2 Timothy 1:8; Romans 1:16)
- Neutralized = Quarantine
Critics will have to answer for these demoralizing, degenerating effects. Their murmurings and complainings are a both a source and an evidence of apostasy. Ten of the twelve spies in Numbers 13 were the cause of defeat and discouragement (Num. 14:1-4). Their words were also “an evident token of perdition” or destruction (Phil. 1:28). We neither gloat nor glory in these consequences.
Those who “speak great swelling words” against “the right ways of the Lord,” cause truth to be belittled and ridiculed. “But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies. . . . And many shall follow their lascivious doings; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of ” (2 Pet. 2:1, 2). Both words and deeds may be detrimental (2 Sam. 12:14; 3 Jn. 10).
Critics and complainers cause damage with their unwise words. This is vividly demonstrated in the Old Testament (Num. 13:26-14:4). Korah, Dathan and Abiram “took men” and used them to murmur against Moses (Num. 16). Moses and Aaron, God’s appointed, anointed leaders were disdained and discredited as dishonorable men of arrogant ambition (Num. 16:3). These charges led to a denial of the Lord’s purposes and promises (Num. 16:13, 14). Thus, “the way of truth (was) evil spoken of.”
The same thing happened in the New Testament. The apostles were falsely accused by “false brethren” (Rom. 3:8; 2 Cor. 10:10). That the apostles were harmed and injured is not the main point. The real ruin, the true tragedy is that the truth of God was belittled in the eyes of men. Today, men may assault and assassinate the character of Christians. Again, this is not the central concern. It is the trampling and tarnishing of the truth that is the greatest travesty. Korah, Dathan and Abiram did not dream, perhaps, that their murmuring against Moses was actually “against the Lord” (Num. 16:11). Paul’s opponents apparently never realized that their persecutions against him were hindrances to the gospel’s power to save (1 Thess. 2:14-16).
Current critics and complainers cause similar calamity in the church. It is not the slander of men that matters. It is the belittling of the truth that is our greatest peril. We must beware lest we allow personal slights to become our focal point, our guiding star. In the final analysis, they are nothing; the truth is everything. Obviously, as Luke 15 and the entire book of 2 Corinthians show, a personal defense may have to be made in order to defend the truth itself, but one must not permit a carnal spirit of self preservation and selfish promotion to fuel his prosecution of error. When a child of God lets his own personal defense overshadow his stance as a sentry of truth, he has lost his effectiveness as a soldier in the kingdom of God.
In Acts 13, Paul’s opposers contradicted and blasphemed; they denied and slandered. The result was that a great, logical, scriptural speech was declared “dead on arrival,” “null and void.” This was accomplished without the enemy having to answer a single argument! Throw dust; throw sand; start a riot. That way, error does not have to give an answer. It wins by default!
A similar episode occurred in Thessalonica. For three Saturdays, Paul “reasoned (d i scussed, d isputed) with them out of the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2,3). He carefully and clearly “proved and explained” his doctrine (see NASB). But it is easier to take “certain lewd men of the baser sort” and precipitate confusion with an angry mob than it is to provide reasoned argumentation. Again, without firing a shot, error succeeded in driving Paul away under cover of darkness (Acts 17:2-10)
By stirring up strife, by kindling contention, error is enhanced and encouraged. Attack the elders as being dictatorial, high-handed autocrats who make decisions “without consulting anyone” (cf. Num. 16:3). Charge the preacher with manifesting a rude, crude, boorish manner. Say that he is “driving people away” with his “dogmatic” demeanor. As the rebels in Numbers 16 and Acts 13 and 17 did, enlist men who will parrot the charges. In this way, error will not have to answer a single argument; it will not have to defend a position, or a doctrine. “Forbid them that would” call for study and open debate and “cast them out of the church” (3 In. 9, 10). Destroy the eldership, cause disarray, fire the preacher or force him out “for the good of everyone concerned,” but by all means get rid of him and the elders. My brethren, this is the way error works. It has not changed since Numbers 16 and Acts 17. Only the names and faces are different. The effect is the same.
Moses was dismayed and discouraged by the complaints of carping critics. Paul was “troubled . . . perplexed . . . cast down” to the extent that he “despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8-11; 4:8,9). Error has a debilitating design and effect. It seeks to wear down the advocates of truth. Disciples are made to feel guilty. They begin to wonder, “Lord, is it I?” They are made to question and doubt themselves and their faith. “Maybe it is me; maybe it is my fault. Maybe the elders are a little too insensitive to these good brethren. Maybe the preacher is a little too hard; maybe he could manifest a better spirit when he preaches; maybe he is driving people away. Maybe he should move. Not because I want him to, and certainly not because he does not preach the truth, because he does preach the truth, but maybe a change would be better for everyone and would stop all the confusion that exists here.”
It is all part of the overall plan. Error will rule or ruin. It will not allow the appointing of men who hold fast the faithful word and who are able and willing to convict those who teach error (Tit. 1:9-13). Thus, when error ousts its present opposition, it will be in a much stronger position. Truth will be weakened while error is emboldened. The next elders and preacher will be of their kind and of their mind. It is a sinister plan that is being hatched. The unwary will be overtaken before they realize what has happened. Some, at ease in Zion, will never know and will never care.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Rom. 1:16). “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:8). Complainers will cause one to become ashamed of the gospel and of the way of truth. They will try to make the faithful feel as though they ought to offer a retraction and an apology for “the hard sayings” of the gospel. Beware of such men. Beware of their spirit.
Critics of the word of the cross seek to neutralize it. If they can cause the church to develop a sense of shame and embarrassment for the fundamentals of the faith (“one Lord, one faith, one baptism”), they can quarantine the truth. Truth is stifled when it is watered down and soft-pedaled. When a church becomes ashamed of the gospel, it will go into a shell like a tortoise. The gospel will be neutralized. The faith will be quarantined. Heavenly hosts will hang their heads in horror. The imps of impiety will rejoice.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII, No. 23, p. 8-10
December 2, 1993