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New Horizons

How to Criticize Other Christians

Samuel T. Logan, Jr.

I am dismayed by the hurtful way in which Christians often criticize other Christians. I cringe when I read a statement like the following made about a PCA minister in good standing: “The truth is that —— does not abide by the orthodox doctrines of the Christian Church. He uses a pseudo-intellectual, philosophical approach to propagate a man-made gospel. He is promoting a false gospel that is far from biblical truth.”

Where do we go to get instruction about how we are to criticize other Christians whom we believe are speaking and/or acting unbiblically? Of course, the answer is that we go to the inspired and inerrant Scriptures. More specifically, we can go to the interpretation of Scripture provided by Q/A 143 and 144 of the Larger Catechism. Here is a quick summary of what the catechism says:

1. We must, of course, “appear and stand for the truth.” (This is absolutely essential, and it is something for which the OPC is well known.)

2. But we are to do so in a way that:

  • Protects and promotes the good name of our neighbor
  • Demonstrates a charitable esteem for our neighbor
  • Seeks to cover our neighbor’s infirmities
  • Freely acknowledges our neighbor’s gifts and graces
  • Actively defends our neighbor’s innocence
  • Demonstrates a readiness to receive good reports about our neighbor
  • Shows an unwillingness to receive an evil report about our neighbor

Note the relative amount of attention that the catechism gives to speaking the truth (brief mention) and doing so graciously (extensive attention).

Jonathan Edwards confronted this problem during the Great Awakening. He believed that “censoriousness” (by both supporters and opponents of the Awakening) was the primary tool that Satan used to attack the Awakening.

In his Treatise concerning Religious Affections, Edwards, in the spirit of the Larger Catechism, says this:

But here some may be ready to say, Is there no such thing as Christian fortitude, and boldness for Christ, being good soldiers in the Christian warfare, and coming out boldly against the enemies of Christ and his people?

To which I answer, There doubtless is such a thing. The whole Christian life is compared to a warfare, and fitly so.… But yet many persons seem to be quite mistaken concerning the nature of Christian fortitude. It is an exceeding diverse thing from a brutal fierceness, or the boldness of the beasts of prey. True Christian fortitude consists in strength of mind, through grace, exerted in two things; in ruling and suppressing the evil and unruly passions and affections of the mind; and in steadfastly and freely exerting, and following good affections and dispositions, without being hindered by sinful fear, or the opposition of enemies.

An excellent example of how to offer such criticism is provided by Brandon Crowe’s superb review of Andrew Lincoln’s recent book in the June 2014 issue of New Horizons. Dr. Crowe is very clear in expressing disagreement with the major thesis of Dr. Lincoln’s book. But Dr. Crowe does this carefully and graciously. He therefore models “speaking the truth in love.”

Yes, of course, we must speak the truth. But we must always do so in a way that protects and promotes the good name of our neighbor. To do either one of these things alone is to fail appropriately to “image” the Savior whom we profess to love and serve. To do both of these things is to change dismay and cringing into delight and worshipping.

The author, an OP minister, is the international director of the World Reformed Fellowship. New Horizons, August 2014.

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