The word “critical” has several differing meanings. On the positive side, it can mean, “involving skillful judgment as to truth, merit, etc.” In this sense, all people should strive to be critical thinkers, critical theologians. However, it is the primary meaning or sense of critical that must be avoided: “inclined to find fault or to judge with severity, often too readily.” There is nothing virtuous about this second sense.
Second-sense criticism is rooted in arrogance or fear (often both) and goes against the spirit of love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. It repels others inside and outside the church. My experience has been that those who are second-sense critical, ironically, speak first and think second. While they hold themselves to be first-sense critical, as those who “just speak the truth” or see the situation more clearly than all others, their opinions are shaped less by facts and rationality than what somewhere deep inside they want to be the case. This is to say, they want others to be deserving of their criticism. So, rather than explore situations thoroughly and examine the facts as they are—they are content to attribute motives, project their insecurities, and make people out to be what they are not…so they can criticize in the second sense while holding themselves to be critical in the first sense. Such people do great injury to churches and those who have the courage to take God risks.
Just yesterday, I heard another story of many I’ve heard over the years of someone who wanted to take a courageous step in ministry, but because of the type-2 criticism he had and would receive, decided not to proceed. Perhaps if he couldn’t handle the type-2 criticism that would go with such a move he shouldn’t make it. However, I hated to hear again that someone had a great idea that will not be pursued because of the type-2 critical.
Such sad news upsets me.
Quick personal story: When I was serving at Highland Oaks and God led us to launch the Plano campus—it was the first such move of it’s kind in Churches of Christ. There was no forerunner or pattern for us to look at within Churches of Christ. We simply believed there were unreached people in that area and God had opened a door miraculously for us to be able to reach them using a fresh approach. After much prayer, analysis, and "gut-checking," we proceeded. We had many neighboring churches that offered prayer and support. It meant so much to us to have the love and support of our sister congregations.
However, others went type-2 critical.
I read from those I did not know who had no contact with leadership at Highland Oaks that we were beginning a new denomination. I was called the Pope, the elders were called The Vatican. I was referred to in one “Brotherhood” paper as a “rank apostate.” It was my grand eye-opening to the fact that there were type-2s not just in the congregation—but “out there” too. They had few facts (if any), they had no conversations with us, they had no rational reason to believe what they believed, they had no spirit of unity and hope that undergirds true type-1 criticism. All they had was a forum through which to bloviate, a firm belief they were type-1 critical, and a cause against which they could be type-2 critical. They were in fact, a spiritual joke and a disgrace to the Kingdom.
For the life of me, I cannot understand the benefits of such a way of being—at least that benefit the Kingdom rather than oneself. Such a “ready-fire-aim” way of relating to people and circumstances that nearly always long on projection and short on fact. Such a critical spirit can do great, great harm and choke off the innovation and forward-thinking that can bring much needed renewal to Churches of Christ.
This critical spirit is suffocating the Churches of Christ subtly as those with new ideas, fresh perspectives, and the courage to try them are flogged publicly and privately until they stop pursuing them. Biblical texts are ripped from their contexts and used to supply a false veneer of biblical rationale and type-1 criticism, while the absence of Spirit Fruit in both tone and content, as well as the absence of sound biblical interpretation flashes “type-2” above it.
I’m thankful for the tradition of perseverance and resilience among some leaders in Churches of Christ as well. You know who they are—the ministers that continue to love and serve a fellowship from which some have beaten they and their families soundly year after year. They have pressed on. They have continued to follow God’s call amidst the constant screech of type-2 criticism. They are the Rocky Balboas and Gladiators of the Church. They are some of my spiritual heroes.
We as a fellowship of churches need a heart change. Not everyone. Not all churches. But, certainly some of us. We have to stop beating each other up unnecessarily. Pause and think for just a moment how different things could be if we redirect the staggering amount of energy burned type-2ing one another into encouragement, support, and willingness to join one another in taking Kingdom risks.
Brothers and Sisters, let’s resolve to create a gracious spirit and tone in our churches. Let’s choose to be supportive to those who are taking steps of faith and trying to reach people for Christ. Let's stop allowing the scarcity mentality to drive our decisions and treatment of one another.
To the spiritual entrepreneurs and risk-takers out there I say…press on. Test the spirits. Listen humbly to the voice of the type-1 critical, and let the voice of the type-2 critical be silenced in your mind and heart. May they be but poodles barking at freight trains. May the Lord God himself supply you with the courage and resilience to obey His call, regardless of type-2 criticism. And, may you remember that God did not give you, “a Spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).