The Difference Between Constructive Correction and Destructive Criticism
As reports of revival spread across the nation, there is something else that will quickly spread: criticism of revival. But what kind of criticism is it? Is it helpful, constructive correction, the kind that gives life? Or is it unhelpful, destructive criticism, the kind that brings death?
Constructive correction is good and necessary. It exposes error, warns of coming danger, shores up weak spots, reveals sore spots, and uncovers blind spots. It is motivated by love and is willing to be misunderstood. It is patient and persistent, and it never says, “I told you so!”
Its words are right and its spirit is right. It is Christlike in character as well as in content.
Constructive correction helps — even if it hurts. It may sting in the short term, but it will soothe in the long term. It gets its hands dirty and serves on the front lines, never engaging in smug spiritual sniping from its snug security zone. Perish the thought. The genuinely constructive critic is a cherished co-worker and friend.
Over and again, the Word exhorts us to heed these life-giving, corrective words, even praising those who are quick to hear and promising them blessing and increase. (See Proverbs 1:7-9; Proverbs 9:8; 15:31; 17:10; 19:25; 25:12; 29:1; also Proverbs 27:5-6; 28:23; Ecclesiastes 7:5)
According to the Bible, godly rebuke is a sign of the Lord’s love, and it ought to be warmly welcomed. (See Proverbs 3:11-12; Psalm 141:5a; Revelation 3:19-20.)
Yet this fearful, paranoid mindset is becoming more and more common, to the point that brothers and sisters can look at each other with deep distrust, as if one of them had spiritual rabies or an unholy plague. Why such suspicion and fear?
Thank God for righteous correction and rebuke! Thank God for those who speak the truth in love, regardless of the consequences, regardless of who rejects them or accepts them. These people are a vital gift to the Church, and all of us would do well to listen to them when they speak — whoever and wherever they are.
The same cannot be said for destructive criticism. It does far more harm than good.
So, let’s consider some of the characteristics of a destructive critical spirit.
1) A destructive critic is often self-appointed rather than God-appointed, taking it upon himself (or herself) to set the Church straight.
This aspect of self-appointed, unaccountability certainly does not apply to all critics, but it is actually fairly common and, potentially, very dangerous. And when they attack the “false unity movements” in the Church (as many critics do, failing to distinguish between a genuine work of the Spirit to unite the people of God vs. fleshly, compromised efforts) they betray the fact that they have little concern for the overall unity of the Body. After all, in the views of some critics, the vast majority of professing Christians are not even saved at all.
2) A destructive critic frequently speaks out of limited (or no) personal experience in the matters on which he (or she) makes pronouncements.
On a certain level, this applies to the critics as they speak about revival, assuring the multitudes who claim to have been transformed that their experience has not been real. Yet they themselves have never experienced powerful sweeping revival, and they most certainly have never ignited this kind of a revival.
Often, negative critics revel in God’s mighty moves of the past while reviling His mighty move in the present.
Jesus exposed this same, raw nerve when He said: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’” (Matthew 23:29-30)
3) A destructive critic is often an expert in tearing down but a novice in building up.
Of course, it’s easier to tear down than to build up (it has been said that, “You have to be little to belittle”), but many critics are loose cannons who freely and flippantly air their damning opinions and derogatory judgments for all to hear. They speak first and consider the consequences later, hardly ever considering the amount of damage that their verbal and written attacks do.
Destructive critics fail to realize that they are often guilty of gossip and slander, all under the guise of strengthening the Church. This does not reflect the heart of God, to say the least (see Proverbs 6:16-19 to see the kinds of things that the Lord abhors).
4) A destructive critic can be a hairsplitter and nit-picker, straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel.
Many of the Pharisees were scrupulous in the details of religious practice while neglecting the fundamentals of the faith, as Jesus said: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides. You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24)
This is one of the more ironic characteristics of the destructive critics.
They will launch a holy war in the name of doctrinal purity and love for the Lord, subjecting revival preachers and teachers to the most rigorous scrutiny, examining their ministries with a fine-tooth comb and calling them to account for every little comment or anecdote that has ever proceeded from their mouths — yet they will do this in the most un-Christlike manner imaginable. They will subject a revival service to their skeptical scrutiny — as contenders for the real faith, of course — and then mock it in the most ugly terms.
5) A destructive critic feeds on negativity and fosters unbelief, suspicion, and fear.
This approach to gospel living poisons faith rather than produces faith, since the critic is often vigilant when it comes to knowing what the devil is doing (actually, giving him more credit than he deserves) and negligent when it comes to knowing what God is doing.
He is constantly gathering negative, discouraging information, looking eagerly for the latest destructive trend in the Church while being wary of everything that is alive and thriving. He spends precious little time gathering information about those who are being gloriously touched in the very movements he rejects. How does this strengthen faith in the Lord?
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After digesting some of the critics’ teaching, you feel afraid even to visit a church or listen to a minister that doesn’t bear their highly-selective seal of approval.
From whence does this kind of attitude spring? Certainly not from above. Yet this fearful, paranoid mindset is becoming more and more common, to the point that brothers and sisters can look at each other with deep distrust, as if one of them had spiritual rabies or an unholy plague. Why such suspicion and fear?
Let’s recognize destructive, critical attitudes and tendencies in our own lives and nail them to the cross, renewing our minds with the Word of God. And let’s not be moved by the negative words of those who oppose real revival today. The Lord is certainly not slowing down because some people don’t like what He’s doing or how He’s doing it. He is marching right on!
And He is calling each of us to cooperate with His work (which is by faith, as Paul wrote), and to build and cultivate love — love for Him, love for His people, and love for this dying world.
(Excerpted and adapted from Michael L. Brown, The Revival Answer Book.)
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is The Political Seduction of the Church: How Millions of American Christians Have Confused Politics with the Gospel. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.