Against Thoughtless and Wanton Criticism of Teaching
If I were to take a guess, I would venture to say that most of the people who read this blog have at some point or another been in what could be called the “cage stage.” We might describe the said “cage stage” as consisting in a strong zeal for the purity of church practice and doctrine and accuracy in the exposition of Scripture that we hear taught in the church. Such a zeal is not bad in itself, but when one is in the “stage,” this zeal often expresses itself in unhelpful and uncharitable ways. I’ve found myself there before. Have you? Fortunately for us, Martin Bucer anticipated folks like us and other sinfully critical souls nearly five hundred years ago:
This is why Christians are first of all to ask the Lord with great earnestness to grant them faithful ministers, and to watch diligently in choosing them to see that they walk in accordance with their calling and serve faithfully; and when these ministers come to warn, punish, teach or exhort in the Lord’s name, not to dismiss it thoughtlessly and despise this ministry, as sadly many are wont to do today. Such people are so kind as to object to and judge the sermons and all the church activities of their ministers, just as if they had been appointed to do so and the only reason for hearing sermons was so that they might in the most unfriendly way discuss, distort and run down what had been said in them, or anything else which had been done in the church. In such people you do not observe any thought of approaching sermons in such a way that they might in some way be moved by what they have heard in them to acknowledge their sins more fully, or to commit themselves more wholeheartedly to Christ and seek more earnestly to improve their ways; all they do is to judge and criticize anything which is said which applies to them, or which in some way they consider not to fit in with their carnal impudence (and not Christian freedom). And when they praise something in a sermon, it is generally because it applies to other people, whom they like to hear criticized; and they take from such sermons nothing beyond an excuse to run down those they do not like, and not so that they might warned or built up.
– Martin Bucer, Concerning the True Care of Souls, trans. by Peter Beale, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2009), 196, (emphasis mine).