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Criticism Dressed as "Spiritual Discernment"

Have you ever had someone come up to you and say, "God has given me spiritual discernment," and then proceed to speak in negative and critical terms about you—sometimes attack  you—or someone else? That has happened to me more than once, and I find the conversations can be quite painful to endure. Often these individuals are sincere and well-meaning, but I cannot say that they have a particular insight into the things of God that exceeds anyone else, nor from what I can tell do they have a special license from God to speak in such frank and sometimes damaging ways.  However any questions are often deflected with the "I have spiritual discernment" idea. Is this supposed "spiritual discernment" God's plan?

Many Sabbath mornings, Rose and I have the joy of hosting a few young adults for breakfast. Being interested in a balanced meal, we not only have a delicious breakfast of Bircher Muesli and bread or vegan banana bread, but we enjoy spiritual treats as well. This week we read extracts from a letter—Lt6-1899— written in 1899 regarding some camp meetings in Australia that addressed the "spiritual discernment question.

In the letter Ellen White wrote about the harmony that existed among the attendees of the camp meeting, and spoke on the dangers and ill effects of criticizing other people.

Some of the notable quotes include:

"All who unite themselves with Christ should consider that they are His soldiers. They are to obey orders, and not fret like children at everything that does not harmonize with their ideas. They are not to indulge the spirit of criticism, except with themselves; every one should closely investigate his own heart, for out of it are the issues of life."

"If Satan can excite criticism among any of the Lord’s professed people, then it is communicated like leaven from one to another. Give the spirit of criticism no quarter, for it is Satan’s science. Accept it, and envy, jealousy, and evil surmisings of one another follow. “Press together,” is the command I hear from the Captain of our Salvation. Press together. Where there is unity, there is strength. All who are on the Lord’s side will press together. There is need of perfect unity and love among believers in the truth, and anything that leads to dissension is of the devil."

"We are to seek most earnestly to be of one mind, of one judgment, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit of God, and nothing less, will bring us into this state. This is God’s agency, and only as the Holy Spirit brings us into unity can we be representatives of Christ. "

"There is no hope for the success of any religious organization where criticism is cherished as a fine art and called spiritual discernment. Men might far better be blind to other’s faults than to be inspired by that keen, detective spirit that will watch for defects in those whom the Lord loves, and through whom He works."

"There is no hope for the success of any religious organization where criticism is cherished as a fine art and called spiritual discernment. Men might far better be blind to other’s faults than to be inspired by that keen, detective spirit that will watch for defects in those whom the Lord loves, and through whom He works. We all need to humble ourselves, not to have an exalted idea of self."

"Every Christian should beware of picking flaws in others, and thus destroying the influence which God would have them retain, that they may be a blessing to His people."

"The greatest sorrow of heart I have borne has been caused by the want of love and unity among brethren. In word and spirit and life we are to express Christ, not the peculiar ideas and notions of self. By these ideas many have been trammelled and clogged all their life long, and they knew not what was the trouble."

"God sees beneath the surface. He sees all the good, and He marks all the evil. Leave to Him the work of passing judgment on your brethren."

"Lose sight of all others except Christ. We want Christ in our humanity, and Christ wants to abide in us. We are human and fallible, every one of us, and unless Christ is formed within, the hope of glory, we shall make wonderful blunders in estimating our fellow workers according to our pattern and measurement. God sees beneath the surface. He sees all the good, and He marks all the evil. Leave to Him the work of passing judgment on your brethren."

"Let no one educate the young men and young women in the science of picking flaws."

"Let no one educate the young men and young women in the science of picking flaws. Let not the youth hear you finding fault with those who do not please your fancy. The youth are Christ’s servants, to be cared for, to be encouraged in good, pure, holy thoughts. They need no lessons in evil surmising. Satan stands ready to instruct them in this line. Teach them to be kind, to respect and love one another as Christ has loved us."

"Keep the perfume of Christ’s character in your own words and actions. Let querulous complaints forever cease. Then there will flow into your heart the sunbeams of the righteousness of Christ. God will bless you, and make you a blessing."

"It is the duty of all believers to turn away from beholding Satan. Then they will not reflect his character in their words, in a peevish spirit, in evil thinking or evil speaking of their brethren. Those who have an abiding Christ will do none of these things. God has forbidden us to cherish any such thoughts or feelings. All have the privilege of catching the divine rays of light from Christ if they will look unto Him. The greater their need, the more open will be the way to Christ. They may seek His face, and flash back the light of the glory of God. To them that have no might, He increaseth strength. All who live Christ’s character will be like Him. “Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”—Ellen White (Lt6-1899)

Here are some of the thoughts that stand out:

  • "They are not to indulge the spirit of criticism, except with themselves."
  • "If Satan can excite criticism among any of the Lord’s professed people, then it is communicated like leaven from one to another."
  • "Press together. Where there is unity, there is strength. All who are on the Lord’s side will press together."
  • "There is no hope for the success of any religious organization where criticism is cherished as a fine art and called spiritual discernment."
  • "Men might far better be blind to other’s faults than to be inspired by that keen, detective spirit that will watch for defects in those whom the Lord loves."
  • "Every Christian should beware of picking flaws in others, and thus destroying the influence which God would have them retain."
  • "God sees beneath the surface. He sees all the good, and He marks all the evil. Leave to Him the work of passing judgment on your brethren."
  • "Let no one educate the young men and young women in the science of picking flaws."
  • "It is the duty of all believers to turn away from beholding Satan. Then they will not reflect his character in their words, in a peevish spirit, in evil thinking or evil speaking of their brethren. Those who have an abiding Christ will do none of these things."

I think we would agree that "spiritual discernment doesn't give license to criticize and judge others. I think we would agree that all of  us struggle with criticizing others. Apparently we are not helping God's cause when we criticize others.

"Satan has been successfully repackaging "criticism" as "spiritual discernment."

I also particularly note that Satan has been successfully repackaging "criticism" as "spiritual discernment." We shouldn't be helping him with his destructive work, by participating in it and teaching it to others by our behavior.

Does that mean that we say nothing when something is amiss? No. People deserve more than our silence. But we don't need to approach them with a detective-like, critical spirit, and then happily exposing their faults to others.

Matthew 18:15-17 gives very specific instruction to follow that includes going humbly, privately, and gently, seeking to be redemptive and healing in the interchange. If that doesn't work, take another gentle and humble person to try and bring healing to the situation. If that doesn't work, go to the church. We don't do much of the latter, but it is part of the plan.  

15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."

Matthew 18:15-17 (NKJV)

What we shouldn't do is criticize, expose them to others, hold ourselves up as better examples, etc. That is Satan's way of working and he doesn't need our help to do it.

I pray we will all do our part to overcome the cancer of criticism that so often besets our lives, our families and our churches.