Christianity is about love. And we are in the administration of grace. So surely no persons or churches should be reproved, rebuked, or corrected, right? There should be no criticism of any kind, constructive or destructive, right? Terms I hear expressed are to be loving, forgiving, “giving grace” and “endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” instead of being critical.
To this I refer the charge Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 23 where they were focusing on the parts of the law they thought were important:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Mat 23:23 ESV
Everything is important in the Word of God! Yes, we are to endeavor to walk in love, share grace, and keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. But that doesn’t mean we ignore the other parts of the Apostle’s tradition. The charges to love, give grace, and maintain unity in peace don’t pre-empt us from striving to have the same mind and make the same judgments which are the mind of Christ :
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1Co 1:10 ESV)
This verse is from the diverse church at Corinth. The church today has been compared to Corinth for many years.[efn_note]A couple of random examples from the web are: http://www.teachingtheword.org/apps/articles/?articleid=69333https://www.christiandataresources.com/corinth.htm[/efn_note]. Maybe we don’t have the severity of sin that Corinth had, but we have more factions. The Corinthian Church wasn’t just off base because they were sinning by divorcing indiscriminately, practicing homosexuality and other sexual immorality, or turning communion into a food party among other things, they were off in their Christian doctrine by allowing sects to develop, incorporating philosophy into Christianity, and denying that Christ was raised from the dead among other things. In 2 Corinthians we read of false apostles, messengers of “new” light”, bringers of a different gospel than the one preached by the original apostles. Notice these false apostles “disguise themselves as apostles of Christ.” (2 Cor 11:13) Putting all this together we are talking about sects, denominations if you will, boasting that they are the true Christian Church. Paul isn’t talking about other religions or secular ideas taking over, he’s talking about Christian denominations at Corinth who teach a Christian gospel different than the true Apostles’, all claiming to be the true Christian church. Especially doctrinally, it’s not that different from all the denominational jockeying that is going on today in the Christian Church.
Nothing is impossible with God. It is possible to reduce the amount of division in the church. The Reformation may have looked impossible to many with the Catholic Churches’ grip on the Western World in say, 1200 AD. Pentecostal and Charismatic movements bringing the manifestations and gifts of the spirit to more and more churches may have been unthinkable to many people a couple of hundred years ago. How is Christ leading the church today for something that will be recognized as another major movement of God? Yes, there have been revival movements in the last century, there is a 24/7 prayer movement now.
The standard for our mind is Jesus’ mind. And Jesus mind was focused on what he saw the Father doing:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. (Joh 5:19 ESV)
Do you really see the Father telling one group that manifestations of the spirit have ceased and others that they have always been available, and still more to not deny the spirit but don’t teach or encourage it?. Do you see him telling some groups that homosexuality is okay and others that only a man and wife can be holy in bed? Do you see the Father saying to some that alcohol is an abomination that no one should partake and others that alcohol can be a blessing in moderation?
No, the Father is not telling one group to do one thing and another the opposite. The list of disagreements is huge and the church today is as factious or more as the Corinthians were.
To have true unity of the spirit in the bond of peace is when members all can see what the Father is doing, and they follow along together.
I believe that the Father is calling believers to do just that. I see it actually going back to the Reformation and even before when people have called for restoration to apostolic doctrines. Now, not that every “Christian” movement is of God or even every single thing in a movement genuinely inspired of God is from God but there have been a number of movements that started with the Reformation that I see as God moving the Body of Christ back to the Apostles traditions. The return to the writings about the Apostles as the true source (sola scriptura) of knowledge about the faith show movement by God to restore the Church to its foundation of apostolic tradition. The Restoration movement, which is more geared to restoring the Church to apostolic doctrine than the Reformation was inspired by God to further restore the Church to its apostolic origins. Other movements show to me God working to restore the Church over the centuries. The Holiness Movement was inspired to return to holiness. The Pentecostal Movement was inspired to restore the manifestations and diversity of gifts. The Charismatic movement expanded the Pentecostal Movement from the Full Gospel realm into mainline churches and further grew the use of the spirit in the body of Christ. These are just some of the movements. Steering the huge body of believers is like steering the Queen Mary, while some of us would like to see it happen in an instant, it appears to be happening slowly and incrementally. But all these movements combine to show that there is a movement to get truly back to apostolic origins. And the more that believers follow these incremental moves back to the apostolic traditions the more they will enjoy the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
One element of the Apostles tradition is the purpose(s) of Scripture:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2Ti 3:16 ESV)
Doctrine is teaching, the presentation of the knowledge of God, and His Son, Jesus Christ, his mission, and our part in it.
Reproof is a statement pointing out the error in some one’s ways.
Correction is the explanation of what someone should be doing instead of the error they have been practicing.
Doctrine, reproof, and correction are all part of God’s love.
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. (Pro 3:11-12 ESV)
Let’s look at examples of doctrine, reproof, and correction. This section of scripture is about how the spirit works:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1Co 12:4-11 ESV)
This section is all doctrine. Now it could be part of a bigger section and so be part of the correction from some other doctrine, but, as is, it is just teaching about that is right, holy, and just on how the spirit works in the body. These verses by themselves aren’t telling anyone that did something wrong, they are just teaching the right way to think about these things.
Now consider this section:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord…For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. (1Co 11:27-30 ESV)
This is reproof. There were Corinthian believers who were participating in communion without regard to what it means. And they are being told here in no uncertain terms that it was wrong.
But alongside this reproof is the correction. Look at these verses:
Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup…. if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment… (1Co 11:28, 31-34 ESV)
Interwoven with the reproof, the pointing out that someone is doing something wrong, is the correction, the replacing of wrong doctrine or practice with right doctrine or practice. In this case, the offending Corinthians are told to eat at home if they are hungry and to examine themselves, that they reflect on what the bread and wine signify, that is, the broken body and shed blood which was done to for our healing and forgiveness.
Another example of doctrine is that the bulk of the epistle of Ephesians. Just start reading Ephesians and look at all the doctrine:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:3-14 ESV)
Look at all the doctrine there, the glorious teaching about who we are now that we have received Christ! Ephesians is full of awesome doctrine!
in Ephesians, we read a little doctrine about reproof and correction. Here’s it is:
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. (Eph 5:11 KJV)
The above verse says that we are charged to give reproof. Yes, there is a time and place for things and sometimes it is more loving to overlook a matter, at least for the time being. Don’t take this wrong; I am not saying the bible calls us to nag people, reminding them of their faults every time they do something wrong. In fact, if you can’t come together on an issue after a couple of attempts you need to stop. But anyone that says the Bible teaches that we are charged to always look past a person’s or group’s faults is just disagreeing with this scripture in the apostle’s tradition.
The book of Galatians is full of reproof and correction. At the beginning of the Gospel Paul charges the Galatian Church of twisting the Gospel:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (Gal 1:6-7 ESV)
There is that term, distorting the gospel of Christ. At issue in this case, what is twisted, is the fulfillment of the law. Paul later recounts the famous confrontation with Peter where Peter stopped eating with the Gentiles because the “circumcision party” came in pushing doctrines of the Law with all its eating laws and rituals like circumcision on Galatians who were never Jews to begin with.
Part of the correction in Galatians is how walking led by the Spirit frees us from walking under the law:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Gal 5:16-18 ESV)
It is pointed out in Galatians that the circumcision promoters were Jews who were unwilling to give up elements of the Jewish religion in which they were raised. That is a trap for all of us. I was raised Catholic and, even with all the questions I had, it was no small feat to change my thinking from the Catholic doctrine system to the leading of the Spirit and the supremacy of the apostles’ traditions as contained their writings. Every Christian tradition that differs in any way from the apostle’s tradition has raised up believers with baggage that hinders them just as it does me. The Christian traditions that have been developed over the ages rarely include the precepts of the Law, but they nevertheless have doctrines that differ from what the apostles taught and practiced mainly because they almost invariably come out of the Catholic tradition that started right after the apostles and contain all manner of deviations from the Apostles’ tradition because the Catholics believe that they believe that the doctrine they developed after the Apostles is the continuation of the Apostles. After all, it teaches that it is the one, holy Catholic, and Apostolic Church and outside the Catholic church there is no salvation. They believe that the pope speaks ex-cathedra, equating his proclamations as equal in truth to the word of God. And the Catholic Church embraced the inclusion of philosophy in direct opposition to its rejection to the apostles, citing its necessity in the arguments of early Christian apologists to refute heretics who were arguing philosophically against Christ and his church. Remember, the reformers chose to reform the Catholic Church, correcting what they considered offenses like indulgences and Vatican excesses and in the process chose to proclaim scripture as authoritative over Church magesterial doctrines. They still accepted much of the inclusion of philosophy in writers like Augustine. Augustine is credited with infusing Christianity with Neoplatonism in the fourth century[efn_note]see Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://iep.utm.edu/augustin/#:~:text=Augustine%20(354%E2%80%94430%20C.E.),agnostic%20contributions%20to%20Western%20philosophy.[/efn_note].
The goal of this website is doctrine, reproof, and correction. With so many competing doctrines being taught in churches that embrace Christ, some of them have to be “the unfruitful works of darkness'” For example, the apostles taught us that there are nine manifestations of the spirit and diverse gifts given to the church, including prophets and healers among many others. I say that teaching otherwise is an “unfruitful work of darkness.” A huge part of the Gospel is the energizing power of the spirit and I say that the churches rejecting or even avoiding all the things of the spirit including manifestations like prophecy, miracles and healings, gift ministries, and abilities, teach a darkness that needs to be corrected. That’s just one example.
Now, let’s contrast that with criticism. According to Google, criticism has several different meanings. One is the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of something. This has to do with evaluation. Anyone who has ever undergone a job evaluation has experienced this form of criticism which is not of itself, negative. But a common understanding of criticism in interpersonal relationships is the expression of disapproval over perceived faults or shortcomings. This is the one that most people dislike. No one likes to be told they are doing something wrong, especially repeatedly.
Here are some things we are taught about being critical:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29 ESV)
Here we have a key element in our talking to other people: whether or not it is building up and giving grace.
Contrast that to this:
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. (Jas 4:11 ESV)
There are times when someone is falsely accused, and this is unjust criticism in the worst sense. Satan is also called the accuser. And, if that is what someone is doing, then they are just doing Satan’s work.
A believer’s response to that is:
Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1Pe 3:9 ESV)
If someone is negatively criticizing us without merit, then we are called to bless them. Furthermore, there are times when sins are “covered” lovingly:
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1Pe 4:8 ESV)
So, there are many times when someone offends us and it is loving to “cover” for it.
But, criticism is a different thing when what is said is not false. So, if the item being addressed is true, and it is said to help someone perfect their walk in Christ then this is godly reproof and correction.
Also, we need to remember that there is guidance in the bible that there are times when we will be disciplined and that process is uncomfortable:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him [empasis added]. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” [empasis added] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant [empasis added], but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Heb 12:1-13 ESV)
Discipline is uncomfortable, but these verses say it is what a loving father does.
There is another verse used in the Bible related to doctrine, reproof, and correction. Leaders are charged to rebuke with authority. They are not supposed just to let everything go:
Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. (Tit 2:15 ESV)
Titus, in this verse, is charged to rebuke which is a synonym of reprove and means to tell someone what they are doing wrong. In fact, the words reprove and rebuke are the same word in Greek.
Yes, we are always called to love. Of course, he is dead, but I love Martin Luther. What a stand he took that enabled the bible and the writings of the Apostles to gain pre-eminence for so many of us over church doctrines and practices that were so bad that the Reformers called the Catholic Church the Anti-Christ. I have the utmost respect for him and am so thankful for what he did. So do many, many Christians. But many of us are not Lutherans because the Lutheran Church, like so much of Christianity, has not moved to where we see it as the best place to fellowship around what we can see to be the truest church to what Jesus and the apostles started. That doesn’t mean we don’t love them. We do. We rejoice in their saving knowledge of Christ. We rejoice that they embrace the writings of the apostles, prophets, and the psalms as their guide over the church council edicts, papal bulls, and other church laws that their predecessor, the Catholic Church promoted as supreme. For that matter, we love and are thankful for any Catholic that embraces the saving work of Christ. We are called to love everyone, even unbelievers. In all of the discussion of what the Apostles’ tradition calls us to do, it is always done in love. I have met so many loving, God-fearing people in so many churches from many denominations and “non-denominational” churches. If we say that this church or that is teaching something that is not in line with the apostles’ traditions, it doesn’t mean that we don’t love them any more than Paul didn’t love the Corinthians while he was reproving them:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, (1Co 1:3-4 ESV)
I am thankful and praise God for every person that calls Jesus Lord. All of us called to love even when we find that people believe things differently than the apostles’ doctrine.
So, back to reproof and correction, while we all are uncomfortable with it, it is part of the Christian walk. If God is calling us to speak the same thing, and Paul does say so, then we will not want to ignore this important part of the walk while we endeavor to walk in love, giving grace, and striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We should all endeavor to see what the Father is doing and repeat it together so that we all have the same mind, the mind of Christ, and speak with the same judgment.
last revised 1/1/2022