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Posts Tagged ‘Christian leaders and criticism’

Several weeks ago, I heard a well-known pastor make this statement: “Christians should never defend themselves.”

The pastor said that when Jesus was arrested, He refused to defend Himself.

As 1 Peter 2:23 puts it: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Yes, Jesus suffered unjustly.  He did not engage in self-defense when He was charged with blasphemy against Jewish law and sedition against Roman law.

But suppose that after that well-known pastor finished preaching that day, when he went back to his office, he was met by two church leaders, along with two detectives.

And then one of the detectives told that pastor, “I am arresting you on suspicion of child abuse.”

Would that pastor hire an attorney to defend him against the charges?

Would that pastor protest his innocence to church leaders and to his congregation?

Would that pastor assure his family and friends that he wasn’t guilty of the charges made against him?

The answer in each case is a resounding, “Yes!” … but didn’t he just preach that Christians … including pastors … should never defend themselves?

I’ve never been a fan of such blanket statements, and believe that they defy both Scripture and common sense.

Let me try and offer some clarity on this issue:

First, pastors need to ignore most criticisms and slanders.

Why?  Because it’s easy to become so obsessed with your critics that you can’t get anything done.

In his classic book Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon provided wise counsel to young pastoral students in his matchless chapter “The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear”:

“We would say of the general gossip of the village, and of the unadvised words of angry friends – do not hear them, or if you must hear them, do not lay them to heart, for you also have talked idly and angrily in your day, and would even now be in an awkward position if you were called to account for every word that you have spoken, even about your dearest friend.”

In Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline, he writes:

“The tongue is our most powerful weapon of manipulation.  A frantic stream of words flows from us because we are in a constant process of adjusting our public image.  We fear so deeply what we think other people see in us that we talk in order to straighten out their understanding.  If I have done some wrong thing (or even some right thing that I think you may misunderstand), and discover that you know about it, I will be very tempted to help you understand my action!  Silence is one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification.”

When I was a young pastor, every criticism wounded me, regardless of the source.  But as I grew older … and hopefully, more mature … I learned to shrug off many comments.  I couldn’t let them divert me from what God wanted me … and our church … to be and to do.

And sometimes I would engage in self-talk and say, “Who are you to think that you can please everybody?”

Second, pastors do need to address major charges … sometimes publicly.

A megachurch pastor once told me that four of his staff members were making false accusations about him.  The four had joined forces and were hoping to push out the pastor so they could lead the church instead.

The pastor instantly called a meeting of the congregation, and when he did, three of those staff members instantly resigned … which should tell you something.

One Sunday afternoon, the pastor sat on the stage and answered question after question related to the charges and resignations of those staff members.  As I recall, the meeting lasted many hours.

The pastor was able to convince the congregation that the charges made against him were untrue, and he stayed as pastor of the church, which has since become one of America’s largest and most impactful.

If those four staff members had successfully driven their pastor from his position, where would that church be today?

And if the pastor had taken the advice, “Christians should never defend themselves,” where would he be today?

Spurgeon put it this way:

“Standing as we do in a position which makes us choice targets for the devil and his allies, our best course is to defend our innocence by our silence and leave our reputation with God.  Yet there are exceptions to this general rule.  When distinct, definite, public charges are made against a man he is bound to answer them, and answer them in the clearest and most open manner.  To decline all investigation is in such a case practically to plead guilty, and whatever may be the mode of putting it, the general public ordinarily regard a refusal to reply as a proof of guilt…. when the matter assumes more serious proportions, and our accuser defies us to a defense, we are bound to meet his charges with honest statements of fact.  In every instance counsel should be sought of the Lord as to how to deal with slanderous tongues, and in the issue innocence will be vindicated and falsehood convicted.”

In Matthew 19:17-20, Jesus told His twelve disciples that they would be brought before governors and kings and the Gentiles because of their allegiance to Jesus.  The Master said: “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.  At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

Notice Jesus doesn’t tell His followers, “Don’t defend yourself and say nothing.”  Rather, He says, “The Spirit will tell you what to say when you need to say it.”  In fact, isn’t the last quarter of the Book of Acts a recounting of Paul’s attempts to defend himself against false charges?

In addition, how many times did Jesus defend Himself against charges made by the Jewish leaders of His day?  Just read John chapters 5-9 and you’ll be amazed how adamantly Jesus defends Himself and His ministry against His critics.

But when it was time for Jesus to die, He refused to defend Himself, and even though He was abused, He left His reputation in the hands of His Heavenly Father.

Whenever you hear a statement like, “Christians should never defend themselves,” stop and ask yourself, “Is that what the whole Bible teaches on the subject?”

And then imagine yourself asking the speaker: “If you were falsely accused of a major offense, would you really refuse to defend yourself at all?”

What do you think?  When should a pastor ignore any charges made against him … and when should he defend himself?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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