Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 15, 1966
NUMBER 32, PAGE 4-5a

Criticism Good And Bad


Elsewhere in this issue we print a statement from Brother Charles A. Holt relative to a speech he made at Florida College earlier this year. We suggest you read Brother Holt's statement, also the material he presents from Brother Harris J. Dark. Also in this issue we have an article from Brother Floyd Thompson (front page) "A Concerned Voice, Concerning 'Voices of Concern'," which ought to be read by every Christian.

These articles give us occasion to say some things we have wanted to say for a long time on the general theme of criticism, or dissent. There are two kinds of dissent; one good, one bad. We believe both of them come into focus in Brother Holt's Florida speech and in "Voices of Concern" One kind of dissent is the prayerful, humble, searching inquiry of the honest soul who wants, above all else, to be true to the teachings of his Savior. The other kind is the carping, captious, destructive criticism of the wrecker. This man's desire is to destroy, not to build up, his criticism is designed to weaken, cripple, overthrow. This kind of dissent is set forth with unmistakable clarity in "Voices of Concern." The authors of these articles have become convinced that the "Church of Christ" (as they knew it) is a hopelessly narrow, bigoted, prejudiced, sectional denomination; and the only way to salvage anything at all from it is virtually to destroy its basic commitment to the Bible as an inerrant, infallible authority. They set about this task in a diabolically clever fashion, expressing the deepest and tenderest compassion for their erstwhile brethren, pointing out obvious and egregious weaknesses and mistakes which no reasonably informed Christian would attempt either to deny or to defend. But through all the articles, like the ever recurring crack in a broken record, one keeps hearing the insistent, urgent, (and to the uninformed) powerfully persuasive plea for a new attitude toward the Scripture, a re-evaluation of the accepted and traditional acceptance of the Bible as a complete and adequate authority.

There is another kind of dissent, always uncomfortable, frequently irritating, and at times infuriating, but which is salutary, helpful, and offered with no intent to destroy the thing criticized, but rather to strengthen it in the right way. From Brother Holt's statement this is certainly what he wanted to do for his brethren in the Florida College speech. That he did a miserably poor job in "communication" he would be the first to admit. For, as he says, he "caved the roof in" with that speech. We ran across a quotation the other day that we think might fit the case like a glove, and which Brother Holt might well express to those who took such strong exception to his speech. It reads: "I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." (Now, figure that one out!) But we think most gospel preachers can feel a bit of sympathy here

for who is there among us who always has every speech and every sermon and every article saying exactly what one thinks one is saying? Let Mr. Infallible step forward and take a bow. The rest of us will have to admit to a degree of error now and then.

Every man who dissents must be constantly on guard against the very thing that has befallen Brother Holt. "Be not many of you teachers," says James, "knowing that we shall receive heavier judgment," If that caution is needed as respecting teachers, how much more in order it is concerning those who are critics. We have done our share of both teaching and criticizing, and have no present plans to desist from either. But how frighteningly easy it is to slip from healthy, constructive criticism into captious, destructive fault-finding. One must be constantly on guard to keep the criticism objective and in bounds.

In all fairness to the brethren who have responded to Brother Holt's speech and "nailed his hide to the wall," it must be said that there was much in the speech that looked like, or sounded like, it was striking at the very roots of New Testament congregationalism. Brethren can hardly be blamed for becoming alarmed and aroused if basic and fundamental New Testament truths are being under-cut. Brother Holt does not blame these brethren for reviewing him; but rather blames himself for not having made his position clear. Perhaps now the air can be cleared a bit.

We believe the ability to take criticism in stride, with humility and good humor, is the mark of one's maturity as a Christian. And any time either an individual or a congregation "over-reacts" to some sharp bit of criticism (no matter how unjustified and unreasonable it may be) it is an evidence of spiritual immaturity. If we are mature Christians, faithfully serving God to the very best of our ability, we can take Brother Holt's and Brother Dark's criticisms (as well as those from any other source) in stride. They do not throw us into a tizzy! We will prayerfully study the matter, accept whatever is justified, refute and expose whatever error we see, and go on our way undisturbed. If we believe the thing being taught is destructive to the peace and well-being of God's kingdom, we will oppose it in every rightful way. But in doing so, we will write and teach and preach with that restraint and affection which ought always to characterize brethren when they seek to correct an erring brother.

Dissent has its place, a rightful place. We even extend our blessings to the critics who criticize those who criticize! Anyhow, when Brother Holt asked us for space to "take back" his Florida College speech, hoping thus to clarify and make more specific the problem he was trying to deal with, we were glad to let him be heard. We believe our readers are intellectually and spiritually mature enough to take these things in stride and evaluate them properly.

F. Y. T.