Pristine Grace

Cynical Nitpickery
by Brandan Kraft
Cynical Nitpickery

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself. - 1 Timothy 6:3-5

    Those of you who know me may be able to remember a time when I used to be involved regularly in theological debates and arguments.  I used to thoroughly enjoy the discussions we had over on Predestinarian Network back in the day.  And let's face it, it was obvious that I enjoyed a good debate.  I also remember at the time that I thought I was halfway decent at arguing with my opponent and exposing theological error on the forum.   But secretly, while it may have been obvious to outside onlookers, it was not clear to me that I was suffering from a self-inflicted form of theological pride. I was able to see everything that was wrong with everyone else, but couldn't see my own glaring problem.  I was so right, that I was wrong!  That's the sneaky thing about spiritual pride!

    And today, it's almost impossible for me to listen to a sermon or read an item of theological literature without having some sort of disagreement.  Usually my disagreements are minor, in that I wouldn't phrase things the same way as the author I'm reading or the speaker I'm listening to in a sermon.  But every now and then something really sticks in my craw or rubs me the wrong way and I just want to stupidly blurt out immediately what is wrong with it without thinking of the ramifications of my speech.  And I have found this is true for almost all the authors and speakers and their writing and preaching respectively.  It doesn't matter who it is, I can always find disagreement.  It could be a well known theologian, or even people I know and love dearly.

    And having seasoned for a bit in the Gospel, and forming relationships with the very people I tend to be critical of, the Lord has graciously taught me to keep my mouth shut.  I don't want to hurt anyone, especially those of the household of faith.  However, in the past, I almost would be inevitably drawn toward engaging in discussion or debate when I heard something that didn't sit right with me.  It could be on just about anything.  And I'm still tempted to do that at times.  But I tend now to just enjoy some good fruit wherever I can find it, and carefully cutting out whatever blemishes I may encounter and throwing away the core as necessary.  I've discovered that some things are just better left unsaid.

    In my past though, for me, there was more than just a bit of impatience with others.   There was a time when I was deeply cynical - of mostly everything, especially of spiritual things!  And there was something that was incredibly satisyfing and even addicting about smacking scoffers, false professors, and heretics across the face with Scripture, proving my correctness and their lack of knowledge.  And before I knew it, it seemed like I had an unhealthy obsession with exposing falsehood.  And truth be told, it wasn't just because I had a love for Christ and the truth, but it was because of the raging pride monster that lived within.  I had a love for myself that far exceeded at times my love for the truth and those whom I was exposing.

    And after a while of learning the truth, I found it very easy to find heresy everywhere I looked.  Under every rock, and in every sermon, and in every book, an opportunity presented itself for me to expose error.  And instead of enjoying the truth that was being given to me by the Lord in a sermon or a book, I would instead start to dissect and even outline articles of literature, looking for certain key words, or poor uses of the language.  

    And just like that, I wasn't just a critic.  I was a cynic.   Thankfully, I've been brought out of that mindset now and I no longer see myself as a cynic.  But I hope that I can warn young believers against falling into this trap.  As a cynic you start to see theological error everywhere, and then you go looking for it.  And then you reason to yourself, "Oh, look at that, an article from this guy?  It must be heretical.  Surely HE would never having anything good to say."  And then you start to lose all sense of joy.  You wait for one misspoken word, cling to it, and use it to condemn the person who used it.  As a cynic, you lack love and compassion for others.  You say to yourself and others, "This idiot shouldn't say things like that!"   It's inconceivable to you that you should rather be asking, "what did you mean by that?"  Or asking, "don't you mean this?"  But the pride monster must be fed!

    It's true that we don't have to accept everything that comes our way.  It's true that we should be discerning and wise as serpents.  But instead of looking for heresy everywhere, maybe we should be looking for that deceptive heresy that lurks within.  A heretic is simply one that divides the brethren.  And he can do this by being a cynic, by constantly finding fault, being quarrelsome and being critical of everything encountered.  Instead of being thankful for the genuine effort to produce good material, good Gospel food for the sheep, the inner prideful heretical pride monster cuts down the author or speaker instead, even verbally talking about these errors to other brothers, and spreading evil surmisings, which are used to split churches and divide the brethren.  The attack is no longer upon just another individual, but upon Christ Himself!

    Yes, there is a place for criticism.  Yes there is a place for a "defense of the Gospel", if you will.  We should be prepared to point out gross, awful error that attacks the core of the Gospel.  But we should not be craving a fight.  How dare we ever think it's acceptable to congratulate ourselves for a successful presentation of the truth?  Additionally, there should be no place for cynicism or nitpickery in our lives and our associations with other believers, or unbelievers for that matter!  My friend Gary Shepard once asked a very pertinent question, "why make enemies of friends?"

    So how can we avoid this?  How can we as believers avoid this cynical nitpickery?  Well I believe we should be actively trying to cultivate an attitude of encouragement instead of fault finding.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it well, 

I can forgive a man for a bad sermon, I can forgive the preacher almost anything if he gives me a sense of God, if he gives me something for my soul, if he gives me the sense that, though he is inadequate himself, he is handling something which is very great and very glorious, if he gives me some dim glimpse of the majesty and the glory of God, the love of Christ my Savior, and the magnificence of the Gospel. If he does that I am his debtor, and I am profoundly grateful to him.

    Instead of feeding the pride monster, let's crave Christ and seek to satisfy that craving instead.  Celebrate what He has done for us, and enjoy His grace and mercy day in and day out.  Rejoice that you are a vessel of His mercy (Rom 9:23), and have compassion for those who haven't been given the same light and truth that you have.  When we look to Christ,  keep our eyes on Him, and have hearts full of love for others, we take our eyes off of our vile selves and stop being so puffed up with theological knowledge.  And only then, when we stop feeding the monster within and look to Christ are we enabled to confront error and contend for the truth boldly, yet with a gentle and humble spirit.  And when we are forced to confront, we do so only for the purpose of helping, not hurting or humiliating, or worse, feeding our sinful cravings.   Our confrontations will be not for destroying the unity of faith, but for the purpose of building and preserving it.  

    May the Lord be pleased to kill our spiritual pride, and teach us not to be nit pickers, but lovers of Christ and His truth.  May our hearts be over-filled with joy and love for others as we seek to maintain peace with all men while meekly contending for the truth.  And may we seek His glory in everything we speak and do.

    Grace and Peace,
    Brandan