A Critical Spirit

She was a young adult who had grown up in the Catholic faith. Through friends inviting her, discipleship and their personal outreach, she turned to Adventism.

My grandmother was only months into her Adventist faith when a church leader came up to her and quizzed her on whether she was a Jesuit — probing to find out whether she was here to infiltrate the Church. She was crushed.

When I was a child, I remember my father experienced something similar. My dad, a pastor, was confronted by people claiming he was a Jesuit. A young man, with a young family, this is what we witnessed growing up.

When Jesus left His disciples, He challenged them to be people of peace. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27 NJKV).

I wonder: Is our faith community known as a people of peace? Do Catholics, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and those from other faiths see us, individually and collectively, as people of peace? Or are we better known for a critical spirit?

I realize this is a difficult conversation, but it troubles me that we have let something so dangerous as a critical spirit take root in parts of our body.

I wonder: Do we just tolerate people who self-righteously divide our community? Do we turn a blind eye to these “accusers,” who point fingers at people from “Babylon,” especially people they don’t agree with?

Some of the types of labels or phrases used include:

• “That is from Babylon”

• “They are a conservative” or “a liberal”

• “There is false teaching at Avondale”

• “That music is from the devil”

• “That is from Hillsong”

• “That is the Emerging Church”

• “This is the wheat” and “that is the tares”

• “That is anti-Christ” or “you are a false prophet”

• “Jesuits have infiltrated Adventist Church leadership”

In this age of sound-bite media, it’s very easy to use “sound bites” — isolated phrases taken out of context to fit a label — to paint a certain narrative.

It is this demonizing language — so pointed and harmful — that can actually damage people’s wellbeing: spiritually, mentally, and physically.

To be quite honest, this form of bullying and harassment isn’t even tolerated in secular work environments, let alone within a body of faith that’s committed to bringing the Advent message to “every tribe, language, people and nation.”

It is this type of logic and behavior you might find in unruly students at a primary school, where kids feel justified in bullying and harassing students who might think, believe, or who look different from them.

I remember being asked to serve as a worship coordinator when I was a young person. It was both exciting and overwhelming as it was the first time that I had ever done anything like this.

On the day I was coordinating, I had organized “Millennial Prayer,” a version of the Lord’s Prayer, to be played during the offering. As it was being played, an older leader in our church marched up to me at the sound desk and started raising his voice, telling me that this song was not appropriate for church. I was so shocked, I was shaking. I had hardly spoken to this man before. As a young person, this situation really rattled me. And I know of countless other stories of people encountering similar situations.

I really believe this dark cloud, this culture of criticism, has not only damaged people on a personal level it has also stifled creativity within corporate worship in our Church. In many parts of the body, this culture has developed into a form of political correctness whereby we are too afraid to do certain things, too scared to offend a vocal minority, to the detriment of discipleship and the vitality of the whole Church.

In many Sabbath School groups, people are actually afraid to share what is on their heart because somebody might throw fire and brimstone at them.

I know personally of pastors and church members who still cling to their faith but no longer feel like they belong to this body. When this happens, it doesn’t just affect one individual but also the faith journey of their community, their family, and their friends.

Yet, when I look at my own spirit, criticism often disguises itself as being constructive. For me, I know my critical spirit rises when I feel discontent with the way things are being done. I use blanket statements like “they always” or “they never” to describe my frustration. Sometimes I am directing it to “that leader,” “the Conference,” “GC,” or “the Church.” I forget the person behind the label. I also forget that I am part of this Church, too. The problem with criticism is that it’s often aimed at a person or group’s character and not at the behavior or action.

And while I can be frustrated, have holy discontent, I need to ask myself what spirit am I bringing to the situation? Is this coming from a place of pride, jealousy, discontent, insecurity, fear, or am I just being mean? What spirit is causing me to speak up?

The apostle Paul says, “stop being critical and condemning of other believers, but instead determine to never deliberately cause a brother or sister to stumble and fall because of your actions.”1

As the body of Christ, we should be known as people who encourage, bring healing, bring peace; the atmosphere of our environment is changed because people feel God’s presence there; people are encouraged to see the world as Jesus does, seeing hope in people’s brokenness.

The Bible has clear methods of navigating difficult situations and dealing with people who we don’t agree with.2 One thing is very clear: it is the Holy Spirit’s role to convict. John 16:7-15 explains, “I will send the Holy Spirit to you and the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, and the Holy Spirit will convict the world of righteousness.”

We must remember that the Holy Spirit might live in us, but we are not the Holy Spirit.

Ellen White, a founder of our movement, also shared on this:3 “if you walk humbly with God you may unite with the students not of our faith, agreeing with them as far as possible by dwelling upon points wherein you harmonize. Make no effort to create an issue. Let them do that part of the work themselves. Let them see that you are not egotistical, pharisaical, thinking no-one loves God but yourselves, but draw them to Christ, thus drawing them to the truth. All heaven is engaged in this work. Angels wait for the cooperation of men in drawing souls to Christ. We are laborers together with God.”4

As we meet key people of influence, allowing the Holy Spirit to unite on points where we harmonize, it will take humility, wisdom, and patience. Yet, may we bring God’s presence to our spheres of influence, to every tribe, language, people, and nation. May we be known as people of peace.

Notes & References:

1. Romans 14:13, The Passion Translation. Read further here in Matthew 7:1-5.

2. There is also a biblical way of dealing with people that we may have a problem with. See more in Matthew 18:15-17.

3. Ellen White also shared further on this, “In bearing the message, make no personal thrusts at other churches, not even the Roman Catholic Church. Angels of God see in the different denominations many who can be reached only by the greatest caution. Therefore let us be careful of our words. Let not our ministers follow their own impulses in denouncing and exposing the ‘mysteries of iniquity’….Speak the truth in tones and words of love. Let Christ Jesus be exalted.” —Evangelism, p. 576.

4. Ellen White, Manuscript Releases, Vol. 4, p 49.

Martin van Rensburg is a brand and organizational culture adviser. He is also elder at Springwood church, Queensland.

This article was originally published by the Adventist Record and is reprinted here with permission.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9214

A critical spirit does indeed do much damage, but that spirit has always been with us. What we see now that is new is the increased sensitivity to it - the increased feelings of hurt and anger that are caused by the critical spirit. This is something that causes just as much damage. We must be less concerned about what other people say and with the angry emotions that they display in the process - understanding that they might have personal demons which are causing them to act outside of a state of grace. It’s good to pray for these critical persons and to hear them out when they have a grievance, but it’s never appropriate to allow them the power to demoralize and discourage you in your ministry. There are tools we can use to turn a person’s criticisms back on themselves. Be curious as to how they have arrived at their point of view. Ask them to explain their line of thinking. Thank them for sharing and assure them that you will pray about the situation that is distressing them. Then continue to act as you are guided by the Holy Spirit. We mustn’t let this critical spirit distract us from our ministries - but we must accept that it will always be a favorite tool of the enemy.

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When there is the mind-set that the SDA church is THE LAST ONE.
When there is the mind-set that members HAVE to “perfectly reproduce
the character of Christ” or Christ will decide NOT TO COME if this doesn’t happen.
When PART of the that Perfection has to also include ANY worship program done
in the church building.
THEN you set up GATE KEEPERS who will see to it that “Perfection” is carried out.
AlSO there is FEAR generated in the members that they may DO SOMETHING to
make Jesus MAD and refuse to come.
THIS FEAR of JESUITES has been around that I know of at least close to 70 years.
Not sure how long before that.

What the SDA church NEVER accepted was the use of 3 Important ways of thinking
and responding to the Bible.
++ Scripture
++ Reason
++ Tradition
We HAD TO COME OUT and so there was NO WAY that Scripture–Reason–Tradition could
be used in developing a Relationship with God and with one’s Neighbors [who we considered
as unsaved, and still do].

William – How true. Recall the Hymns of Isaac Watts were radical compared to the Chanting
of his day.
Early days of Martin Luther Hymns. They were sung to many well-known beer hall tunes.
And sung with GUITARS, Lutes.
A huge number of SDAs do not like the meditative choruses that many others enjoy and
experience God with.
Have you ever had the opportunity to enjoy a Taize` service? With candles, incense.
Maybe guitar accomp. Or just without instrument.

Such a critical spirit reveals much about the spiritual insecurity of the accuser and music in worship is one of the “flash point” topics that launches some people into the emotional stratosphere while causing great offense to others. A few weeks ago I was working on a volunteer project and in a conversation over lunch mentioned that I enjoyed many of the new hymns and songs that help us celebrate the greatness of God and to express our adoration and praise to God. For the next ten minutes I heard that person’s nearly hysterical expression of fears about how using ANY contemporary Christian music would lead to people dancing in the aisles. All I could do was shake my head with disbelief while she got in my face and her wide eyes gave me a measure of the depth of her discomfort. It didn’t matter to her that I have been richly blessed by many contemporary Christian songs or that my faith has been strengthened by them because she believed I was on a clear path to perdition.


11/19/18 - #8 (5)

On the rare occasions when I attend an SDA church, I sit in the back, don’t say a word, and leave during closing exercises.

A couple of years ago my 17-year old granddaughter and I visited the arguably “liberal” Boulder, Colorado church.

We were both a bit shocked at how freely the gentlemen in the class were discussing SDA issues.

Feeling foolishly emboldened by the atmosphere, I offered two or three easily verified details that expanded on what the men had said.

On the way out of the class, one of the men said to my granddaughter, in front of me, “You need to rein in your grandma.”

I’ve asked her several times since then, and she always says that they were bringing up the subjects and I was just adding details, not being rude or obnoxious.

Her conservative SDA grandfather was also there and affirmed I’d said nothing he thought was offensive.

I’ve wondered if women were not supposed to talk at all, or what.

But that experience sufficed to put me permanently back in silent mode.

And members wonder why the church doesn’t grow and what has happened with the young people. :thinking:


You read my mind, mrsnosy!

So much could be said, but doctrines and beliefs are what they are, and the fruit of them is very evident.


Cassie, Mrsnosy, CFowler–
Have you noticed that much of Sabbath SCHOOL [not an accurate term anymore]
is more of a LECTURE than a discussion opportunity regarding the lesson?

No, I haven’t encountered a Taize service so I’m not sure what you are describing. Plus, I couldn’t stay very long if there are candles or incense because I’m allergic to the scents in many of them. The only time I ever had an asthma attack requiring me to use an Epi-Pen was after a church service with both. So, please forgive me if I keep my distance. Perhaps one day I could observe and listen from a safe distance.

One of the most refreshing things my church did when it formed was throw-out the traditional order of worship that you find in most SDA churches, at least in North America. We’re flexible, willing to change things and experience the blessings that variety delivers.

But guitar accompaniment? Oh, NO! Some people think that instrument is EVIL :grinning:

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11/19/18 #15 (10)

I have insufficient data to answer that, Steve. :slightly_smiling_face:

I’m prone to panic attacks in churches of any kind.

You’d think a saber-toothed tiger was after me. :roll_eyes:

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There is very little getting “off script”. Some classes are more open, but I daresay most aren’t. From what some have described, woe to those who do push the boundaries (even a little). I haven’t been in a long time, now. But, most of the classes were pretty close to the beliefs, or maybe a smidge outside the lines. At the end of the day, even though there are pockets of resistance, nothing much has changed.

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Sorry, I can’t help either. I haven’t been involved in several years.

Sabbath School, after all, is what you make it.
We pray, cry, laugh, share, eat and drink, joke, listen, discuss, connect, relate,
as a different person leads out in our SS class each week, endeavouring
to show how the pamphlet’s topic relates to our diverse life experiences
that God is taking us through.
In a circle-of-chairs arrangement, the Spirit makes room for lively dialogue and interesting communication with reference to Scripture.
How do you do Sabbath School, where you are?

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At a local Methodist church at 5:30 p on Wednesday we have Taize without candles
or incense – leave the lights on. Scripture reading, two chanting songs with nice
melodies [with guitar]. Scripture. Prayers for the People. 10 minutes of silence.
Communion. Song. Leave at 6p.
A very moving experience. I use it for my mid-week service.

As far as I am concerned…thems is fightin words.

I wish I was there. I would have read them the riot act.

Sounds like a cowardly, carnal churchian bully.

One can use the analogy that churches are like religious restaurants.
The food and service can be critiqued fairly.

I want the restaurants to be successful so I give feedback. I mention what is good and then mention what I think needs improvement.
I know it is a matter of taste but I still talk with managers or the service people.

Same happens at the local church I attend. Many times the schedule of programs is abused and I will tell the pastor that Adventists are sloppy.

But if the SS class is well presented/run I will mention it as well.

What really irks me is when speakers play bullies or present non fat dry milk/junk food typical topical sermons

I seem to have a bullseye painted on my forehead—workin’ on that…

I appreciate your protective instincts, Gideon—it’s a new experience for me, late in life! :slight_smile:

But we both know that creating a scene in the church foyer would generate heat but no light.

But your manly instincts are much appreciated!


I taught for 8 years at a Jesuit University. From the Jesuits I worked with, they would be a step up from Ted Wilson and his gang.

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For example…?

Thank you, Martin, for this gracious treatment of a horrid problem. Would that we all could step in every time someone gets bullied by an Adventist representative.

You and your lovely family are sterling examples of inclusive, courageous Christianity. Please greet your parents for me (the “fair dinkum Yank”).