Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Judge | Judge Not

One of my favorite performers is a multi-genre composer/singer/instrumentalist named Susan Werner. She's ambivalent about church, but perceptive about faith. On her latest album - a foray into folk/gospel - she takes pulpit-pounders to task in the lyrics of Why Is Your Heaven So Small?:
You say you know; you say you've read
that Holy Bible up on the shelf.
Do you recall when Jesus said,
"Judge not, lest ye be judged yourself?"
For I know you'd damn me if you could,
but, my friend, it's simply not your call.
If God is great and God is good,
why is your heaven so small?

I am awful about judging people. Awful about doing it. Awful in being qualified to do it. I can blame part of it on the "vote-'em-off-the-island" culture I'm in, but not completely. As Randy Harris is fond of saying, "We all think we're right." Too often, I think I'm righter than everyone else.

And more times than I like to remember, when I have tried (sometimes tactfully and lovingly; sometimes not) to remind someone of what Jesus said, I have been thoroughly trounced with all kinds of doctrine about the commands to correct the doctrinal heresies of others - even to the permissibility of being judicious, sarcastic and even insulting.

So let's get to the bottom of it, shall we?

When should we judge and when should we abstain?

What should be the object of judging, and what should be the purpose for it?

What should we do with scriptures like Romans 14:10 and 1 Corinthians 5:12 which do not seem like they should fit in the same Bible, let alone flow from the same author's pen?

I want to keep this brief rather than comprehensive, and I very much want to hear from you. So I'm going to bullet-point what I perceive about a few different scriptures - and I apologize that these are excerpts; I'll let you be responsible for examining them in their respective contexts:

  • Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37 - "Don't judge." The unspoken word here is "others," I believe. There are acts that we should judge; some we should condemn. Don't judge others. We're not qualified to determine their eternal destiny. Leave it to Someone who is.

  • Luke 12:57 - "Judge for yourselves what is right." That's an action, not a person; otherwise He would have said "who is right." Right? Judge for yourselves - as a community, plural - not one for another; not one against another. This was spoken to a crowd, remember. The advice was to sort out disagreements without requiring the need for civil judging authority.

  • John 7:24 - "Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment." Jesus healed someone. It appeared that He was doing work on the Sabbath, and the conclusion was that He had therefore sinned. By healing someone, for goodness' sake. How twisted and un-right was that judgment? In trying to judge Him, they ignored the significance of the act itself, which was righteous.

  • Acts 4:19 - "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God." (See comment directly before this bullet.)

  • Romans 14:1; also Colossians 2:16 - "Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters." There are disputable matters - matters of conscience. They cannot be limited to eating meats or celebrating holidays, for if logic were truly applied, matters of conscience would have to include any matter about which one strongly believes, but on which scripture is completely silent. On these matters we we are not to impose our beliefs on others as law, nor to judge them as if they could somehow violate our personal consciences!

  • 1 Corinthians 2:15 - "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment." Things, not people. And this is not a get-out-of-court-free verse. It simply says that the spiritual man recognizes that God judges him.

  • 1 Corinthians 4:3-6 Here Paul disdains the kind of judgment (favoritism) that Corinth was showing toward himself, Apollos and Christ. He reminds them not to judge before the appointed time, when "each will receive his praise from God." And he adds, "Do not go beyond what is written," so that they will not try to out-do each other in pride and side-taking. This is a question of judgment about who is better than whom - and it has no place in the family of Christ.

  • 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 - Don't miss the context of these verses: the whole chapter. We're talking about grave, wicked sins within the church, committed with impenitent impunity: sexual immorality, greed, slander, idolatry, drunkenness, swindling. These are wicked acts. These verses are NOT about differences of opinion on how to win souls or worship God or when/how God is required to apply salvation. They are NOT about dining in the building, having a building, spending the church budget, having a paid full-time minister, or ... you get the idea. But let's get this right: neither a difference of opinion nor a conviction of conscience regarding a matter on which scripture is silent makes a person wicked in and of itself. Yet far too many have let their confidence in their conviction grow to arrogance and judgment of others that can result in their own destruction - and suck their target right down the same bitter hole. It's how Satan works: Divide and conquer.

  • 1 Corinthians 6:2 - "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?" The phrase "will judge the world" is in future tense. Don't jump the gun. The instruction here is the same that Jesus gave in Luke 12:57 - settle differences between brothers outside of civil court. Can it be any plainer?

  • 1 Corinthians 11:31-32 - "But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world." This is not talking about the judgment of favoritism (1 Corinthians 4:3-6), but of making self-assessments and looking after each other as well. Once again, "ourselves" is plural. We're talking about the community of Christ. Jesus talked about how to look after each other's souls many, many times (Matthew 5:21-26; 18:15-20; John 13:34-35; et al).

  • I Timothy 1:3 - "...command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer ...." And what were these false doctrines? Paul described them in the next verse as "myths and endless genealogies." They were lies. Probably pre-Gnostic fables that some were trying to merge with the truth of Christ, diluting its power. They were not about the kind of things that so many folks have turned themselves inside-out (and scripture, too) in order to condemn as "false doctrine" - which, too frequently, is man's doctrine and not God's. Opinions, matters of conscience. Not scripture. Not the heart of Christ.

  • 1 Peter 2:1 - "But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves." Not every difference of opinion is a heresy. Carousing in broad daylight - that's heresy. Slandering celestial beings - that's heresy. Denying the Lord - that's heresy. A different style of worship; a different method of discipling; a different way of using material advantages to God's glory - chances are good that these are not heresy. Do you see the difference in scale and size and scope? (See final remark in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 above.)

  • Galatians 5:12; Philippians 3:2; Matthew 23:33 - Sarcasm and insults had their place in the repertoire of God's spokespersons who were dealing with those who directly opposed God, and did it in His name. Whether they were Pharisees insisting on the letter of the law devoid of its Spirit or sheep-in-wolves'-clothing among early Christians insisting on Jesus-plus-circumcision or Jesus-plus-secret-Gnostic-wisdom to be saved, Jesus and Paul let them have it - and so did others. If you can be as absolutely certain of your doctrinal perfection and personal piety and spiritual insight - and of the ultimate hypocrisy/moral depravity of your target - as they were, I say, let 'er rip.

    Insult them and make snide comments about them and damn them to hell just as if you could.

    - But if you really want to reach souls, persuade hearts, turn sin-scorched people to God's healing (as opposed to just changing their mind about your opinion or interpretation or item of conscience), maybe it'd be more productive to lovingly share a message of grace; a confession of having been seared by sin, too; an appeal to heart and soul as well as head and hands.


Otherwise, you may get bitten in the butt (as I have) by the lyrics of a Susan Werner song or two.

5 comments:

laymond said...

Keith, have you ever just sat down and thought, "Why am I attending the church I do"?.(do you drive by a church,on your way to "your" church?) Is that not some kind of judgment on other brands, or limbs of the same Church. Do you think everyone who attends "your" church will reach heaven? If not, why not? is that not some kind of judgment? Do you believe if you attended a worship at "Kingdom Hall" this week and "CoC" next week and A "Baptist" the next and so on, do you believe that would be a condemnable offense? Yes we are to judge right from wrong, but we are not qualified to judge spiritual matters. We are not qualified to say "you will go to hell if" unless that "if" is qualified in the bible. Then we had better know we are reading the scripture correctly, if there is any doubt, leave it up to God. I try to never judge others belief, I only ask, where did you get that? show me.
If they can't show you in the bible where that belief came from don't put all your apples in that cart. (example, the trinity)
(example, Jesus was really God) Show me!! If you can't show me, then don't judge me. As my college freshman granddaughter is prone to say "you don't know me" my answer to her is "But I know someone who does" May God Bless.

preacherman said...

Wonderful thoughts on this tough subject.

mmlace said...

Of all these verses that you've posted for us, the thought that stands out in my mind is based on the passage beginning in Luke 6:37. In verse 39, He says, "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?"

It just seems like such a futile effort, when we try to judge others. What purpose does it serve, really, except as you said, to divide???

It's interesting that I would read this post yesterday morning, because in our class last night, we talked about accepting each other, as opposed to judging each other.

Our minister pointed out that, "There are two categories of sins, you know. Those that others do when they ought to know better, and those that I do, but that I'm seriously struggling with. As ridiculous as that sounds, we really do see that sometimes."

In reality, the book we're studying pointed out two different categories of sins, what it called "sins of the flesh" and "sins of the spirit." And the author spoke about how the sins of the spirit--such as pride, arrogance, judgmentalism--can do MUCH more harm to the body of Christ than anything else we might do.

Keith Brenton said...

Privately, to my brother who disagrees:

If you'll read carefully here what I'm saying (and not what you think I'm saying), you'll see that I don't believe you can lump judging actions and other people into a single, permissible category. They are different things, for the reasons I've explained in the post.

There is not a thing wrong with pointing out sin, and doing so to the person who is committing it, in love and respect and concern and sympathy. Jesus highly recommends it (Matthew 18:15-20). In fact, He recommends a procedure that virtually none of us follows.

But to do it, even in the right sequence, yet in an arrogant, condemnatory, judgmental spirit is not only counter-productive, but in opposition to the Spirit of Christ which yearns to be spoken through us.

If you want to take on fellow believers the way Jesus took on Pharisees and that Paul took on those who would dilute the gospel with pop philosophy or Jewish strictures, then I would think you would want the full weight of God's word AND His Spirit inspiring your correctives. Can one condemn as Jesus condemns without being the Son of God and the Lord, the Righteous Judge?

At the same time, what does it say about you that you are trying to find fault rather than common faith; leaping to the bar to judge others and be right?

I'm asking questions rather than making accusations, because I too often find myself battling the very same temptation! I know I have that log in my own eye!

Joel Blair said...

WOW! I have truly stumbled upon an insightful and thought provoking blog:) My hats off.

I would like to share my thoughts on this subject. Much time, and rightfully so has been spent concerning this line. Judging and discerning.

I didn't notice two scriptures that may be very helpful to understand God's will on this subject.

"See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said:
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion.""
--Hebrews 3:12-15

Too often a misconception is taken place on the 'encouragement' emphasis in the body of Christ. Encouragement in this scripture meant not for someone to feel good about what they are already doing but encourage them to follow Jesus.

When I react to someone acting like a good watchman (Ezekiel 33) I find my pride quickly exposed. I think about how I have all these other fish to fry and the issue that was brought up isn't important.

The question I ask myself sometimes is that if I can believe that God his spirit inside me to guide me through life then did he not put the same spirit in my brothers and sisters to help us both.

"Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."

--Ephesians 4:14-16

"the truth in love" is something that is not easy but with the right heart is simple.

I thank you for all your searching for truth and pray that we all rejoice in Heaven together because heaven isn't 'too small'