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A Disembodied Head? Part 3: Judgement

Is this how Christians are viewed? Should we be?

It is finally time to begin looking at the change in my theology due to an increasingly Christ-centered view of Scripture. I’ll start with one of the first things God started working on in me, but one of the toughest to really defeat: Judgmentalism. The Evangelical environment in which I grew up seemed to think that this was crucial to being a faithful follower of Christ. It seemed as though being appropriately condemning of immoral behavior (at least what we defined as immoral) was required to prove your faith was real. It was as if we were all afraid that to not belittle and judge others who didn’t meet our standards was to admit we were not committed to faith ourselves. One might reasonably wonder whether we really knew the Bible, but we sure thought we did. We even read this famous passage:

1 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. 3 Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? 5 You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 6 Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7.1-6)

Somehow, we still felt it necessary to judge those who swore, or women who dressed to provocatively, or people who had sex before marriage, or had tattoos, or … You get the idea. I remember God beginning to make me think through my dad. I mentioned to him at some point how disappointing (a helpful word that makes judging someone seem less “judgmental”) it was that one of the men in our church would walk outside the front door of the church to smoke on a Sunday morning. My dad opened my eyes to a more Christ-like attitude by saying something along the lines of “You don’t know what else God may be working on in his life. There may be something more important to God that we don’t know about and can’t see.” This made me pause. Could I trust God that He was working in this man’s life, even if I could still see “sin” in other areas?

Lately, I’ve been challenged in this area a lot by Bruxy Cavey, and what he refers to as the “plank-eye process” (which must be pronounced with a long o in process, since he’s Canadian).  When I truly am willing to acknowledge the areas in my own life where I know better, and yet still struggle, I can come alongside of someone else as a fellow traveler, trying to follow our Lord. Instead of judging them from my perceived perfection, I can admit that I struggle too, and ask for them to help me even as I try to help them.

Other verses that have helped me in this journey:

44 But Jesus shouted out, “The one who believes in me does not believe in me, but in the one who sent me, 45 and the one who sees me sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears my words and does not obey them, I do not judge him. For I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not accept my words has a judge; the word I have spoken will judge him at the last day. (John 12.44-48)

If Jesus Himself says that He didn’t come to judge the world, why do so many of us get caught up in judging the world? Jesus clearly states that there will be a time for that judgement, but that it is at the last day, not today. In fact, we find that Christ says that He will be the judge then (see Matthew 25.31-33 and following, for example), but for now, that was not His role. Lest we delude ourselves by saying that this was only intended before the resurrection, but that now it is the role of the Church, Paul states that this is not our job either!

12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you. (1 Corinthians 5.12-13)

I suspect that what has happened to us here is that we have bought into the lie made necessary by the “Constantinian Shift” when the Church went from a persecuted minority to the official religion. I fear that much of the message of Christ was thrown aside because it did not lend itself to being in power, but there is plenty there to unpack in future days. For today, let me simply say that judging others, particularly outside of the family of Christ, is prohibited by Scripture.

Questions for thought:

  1. In what ways have you given in to this spirit of judgment?
  2. In what ways have we as a Church compromised our mission through this?
  3. How would it impact our witness if the Church was seen refusing to judge those outside our walls?
  4. How can we judge within the Church in ways that restore, rather than isolate? (Matthew 18.15-17 might help with this)
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7 comments on “A Disembodied Head? Part 3: Judgement

  1. Yes, we’re not to “judge the world” (non-Christians), but I think in our desire not to be appear judgmental, we forget that if a fellow Christian is living in open, deliberate, ongoing sin, we ARE told by Jesus to go to him:
    Gal 6:1 – “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”
    Matt. 18:15-16 – “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

    The Matthew 7 passage you quoted above is speaking of hypocrisy, telling fellow believers what they are doing wrong when you are committing the same sins in your own life. But verse 5 goes on to say: “You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”, which clearly says we ARE to go to a fellow believer. Ditto in the I Cor. 5:12 passage you quoted: “For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those INSIDE?”, meaning inside the church body.

    • Yes! I am speaking here about the judging of those outside, primarily. I do ask the question at the end about how we should “judge” within the Church, where we should have the right to speak into each other’s lives. I think the key is that after removing the plank from our eye, we are more prepared to be understanding and offer help coming back in line with Scripture, rather than condemning our brother or sister for the sin we have seen. I even quote the Matthew 18 passage in that last question to point out that correction within the Church is needed, and there may be times where “excommunication”, for lack of a better term, may be appropriate. This should, however come after a process of attempted reconciliation, and be done gently and with sadness. Over the years, much of the Church has done a great job of kicking people out with violence and something bordering on self-righteous glee.

      The point of this post (and the larger series they are a part of) is actually, in part, to do just this. I hope to point out to those in the Church areas where I have seen the plank in my own eye, and want to point out that others may be missing out on the fullness of Christ’s message as I was. I hope that those in the Church will see more fully and more clearly Christ’s real call on us. Many of us in the Church have been so busy focusing on the faults of those outside that we have missed our own planks in the process. We have failed to admit our gluttony, selfishness, and love of power, to name just a few. I fear that this has made us less able to truly see the problems in the world and address them as the Body of Christ.

      Thanks for the feedback. Hope my clarification helps!

  2. Thanks for your reply. Yes, Christians often have a tendency to ignore their own sins, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we are supposed to help other believers who are in sin. Nowadays there aren’t many churches (if any) who excommunicate. And yes, kicking someone out with glee is wrong. But I Cor. 5:11 says “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.”

    II Thess. 3:6: ” In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.”

    Discipline within the body is an act of love and is supposed to be done…not with glee or violence as you mentioned, but with love and compassion. It’s an act of obedience to Christ’s commands. It seems as if the pendulum in the church has shifted in the other direction, that of being afraid to confront fellow believers who are living in deliberate, unrepentant sin.

  3. One of the gifts of Anabaptists to the Church is an emphasis on practice instead of doctrine. When someone asks me to judge someone doctrinally, my first reply is: Did the thief on the cross whom Jesus promised a place in Paradise have that doctrine right? (Probably not.) I reserve the right not to have made up my mind definitively on many doctrinal issues.

    Your post opens out to many dimensions of judging. For Lent this year I felt led to give up being critical. Fault-finding is indeed a form of judgmentalism. For that reason, your comments open me up also to considering how those who are judgmental may be harboring a spirit of unforgiveness.

    Giving up a critical spirit is harder than it looks. I succeed on the outside, but it’s still hard on the inside. Maybe 40 days of practice otherwise will last past Lent.

    Thanks for the post. Eagerly watching for more.

    • Dr. Chase, Greg Boyd used the exact same illustration in a sermon a few years back. It was a similar turning point for me. Yes, there is probably correct doctrine that needs to be preserved and corrected… but we must also look that everyone is on a different journey towards that center that is Christ… some are further along than others, some are on a different vector (to use a good MennoNerd term)… Our goal in the church is to help each other along towards Christ, not lock people out because they don’t seem to meet our personal expectations.

      It’s a narrow line to walk, though… but one that must be walked at times.

  4. In response to Bethany …

    My take on church discipline is found in my Evangelical Visitor article of 1978:

    http://home.messiah.edu/~chase/articles/churchdiscipline.html

    In it I disagree with David Weaver-Zercher’s article on church discipline in the same publication’s successor, In Part many decades later. I think that I balance the letter and the spirit of the Scripture better. I wish I had his article handy to link to so you could see the difference. He doesn’t list his article in his on-line CV. The closest he comes is to link to an article where he says what the Amish think about church discipline, not what he thinks, here http://hnn.us/articles/43069.html.

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