Jul 26 2010

Misusing Scripture #4

Category: church,liberty,religion,theologyharmonicminer @ 1:05 pm

The last post in this series is here.

I recently heard a Christian speaker saying, yet again, that the “public” thinks Christians are “judgmental” and that we should try not to project that attitude.  You’ll also read in books like unChristian that society in general sees Christians as “judgmental.”  The problem with this, of course, is that “the public,” which I take to refer to that segment of society that is relatively unchurched, gets its attitudes towards Christians from the media, movies, MTV, TV, some amount of reporting in the news (which always gravitates to what it sees as the most extreme examples of “religious people”), etc.  How many of those people with such low opinions of Christians have a relationship with a vibrant Christian who loves the Lord?

It is difficult for the church to overcome the attitudes of people who really have little experience with the church or serious Christians, and who get their information third-hand from biased sources.

I’ve written on this topic of “judgmentalism” before, but I feel the need to add a bit.

Stressing that Christians should not be “judgmental” seems often to mean, by implication, that Christians should not uphold high moral standards and expectations, should not strongly teach traditional moral standards, and so on.  It seems especially common to have this emphasis in the “emergent church,”, or the “emerging conversation,” or whatever they’d like to call themselves these days, especially among authors like Donald Miller, Brian McLaren, etc.  You’re more likely to hear concern about “judgmental Christians” being expressed from these authors than from more traditionally oriented Christian authors.  It seems to me that the “emergent” authors are more likely to be concerned about traditional Christians being judgmental on, say, sexual matters, than they are about “emergent Christians” being judgmental of traditional Christians’ supposed selfishness and social disengagement.  It would seem they believe that Christians should not be much concerned about personal sin and immorality (if there even really is such a thing), as long as people are “taking care of the poor” and are nice to the down and out.

In fact, the “emergent” seem quite willing to be “judgmental” about others whom they view as being “judgmental.”

Why is that?

I believe it is due to an almost deliberate misunderstanding of the Biblical texts dealing with being “judgmental,” a misunderstanding that denies historical context and the rest of the Bible.

“Judging” is not the same as “evaluating.”  To judge is to impose a penalty or outcome of some kind as a result of an evaluation, all done by a person who has the right to do so, or believes he has.  When Jesus told the Pharisees not to judge, he was speaking to people who, in that cultural context, did have the power to impose certain kinds of penalties on other Jews, based on their judgments.

John 18 – New International Version

28Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. 29So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30″If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

31Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” the Jews objected. 32This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled.

This shows that the Pharisees and Jewish leaders DID have the legal right to judge and impose various penalties, some quite severe, but they could not impose death as the Romans could.

John 3 – English Standard Version

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

This and other passages show that the power to judge was the power to condemn, meaning to carry out sentence flowing from judgment.  The good news was the the Son had entered the world to help sinful humans escape condemnation flowing from righteous judgment.  In the following passage, we also see the connection of judgment with the power to condemn, or punish.

John 12 – New International Version

47″As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. 48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.

On the other hand, there are many passages where Jesus speaks to people quite directly about their sin.

John 5 – New International Version

5One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

7″Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

8Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

11But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ “

12So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

13The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

14Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

I strongly suspect that the Donald Millers and Brian McLarens of the world would accuse any modern person who uttered the phrase, “Stop sinning, or something worse may happen to you,” of being very judgmental, even if that person had just rescued the putative sinner in some way, or fed him, or clothed him, etc.

Jesus did not use people’s sin as an excuse not to associate with them, or to serve them…  but he surely was very up front about it, and there was no ambiguity in him about his position on their sin.

Jesus and the Apostles tell us not to judge.  That is, we don’t have the right to impose penalties on sinners because of our evaluations of their guilt.  We don’t have the right to punish sinners ourselves.

Matthew 7 – New International Version

1″Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Again, it is clear here that judgment potentially involves taking action against the judged.

But when modern writers tell us not to judge, they often use the word as if it means “to evaluate” or “to express an opinion based on an evaluation” or something of the sort.  This is simply not the Biblical meaning of the word.

If we were commanded by Jesus not to evaluate people’s behavior, nor to express our opinions of that behavior from a moral perspective, we would have no explanation for passages such as these:

Galatians 5 – New International Version

19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Matthew 15 – New International Version

19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ “

Read Matthew 23. Doesn’t Jesus sound just a bit “judgmental” here? But he is not being judgmental. He is observing behavior, and predicting its consequences if the behavior does not change. He is not, in other words, doing the thing he instructed others not to do.

Mark 7 – New International Version

20He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ 21For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ “

Even in the case of someone who refuses to end behavior that the entire church finds offensive, we have no right to directly punish, but only to shun:

Matthew 18 – New International Version

15″If your brother sins against you,[b] go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[c] 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Clearly, evaluation is not judgment. Expressing an opinion based on evaluation is not judgment.

Be careful of those who tell you not to judge, when in fact they may be saying they don’t want you to evaluate someone’s behavior, nor to express an opinion about it.  In particular, I seem often to hear or read of emerging church authors encouraging us not to be concerned about immoral behavior…  as if our very moral standards, and publicly expressing those standards, are what drives people away from Christ.  Of course, they don’t directly tell us “not to be concerned about immoral behavior.”  Rather, they tell us to simply stop talking so much about particular sins that they don’t find particularly troublesome, or else people will say we are being “judgmental.”

I highly recommend I Corinthians 5, a passage from which quotes are rarely drawn by “emerging conversation” authors.

2 Responses to “Misusing Scripture #4”

  1. momof3 says:

    This is right on the mark. Well said.

  2. innermore says:

    Were you implying that it’s wrong to judge? I don’t see anything in scripture telling me not to be judgmental or evaluation-al or whatever. The verdicts “flowing from” our judgments are still the same, whether we have the authority to carry them out or not. Of course, the difference between judging people and judging ice cream is that people will respond. Jesus’ point is: when judging other people, one must prepare to be evaluated similarly by those same people in return. Sort of a law of nature we need to be aware of beforehand.

    Any response to your judgment might depend on what it is you are judging, too. Harmonicminer judging someone’s musical ability is probably not as hazardous for him as judging their hairstyle, for example (little joke). I’ve always seen Jesus’ teachings on this subject as a warning, that’s all. Just because you barely understand Universal Truth doesn’t mean you can go spouting off on everybody.

    Pretty simple math. If the church judges homosexuality as immoral, then the homosexuals will judge the church as immoral. If Christians say abortion is wrong, then predictably, abortionists will certainly think Christians are wrong. What do you expect? By the way, Christians don’t shun evil-doers. Evil-doers shun Christians.

    Also, the church has decided to become more political in an effort to be more “emergent,” if you will. Dumb move.

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