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.

Apr 24 2010

Misusing Scripture #3

Category: Bible,Scripture,theologyharmonicminer @ 8:46 am


The previous post in this series is here.

In the comment stream of another post, I wrote the following in response to a question, and then I realized it really belonged in the “Misusing Scripture” series, so after minor editing here it is….

Re: the “turn your cheek” comment of Jesus, it is a mistake to try to turn such comments into fully-orbed theories of human interaction and just response to threat.

Every time you see in the New Testament a suggestion about how individuals should respond to individuals with whom they are in conflict in some way, I suggest always rewriting the scripture so that the potential or actual victim is an innocent child. Then review what the responsibilities of adults are, to children. Then consider that in God’s eyes, we ALL are children, and furthermore, children He wants to adopt.

If you run an orphanage, you do not tell weaker children to let stronger children prey upon them. You do not stand by and watch as one beats another, even if you must use force to stop it, perhaps even risking danger to yourself. And if you have a truly difficult case (a child who is in fact a threat to the group, and possibly strong enough to threaten YOU), you may have to use considerable force to stop a situation from getting out of hand. And this is key: you absolutely must protect yourself in the process, because if you don’t, who will protect the rest of the children?

The fundamental flaw in “proof-texting” for non-violence in the scriptures is that nearly all such scriptures are about individual responses to particular kinds of situations, NOT about corporate responsibilities (i.e., the responsibilities of governments and families to protect those for whom they are responsible), and even those about individual responses are often more metaphoric than anything.

Some will quote Paul: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

But this presumes I have the power to feed an enemy who does not have the power to feed himself. It assumes I have the power to give him a drink, which he will not have without me, else he will not now be thirsty. In other words, it assumes my enemy is the one now in discomfort or disarray, and that he is no particular threat to me at the moment. What other reasonable explanation could there be that I have food and drink to share, and he does not?

Paul is not saying that if someone is threatening your family, you should offer them a happy meal. Nor is he saying that the USA should have shipped food to NAZI Germany instead of invading it. Although, and this is key to the American ethos in such matters, we did go to considerable lengths to rebuild Germany after it was no longer a threat to us, which is exactly the kind of situation Paul must have been referring to in his statement.

Some say, “I’d say loving our enemies means caring for their family after they’ve killed mine.” The problem is that if you are doing that before you STOP your enemy from killing anyone else’s family, out of an excess of misplaced piety, you are showing NO LOVE AT ALL to the future victims of the murderer.

Will you be delivering food to the family of the murderer when they are still hiding him in the basement? And planning his escape into the next county? If so, what will be your responsibility for the future victims of the murderer? And what about justice, even if you are certain the murderer will never kill again? Keep in mind that the visible presence of that justice in society (and in international relations) is one thing restraining OTHER potential murderers. It is not mere “score settling.”

Jesus’ “turn the other cheek” comment is metaphorical about general human interaction, and exactly on par with other comments He made about “soft answers” and the like. Despite the physical metaphor, it is not mostly about physical violence, else, given His propensity for eye-catching metaphor, He might have said, “If someone strikes you over the head with a club and knocks you cold, when you awaken, stand up and give him a better target next time.” Or, “If someone cuts off your right arm with a sword, offer him your left arm, too.” This last would have been perfectly in character, if He had meant that. And he made metaphors that strong in other places.

The reason Jesus chose the “cheek” metaphor is precisely because a slap of the cheek is not serious, is unlikely to cause significant harm, is mostly merely insulting, and He is suggesting that we be able to tolerate mere insult without over-reaction or escalation of the conflict, insofar as we have control over it.

It is NOT a general comment about not defending yourself (or your family, or your nation) when required, and it certainly is not a general comment encouraging the neglect of others who are in danger (which often includes protecting them), nor is it a statement that allows us to escape the demands of justice, which includes our responsibility to prosecute it when required.

The next post in this series is here.

Dec 21 2009

Misusing Scripture #2

Category: church,religion,theologyharmonicminer @ 9:31 am

The previous post in this series is here.

Matthew 18 has these verses:

15“If your brother sins against you, 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.’ 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.

These verses seem to be about the appropriate response when someone sins against you in some more or less personal way.

Leaders in churches or para-church organizations should be cautious about suggesting this passage as the correct guidance for people who disagree with some aspect of their leadership or policies.  There are two reasons for this:

1)  The passage isn’t about disagreement with the decisions and policies of the leadership of a church or para-church organization.   It’s about personal transgressions.  That might be the case if a person in leadership does or says something inappropriate with regard to an individual, engages in some obviously immoral behavior, etc.  It is not the case when the criticism is about the policies or decisions of a person in leadership.

2)  If a leader inappropriately invokes this passage when some criticism is made, it is a double edged sword.  Yes, it might convince someone to approach the leader first with their complaint.  But there is a rapid escalation in the passage.   Leaders who attempt to defend themselves with Matthew 18:15 risk that someone will read a couple of verses farther, and decide that it’s time to air matters in public after a single solo conversation and a single “group” conversation.

So, what scriptures DO apply when criticism of policies or decisions of leaders are involved?  It’s not so simple.   But there is a discussion of it here.  Generally, if you don’t like the policies or decisions of a leader, you’re limited to working through the normal political process of your institution or church, unless you believe the policies or decisions amount to false teaching, or support for false teaching done by others.  In that case, you have quite a bit of scripture reading to do, and commentaries to read, before you do much about it.

If you’re a leader of a church or para-church organization, the more restrictive advice of the epistles is a better source for ways you can manage such criticism than Matthew 18.

The next post in this series is here.

Dec 19 2009

Misusing Scripture #1

Category: church,religion,theologyharmonicminer @ 10:19 am

The use and misuse of scripture has been on my mind lately.

It is very popular, when someone wants to blunt someone else’s criticism, to quote Jesus saying, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  (Matthew 7:1)

This is often said to deflect a valid criticism of someone’s behavior, perspectives, attitudes, etc.  The problem, of course, is that it’s usually a ridiculous application of the saying.

The next verse says this:  “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. ”

The clear implication is that judging is not mere evaluation.  It is, instead, taking action to impose a penalty of some kind, a penalty you have no right to impose.

The New Testament is full of injunctions to be discerning, and it is full of instruction about what to do regarding the failures and sin of others.  Clearly, these instructions imply that evaluation will be done, and that evaluation will be based on known standards.

It would be “judging” if you thought that you were personally empowered to enforce a penalty upon someone else based on your evaluation.  It is not “judging” to observe that someone is not behaving according to biblical standards, though of course some discretion is required in terms of what you do or say about that observation.  That’s exactly what the Biblical instructions are for.

Start a tally.  The next 100 times you hear someone quote Matthew 7:1, ask yourself if they are simply trying to avoid any evaluation of their behavior, attitude or perspectives.

I’m guessing that’s the case about 95% of the time.

Or more.

The next post in this series is here.

Mar 10 2009

Other Series

Category: harmonicminer @ 4:47 pm

While you can always search for posts on a topic using the CATEGORY flip menu, about half-way down the right side on the home page, or do a direct search of the blog in the title bar on the upper right, this page also links to other groups of posts on particular topics.  In each case, there are two links for each series.  The first link takes you to the first post in the series, which links to the rest.  The second link takes you to a page showing all the posts in the series.


The Spiritual Poverty of Socialism

The Spiritual Poverty of Socialism. All posts.


Britain, R.I.P.?

Britain, R.I.P.? All posts.


Misusing Scripture

Misusing Scripture.  All posts.


Prosperity Gospel for Christian Institutions?

Prosperity Gospel for Christian Institutions?  All posts.

Hey, What About MY Choice?

Hey, What About MY Choice?  All posts.

As time permits, I’ll put links to more series here.