Earlier today I read an article from Christianity Today about Donald Miller’s recent declarations about his relationship with Church gatherings, confusingly called church. I do not think he is forsaking the universal Church, because that would mean forsaking Jesus. I think he is forsaking the Church gatherings which have come to be known as church. That is how I read what Miller says here and here.
I agree with Kevin Miller’s assessment of Brian Maclaren and Rob Bell. I think he prematurely loops Donald Miller in with them unless he argues from the perspective of trajectory, which I would think a very fitting argument. Either way, Kevin Miller is experiencing the same push back any Christian feels when they call out another Christian’s actions or words as dangerous, lacking in wisdom, or out of step with the Bible. You hear the accusation coming from believers and unbelievers alike. It comes with both patronizing disdain and vicarious offense. It comes down in one word. Judgmental.
“Who are you to judge?”
“This sounds so judgmental.” (With the unexamined, undefended assumption that judgment is bad.)
“I thought Christians were not supposed to judge people.”
“Judge not lest you be judged.”
I hear it almost every time one believer tries to bring accountability to another, so I think we may need to reexamine the tenability of this anti-judgmental dogma infiltrating our conversations.
So, to push some buttons in your heart that may need pushing, sit down for 2.5 minutes and read 1 Corinthians 5. Chew on the statements Paul makes in verses 3, 11, and 13.
Paul was so judgmental, right!?
Who Should We Judge?
Paul tells us to judge Christians. He also tells us not to judge those who are not Christians. I think we do a really good job of mixing those two commands. We far more easily judge those who are not believers than we judge those who are believers.
Paul actually says we should not eat with (spend intimate, quality time with) believers who are in sin. Wow. That is striking when Jesus himself was known as a friend of sinners, who ate with sinners. It does bear noting that Jesus always ate with repentant sinners, though, so don’t go off the deep end on that one! What we see in Scripture tells us we should befriend and pursue those who are sinners outside God’s kingdom, and we should be prepared to break away from believers who choose to live in sin.
Really, we are talking about church discipline versus missional relationships. Church discipline requires judgment. Missional relationships are to be built for the spread of the gospel, but all judgment in those relationships is left up to God. In short, call Christians to act like Christians, and allow non-Christians to act like non-Christians.
But with regard to Christians, Paul says we should judge, and we should act on those judgments. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells Christians to start judging one another. He also says that he has already judged them, himself. He gives one verdict from his judgment that he reiterates five times in 13 verses: cast out and do not associate with believers who are judged to be living in sin.
In verse 12, Paul asks a rhetorical question with an obvious answer: “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?” Yes. Those are the ones we are supposed to judge.
Matthew 7:1-5 In this passage, Jesus tells us to take the log out of our own eye before we take the speck out of our brother’s eye. But note that Jesus did not say stop taking specks out of your brother’s eye. We are expected to do that, but we are expected to do it with humility (we will see more of this with regard to judgments).
James 4:11-12 This passage comes as the final statement in a long discourse about dissension in the church. It deals a lot with infighting and slanderous speech against other believers. After a call to humility (there it is again) James tells His brothers to stop judging one another as the final plea to stop the divisive spirit they have developed among themselves. This is James offering wisdom (another prominent theme in James’ letter) to people who need it. Much like his statement on faith and works, it must be read in light of other biblical teachings. Applying his words of wisdom at the exclusion of the rest of Scripture makes for bad teaching and application.
Luke 6:37-38 This is Luke’s record of Jesus’ sermon on the mount. This passage does a great job of showing how a command to not judge is not exhaustive. There are some times when you should judge. This is clear because the negative command, do not judge, is paired with a positive command in verse 38, give. Clearly, we all interpret verse 38 as a guideline of good living, not an absolute command, or else we would never own anything, for we would already have given it away. Jesus’ negative command, do not judge should be interpreted the same way. If you never judge anyone for anything, you are abusing the scripture just as much as someone who commands you give away everything that ever comes into your possession. As Jesus makes plain, a life marked by judgment and miserliness will not garner blessing from God, but does not mean you throw out the concepts all together.
The Bible tells us in many places how we are to judge others: with humility in love. But the usually unstated assumption is that we will in fact judge one another. God just wants us to judge well, in love.
We are called to judge the lives of believers, for the sake of their relationship with God. If we see a believer living in sin, we are expected to point that out, and we are expected to do so humbly, in full knowledge of our own weakness, mutually leaning on Christ in our sinful weakness. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul explains that we judge for the good of the one whom we judge. We do so out of love for our brother. Deep, abiding, Spirit fueled, and gospel centered love between two sinful humans demands confrontation.
Seek to uplift Christ in your brother’s life by pointing out where Christ can be made stronger. Stop hiding from confrontation behind misapplied Bible verses. Stop syncretizing the faith with our humanistic, militantly permissive culture of tolerance. God calls us to something greater than comfort in unruffled relationships. God wants His Church to become a bride fit for a King.
So whatever your position you take when the next public Christian celebrity starts a kerfuffle, stop judging everyone’s judgments and start seeking your brother’s ultimate good. It is just part of being the Church.