There are some obvious tensions that we encounter when we read the Scriptures. One such tension that often causes significant problems between Christians is the biblical teaching regarding judging others.

The Scriptures do teach us to avoid judgmental attitudes toward others, especially in dealing with Christians. At the same time we are clearly encouraged to developing a discerning attitude that can evaluate people and ministries carefully; e.g, 1 Cor. 5:12-13; 1 Cor. 5:1-5; 6:1-6; Matthew 7:15-20; 2 Cor. 11:10-15. This is the tension I refer to here. How can we follow both of these standards? No matter how you apply these texts you will soon have to admit that judging and discerning sometimes do get very close to one another.

The temptation to pass judgment upon the life or testimony of other individuals is clearly warned against in the New Testament. If you have lived in a Christian context where the truth of your church or mission is extremely important than the tendency will always be to err on the side of passing judgment wrongly or unfairly. I have seen more of this misuse of Scripture than I care to think about. I have also done more than my share of judging others critically and unfairly.

Large I recently dipped into a great resource on my shelves titled: The Quotable Oswald Chambers (Grand Rapids: RBC Ministries, 2008). Chambers had a lot of great thoughts about this subject. I find him extremely wise. Here are a few of his comments on judging others.

We say that a man is not right with God unless he acts on the line of the precedent we have established. We must drop our measuring-rods for God and for our fellow men. All we can know about God is that His character is what Jesus Christ has manifested; and all we know about our fellow men presents an enigma which precludes the possibility of the final judgment being with us.

What a marvelous reminder of our human weakness and limitations. The "enigma" precludes the possibility of final judgment residing with us.

Sc122-026 Chambers is again insightful when he says:

We pronounce judgments, not by our character or our goodness, but by the intolerant ban of finality in our views, which awakens resentment and has none of the Spirit of Jesus in it. Jesus never judged like that. It was His presence, His inherent holiness that judged. Whenever we see Him we are judged instantly. We have to practice the presence of Jesus and work on the basis of his disposition. When we have experienced the unfathomable forgiveness of God for all our wrong, we must exhibit that same forgiveness to others.

I wish I had a dollar for all the times that I allowed my views to lead me to embrace "an intolerant ban of finality in

[my] views." Chambers' ideas here are quite powerful. He says the "presence" of Jesus was judgment in itself. If my life was holy, in the best and fullest sense, then my words would not be needed to judge most situations. My life would raise all the right questions if I lived as I should.

I think the most common form of judging that I have experienced, and this is why I write about this so often in these blogs, is the judgment Christians feel they must exercise toward fellow Christians because they do not believe the "gospel" in just the way we do. Catholics do it when they say Christ is found only in the Catholic Church and its sacraments. Protestants do it when they insist that Rome teaches a false gospel and thus Catholics are all condemned by Galatians 1 for preaching a "false gospel." This very fruitless exercise harms the work of Christ profoundly and grieves the Holy Spirit. Oswald Chambers is helpful when he concludes:

Beware of mistaking suspicion for discernment; it is the biggest misunderstanding that ever twisted Christian humility into Pharisaism.

In Oswald Chambers' study of the Sermon on the Mount he wrote:

The average Christian is the most penetratingly critical individual; there is nothing of the likeness of Jesus Christ about him. A critical temper is a contradiction to all our Lord's teaching. Jesus says of criticism, "Apply it to yourself, never to anyone else." "Why do you judge your brother? . . . for we shall all stand before the judgement seat of Christ."

And he says in Notes on Isaiah:

The danger is lest we make the little bit of truth we do know a pinnacle on which we set ourselves to judge everyone else. It is perilously easy to make our conception of God like molten lead and pour it into our specially designed mould and then when it is cold and hard, fling it at the heads of the religious people who don't agree with us.

This is precisely how I treated Catholics for many years. I read a great deal of polemical argumentation about what was wrong with Catholic teaching and Catholic teachers. I stereotypically used the bits and pieces I collected to pour this into my designed mould. Then when these views hardened I had something to fling against other Christians. The problem here is really rather uncomplicated. First, I used teaching that I did not agree with out of misunderstanding and fear. Second, I then mixed this into a mold that made me feel like I was in the right and they were in the wrong. Then it is only a baby step to judging wrongly.

The number one mistake I encounter among evangelicals who judge Catholics to be non-Christians is in how they take a piece of theological debate, or of historical conflict, and then use it as the "right understanding" of the Catholic position. The most egregious example of this is quite common. Catholics teach that we are saved by our human works so they preach a false gospel. This statement is patently false but most who use it never bother to find out why. It is just much easier to hold on to our specially designed mould and keep throwing things around the room.

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  1. thegroundworks September 17, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    As always a thought provoking and challenging article. Discernment vs a judgmental attitude is often a fine line and also comes with a lot tied to it (i.e., attitude of humility vs attitude of self righteousness.) We fail to realize the world is watching us…
    It is only a tragedy that more Christians don’t consider such thought provoking words that you have currently penned.

  2. Dale September 19, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    We are to judge – a righteous judgement. If I am sinning or doing wrong I want somebody to tell me what I am doing is a sin/is wrong.
    John 7:24 –
    Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.
    Psalm 37:30 –
    The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment.
    Amos 5:14-15
    Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live: and so the LORD, the God of hosts, shall be with you, as ye have spoken. Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate: it may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph.
    This describes how many fallen –
    Isaiah 59:8-9 –
    The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace. Therefore is judgment far from us, neither doth justice overtake us: we wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but we walk in darkness.
    The right kind of judgment pleases God and betters our lives and allows us to speak His Word to all.
    1 Corinthians 6:1-5 –
    Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?
    Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
    Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?
    If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.
    I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?
    Romans 16:17-18 –
    Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
    Malachi 3:18
    Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.

  3. Andy Scott September 24, 2009 at 9:38 am

    Thank you for an excellent treatment of a most timely topic. (And, of course, it never hurts to quote Mr. Chambers! He is so rich!) Keep up the good work!
    Andy Scott

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