I’m very sorry to say that Christians today get an awful lot wrong when it comes to Theology. Members of many so-called “emergent” churches have the same Theology as their non-Christian peers (that is, no Theology at all on some matters). Ask them what the role of women in the church is and they will sneer at you with condescending grunts. “The role of woman? How sexist!” they will say, citing passages in the Bible and then explaining why the meaning is precisely opposite of the meaning that is apparent to the reader. “That culture was sexist” they will continue, when pressed. In reality, they don’t know much at all about the culture of the Roman world. What is sadder is how little they know of their own culture.
You don’t have to look for “emergent” churches to find problems in our Theology these days. Most Christians get the the issue of Judgment wrong in an effort to get it right. I see the issue quite a bit, have judged(!) it to be a problem, and wanted to discuss it briefly here. As the Savior says:
Judge not, that you be not judged. (2) For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (3) And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? (4) Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? (5) Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (6) Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. Matthew 7:1-6
Notice that Jesus does not say “Do not judge”. He instead says “Judge not, that you be not judged”. His reasoning is simple, and he follows with it immediately. We are judged by the same measure with which we judge others. If we judge others righteously, genuinely, and lovingly, that will be the same way we are judged. Jesus goes on to say how we must first take time to examine ourselves before pursuing others; a concept often taken too far by us Moderns who often see ourselves too low to be of any use. In Jesus’ meaning, we must simply follow His call to love others as ourselves, and so judging ourselves first is consistent when done properly. Imagine combining “Love others as you love yourself” with self-hatred and see where that takes you! Perhaps a topic for another post.
Jesus last speaks about withholding the best of our thoughts from those who will do nothing but trample them in their foolishness. This particular command is something I often neglect, always to my detriment. But Jesus in all of his statements here is really just re-iterating something that should, in at least some form, be self-evident to us. An example will help make this more obvious.
Suppose there is a man who stands upon a street corner in your town, holding a worn-down sign with the words “Need food and money to feed family of 4”. You, being a loving, kind, and caring person, have heard stories of people who lie about their situation in order to obtain sympathy and money without the need to do anything to earn either. You are torn because you don’t want to encourage bad behavior, but you also want to help people in need. You finally decide to yourself, “Who am I to judge?”, and give the man $100 since you are feeling a bit generous. The man thanks you profusely and walks off, leaving you behind to feel good about yourself. The next day, you see the man standing once again upon the corner, sign still in hand. You are a bit startled. You don’t know what to do next.
In the scenario, you judged the man as needing your help. You made the judgement based on his sign and your emotions, but you judged him nonetheless. Since this sort of judgment is not critical, we often overlook it in modern discourse, but it is certainly a form of judgment, as it is opposed to the opposite, more critical decision that could be reached: Not to give money or food to the man on the corner. If your guiding principle is “do not judge”, then by making any decision regarding the man on the corner – indeed, by giving any thought whatsoever as to his situation – you are making a judgement, either towards pity or indifference. You have already in this case violated your own guiding principle. But let us not stop there. Suppose the man were lying. Suppose he made more than you did at your job, with which you support a family as large as he claims on his sign. By giving him pity instead of contempt, you are judging him falsely. In this case, your judgement, despite that cursed priority of Good Intentions, is absolutely false. If we must judge, and be sure that we must if we are to make any decision at all, we should at least attempt to judge honestly. If that means holding a liar in contempt or feeling pity for the man truly in need of help, we must follow through. To hold the man who struggles in contempt or the liar in pity is a false judgement. It is the kind of judgement that Jesus said we should avoid in others.
Keep in mind, if you are going to make the claim “to judge is a sin”, you must judge all Judges of National or State Law as sinning simply by showing up for work. Anyone who judges the winners of a contest (this includes anyone who makes a judgement as to who or what to vote for in any election) is sinning. A man who tells you “I have murdered four people today” must be let go without a thought in your mind; to do otherwise would be to judge him. If you ignore his actions as to not get involved, you have judged his actions as dangerous, and thus the man himself as someone who does dangerous things. If you decide to call the police, you have judged him to be honest and also a murderer. If you decide to ignore him, you judge him as a liar. You are not left with any other opportunity than to judge
Christians, we cannot go around saying silly things and expect to be taken seriously. Judgement is entirely appropriate in many situations. It must always be done the right way; that is lovingly and patiently. It must also, despite our Modern tendency to show pity to everyone, be done with the right intent; that is, to divide truth from error, bad from good, and good from best. We simply have no hope of forsaking all judgment, and to do so would simply make us dead to the world around us. Let us judge that we might live instead!