I’ve encountered the holier-than-thou attitude in Christian circles more than once. My friend recalls a man in church who once told him:
“There are first-class Christians and second-class Christians. First-class Christians are on fire for the Lord. They love Jesus, they come to church every Sunday eager to worship, and they read their Bible a lot. Second-class Christians, well, they just don’t get it. They heart’s not really in it all the time. They go to church but sometimes they don’t want to go. They’re not really on fire for the Lord.”
Eeek. Just typing that out makes me want to chunder.
How did we get to this place? Can’t we recognize that we’re all on our own individual spiritual journey and that it’s between you and God and that church should be a judgment-free zone where we can be ourselves and not be hindered by the judgment of other equally fallible human beings?
Well, I’m not so sure if I’m sold on that mentality either. Not anymore.
Here’s what I used to believe about judgment in the Christian social context:
Negative version of judgment was when you saw a fellow Christian do or say something (i.e. use God’s name in vain, covet your neighbor’s donkey, be a nasty-ass bitch) and you base your conclusion of whether or not they’re a true Christian on purely that. They said a curse word so they must not be a real Christian.
The okay version of judgment was when you saw a Christian do or say something and you judged that action. I hear that person saying curse words. I don’t think cursing is good and I wouldn’t do that myself.
The latter version tickled my fancy. It meant I didn’t have to make assumptions about people, and that meant I didn’t have to take any risk of being incorrect or offensive. But as my friend recently pointed out, this thinking wasn’t consistent with what the Bible taught.
Plenty of Bible verses warn us against judging a Christian from a place of hypocrisy (Matthew 7:3-5) or judging “the hidden…purposes of the heart” of a Christian based on tendencies that are not sinful (1 Corinthians 4:5). But the Bible never prohibits judging for the purpose of calling out sin.
Jon Bloom writes on desiringGod.org:
“Christians must judge the explicitly sinful behavior of a professing Christian…Paul didn’t even have to be present to pass judgment on a man who engaged in sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 5:3)…When we sin, our Christian brothers and sisters have an obligation to judge us. They must not condemn us, but they must, out of love, call us to repent.”*
Judgment can be good for a community if it leads to restoration, rather than division. The late Lewis B. Smedes said on Christianity Today:
“If no one ever judged other people, there would be no real human community. In a sinful world, no community can exist for long where nobody is ever held accountable: no teacher would grade a student’s performance; no citizen would sit on a jury or call a failed leader to account.”**
I know back in the day, when I was backslidden (#rumspringa!), I would’ve benefited A LOT from a fellow Christian saying, “Hey, Rachel, this thing you doin.’ Snot good.” I even reflected on that in one of my own blog posts:
“I rarely had the guts to tell someone about things that I struggled with…looking back, I gamble that this transformation could’ve happened sooner if I actually made genuine friends with other Christians.”
So let it be known: if you see me being a bad Christian, tell me. Savvy, my dear co-blogger, I know you have done that for me before. You have called me out on when I’ve done bad things. I know it came from a place of love. And I am grateful for that.
*Bloom, Jon. “Judge Not, That You May Judge Well.” desiringGod.org, 21 Oct. 2016
**Smedes, Lewis B. “Who Are We to Judge?” Christianity Today. 1 Oct. 2001