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Wednesday, 11 August 2010

On Giving Up Judgement

The Plague of Judgementalism
Of all Christian traditions, conservative evangelicals - and especially those with a reformed background - have the biggest problem with judgementalism.

There's a good reason for this bad habit. The good reason is this: concerned with purity of doctrine they tend to be constantly on the lookout for error. It is vital we learn to discern between truth and error so that we are not led astray. This good discernment, however, can easily overreach itself and become a habit of life extended everywhere. Such Christians find themselves making continual judgements about this church and that sermon, this leader and that movement. Before long they become judgemental cynics unable to enjoy or profit from anyone, any book or any sermon not in their (tiny) little theological box. What began as a noble Berean attitude has become a distorted, consuming and destructive habit. It is possible to become a believer who has to have a definite final opinion on every one, thing, book and movement: and for most of those opinions to be  negative.

This is a dangerous habit, for Jesus said "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" (Matthew 7:1) and his teaching is repeated by his apostles, notably Paul who left all judgement, including judgement of himself to God (1 Corinthians 4:3).

Kicking the habit
How can such a habit be broken?

Step 1: recognise your profound limitations. One of the good insights of postmodernism is the recognition that each of us sees the world from the very small standpoint of our own background, personality, upbringing, culture, etc. None of us can see very much and our vision is distorted by prejudice, character and so on. We see darkly. While the Word of God is clear and true, our understanding of it is sometimes poor.

Step 2: recognise the sin of pride. A judgemental Christian is a proud Christian. There are two ways of putting ourselves above another; we can either raise ourselves by boasting (but Satan is careful not to incite us to this one, for he knows we will soon spot the error), or we can put ourselves above others by lowering them  (the sin of criticism we don't so easily recognise as pride). Recognise that a judgemental spirit is a sinful spirit.

Step 3: remember we can easily make wrong judgements. The seven letters of Jesus to the churches of Asia reveal the poverty of human judgement. The church at Sardis had a reputation for being alive but was dead (nekros no less). Everyone thought the place was alive, Jesus knew it was dead. The Christians at Laodicea thought they were rich, but they were poor. We are so so often wrong in our judgements.

Step 4: there is only One who can judge correctly. To make a true analysis we need all the facts, and all the facts are available to only One, to whom alone is judgement trusted - thank God.

This is not a plea for woolly mindedness. In many things we should make judgements. Some of those judgements should be held firmly (a church which does not preach the divinity of Christ is not a Christian church, for example). But on many many other issues, we should hold fire - or at least ensure that our judgements are provisional and open to revision.

My own response to Jesus' words in Revelation has been to give up all 'church' judgements. We are prone to think "this is a good church" or "that is a poor church". From now on, all I shall say is "As far as I know they are faithful to the Bible" and nothing more. I don't know, and nor do you, what Jesus thinks of that church. We don't know whether it's alive or dead.

Jesus does and his opinion is the only one that counts.

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