Monday, November 18, 2013

should the church be non-judgmental?

People will say that one of the main things they are looking for in a church, or in a group of  Christians, is that they are not judgmental.  Occasionally, people will say that they appreciate that our church is not judgmental.  It's meant as a compliment, I know, but I'm a little unsure how to respond to that.

Most people usually mean that a person or group of people don't pass judgment upon others in the sense of heaping condemnation upon them.  Fair enough.  But it may mean, you don't come down on sin (or a particular sin) so hard, or you're not negative about anything. 

But, can we ever really be non-judgmental?  Even the statement, "you are too judgmental" or "you should be more non-judgmental" is a judgment in itself.  The speaker is making the judgment that this other kind of judgment is wrong.  There's a disapproval of that other kind of disapproval.  "You shouldn't be so negative" is a negative statement. 

Should Christians strive to be non-judgmental?  Is this something we really want in our churches?  Do we want to be at the place where we don't have values, or make judgments as to what's right and what's wrong, what's true and what's a lie? 

Here's a key passage, from Jesus' sermon on the mount:  "Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.  Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you."  (Matthew 7:1-6)

What Jesus meant by "judging not" has less to do with discernment and distinguishing right and wrong, and more to do with hypocrisy and self-righteousness.  He assumes we will know who the "dogs" and "pigs" are (7:6).  And elsewhere the Bible tells us to grow in moral discernment:  "But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil."  (Hebrews 5:14)

What Jesus is speaking about is passing judgment by inflating the fault of another while at the same time downsizing our own sin.  In this way we fool ourselves into thinking we have a clear and balanced perspective on another's problem, and yet be blind to our own flaws, which are usually bigger than we think.  There are many of us religious people who would be happy to "help" you with your problems, while being blind to the help we ourselves desperately need. 

But this does not call for non-judgment.  It calls for a healthy self-judgment in the light of truth.  And the gospel actually liberates us to be able to see the worst in ourselves.  We can face our problems with realism because we are under a grace infinitely greater than our problems. 

So, the condition of being non-judgmental is not really a good goal.  We are a new creation and are called to leave certain thoughts and behaviors behind.  The Apostle Paul says, "Put to death… put off…" certain attitudes and actions (Colossians 3:5-11, which is pretty negative), and then to "put on…" other attitudes and actions (Colossians 3:12-17), which is the positive flip-side.  We are certainly to make judgments, test our motives, confess sin, repent, be accountable, be humble, and be vigilant. 

But this is primarily toward ourselves.  The church as a whole should be such an environment that allows all of us to share in this mindset.  Occasionally there are situations where someone does need to be removed from fellowship (1 Corinthians 5, for example.)  And if we have been sinned against we are to follow Jesus' plan for reconciliation (Matthew 18:15ff).  But ongoing and healthy judgment means that the church -- by regular application of the Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit -- sees truth ever more clearly, exposing the lies we believe, walking in the light rather than darkness, and pursuing goodness rather than evil.   

The term "non-judgmental" is really not very useful.  It may lead to the conclusion that sin is no big deal.  

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