Judgment, Yes; Judgmentalism, No

August 18, 2011

The key to my previous posts is that God’s word judges the human heart: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). It is not up to an individual to judge the heart of another, but it most certainly is the responsibility of every believer to read, heed, and lead with the Scriptures as our rule of faith and practice. If God really said it, then we must really do it. In the tenderness (love) and toughness (truth) of Christian fellowship, we are called to hold one another accountable to a common standard. Presbyterians understand this, in light of the three marks of the church: the true preaching of the Word, the right administration of the Sacraments, and the upright administration of church discipline (Scots Confession, BOC, 3.18).

Why is the concept of judgment and discernment so difficult? Because prophets and teachers hurt people’s feelings by speaking the truth, even in love. As a defense, those hurt by Word and discipline throw back the accusation of judgmentalism to the messenger. In the turmoil of the present controversies, we must sort out this dynamic. We don’t want to throw the baby “discernment” out with the “judgmental” bathwater.

Just because someone calls another judgmental does not necessarily mean it is so, but it is an invitation to pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23f). Ask God’s Spirit to examine your heart for the sin of judgmentalism. Here is an “attitude check” to undergo, in the tradition of an examination of conscience. (You can tell it is the Holy Spirit leading you into truth if with the identification of error in your soul comes the sweet empowerment to repent of it. If instead it is Satan harassing you, the accusation produces a general rather than specific sense of guilt, an amorphous cruddy feeling, and no hope or power to do anything about it.)

Ask yourself these questions:

Am I going beyond finding the proper distinction between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error, to condemning a person?

What is my basis for my conclusion in a matter, scriptural teaching or just what I think or feel?

Have I confessed and repented of this sin in my own life, before bringing God’s Word on this matter to other people’s attention?

Am I standing on pride of perfection, or am I aware of my own sinful nature dependent upon God’s grace and mercy?

Do I in any way enjoy confronting another person with a message to repent?

Judgmentalism is not in the eye of the beholder. Jesus explained why in his conversation with Nicodemus (Jn 3:19-21): “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” In other words, it is quite possible (not necessary but possible) that the reason a person is experiencing a Christian as judgmental is that there is something hidden in his or her life that would not please God. Human nature being what it is, sometimes it’s easier or more comfortable to call someone else judgmental than it is to allow the scrutiny of God’s Spirit to teach, correct, and admonish oneself.  I know this because I, too, have done it. But I have been alert to the possibility for a long time, with thanks to God who has used my detractors to help me not forget it.

This does not mean that Christians should stop distinguishing between good and bad acts or beliefs. It does not mean that Christians should refrain from teaching the Word as it presents itself, no matter who is present. It does not mean that Presbyterians who feel and respond to the judgment of God’s Word that something is a sin should avoid preaching on that subject for fear of how it would be taken. May it never be!

What it does mean, however, is that we face the whole counsel of God in the Scriptures without flinching. With the Holy Spirit’s courage we repent in thought, word, and deed, and invite others into restoration with us.



One Response to “Judgment, Yes; Judgmentalism, No”

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