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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

Are We Not to Judge Unbelievers?

The most often quoted verse in the Bible is not John 3:16, but Matthew 7:1, "Judge not, that you be not judged." I'm sure most Christians have heard this verse thrown out as soon as they point out the failing of a friend or family member. It's a common response, given even by those who know nothing else about the Bible. However, I recently had a conversation with a self-identified Christian who believes the Bible teaches Christians should not judge the actions of unbelievers, since they are lost and therefore unable to live a Godly life. In fact, he claimed:
The directive to REFRAIN from judging outsiders, has ONLY ONE context in the narrative: "You WILL be judged by whatever judgment criteria you use against un-believers", period! Paul FRIMLY reiterates this in 1 Corinthians 5
  • 1Cor. 5:12 "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within?"
  • 1Cor. 5:13: "But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."
There is only one judgment allowed to Christians: to ascertain the legitimacy of those who call themselves Christian, and yet indulge in those practices Paul outlines in great detail as forbidden to believers.
This is a claim that I think needs some attention. It seems superficially that the verses above warn against judging others in any way, but the concept of judgment that both Jesus and Paul are talking about does not exclude any kind of condemnation or criticism of sin. Basically the command against judging others simply means that no Christian should ever write off an unbeliever as irredeemable nor should they somehow look down upon unbelievers as somehow less valuable than a believer. In order to demonstrate this, I offer three ways the Bible shows that pointing out moral failings is appropriate when done appropriately.


1. First Century Understanding of Judgment

First off, our 21st century concept of judgment has been warped by those who would say any kind of criticism of another is wrong. In understanding Jesus and Paul, it is crucial to remember they were first century Jews. Ancient Jewish culture divided the world into two simple categories: the Chosen Ones (themselves) and the Gentiles (everyone else). As Merrill Unger notes, Jews of this time were taught the laws of cleanliness and eating kosher were things that separated the clean from the unclean.1 Therefore, nonbelieving heathen were unclean and were fit only for eternal hellfire. Jewish rabbis of this time even taught the faithful Jew to daily pray thanking God that he is "not a Gentile, not a slave, and not a woman."2 This is one of the reasons that the Judaizers were starting to make so much headway in the Galatian church. Jews felt not merely superior to the rest of the world, but confident that God was on their side. Unger states, "the Jews seemed to regard the heathen only as existing for the purpose of punishing the apostasy of Israel… or of undergoing vengeance for their enmity toward her.3

When looking at the culture and language of first century Judaism, one can see that the type of judgment Jesus and the New Testament warns against in the passages above is a wholesale condemnation of other people. Christians cannot simply "write off" another person as unworthy or incapable of salvation. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament expounds on the Greek word for judge and explains "In light of God's judgment, we should not judge others. This does not mean flabby indifference to moral wrong but recognition of solidarity in guilt."4

2. Jesus and His Disciples Call Out Sinners for Their Sins

If we look to the apostles, we see that Paul did some judging of his own. In 2 Timothy 4:14, he calls out one man by name and writes it in the scriptures for all to see: "Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds." A little earlier he condemns the actions of another: "For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica" (2 Tim 4:10). These sound like pretty big judgments to me. Of course, Paul directly instructs Timothy to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" as his part of preaching the word. One cannot reprove without judging.

The apostle John not only judges Diotrephes, but says, "So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us" (3 John 1:10). He wants to make it public! Jesus even gave us a set procedure for those who would sin against a person of the church in Matthew 17. Surely this requires judgment. We also have the admonition in James 5:20 where he writes, "let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." Is judgment required there?

I think the Bible is very clear that we are not to retreat into some holy huddle and let the unbelievers go to hell, taking the world with them. Part of that requires us to point out their sin, just as John the Baptist did toward Herod. Even when looking at Corinthians 5, which is the example given above, we can see judgment taking place. Paul clearly judged the person sinning in Corinth. "For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing."

The biggest example of a judgment against unbelievers is Stephen's sermon in Acts 7. Facing the Sanhedrin, he uses some of the harshest language he can in condemning their actions:
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it (Acts 7:51-53).
Either Stephen was wrong to call out the priests or we are also called to be the witnesses of Christ, which must include telling others how they violate His law. Otherwise, why would they ever wish to repent?

Jesus Commanded His Followers to Stem the Moral Decay of the World

You write, "The directive to REFRAIN from Judging outsiders, has ONLY ONE context in the narrative: ‘You WILL be judged by whatever judgment criteria you use against un-believers', period!" But Jesus just a few verse later called us to inspect the fruit of others and to make judgments about them based on their actions. He also taught in that same Sermon on the Mount that "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet" and "Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven"(Matt 5:13, 19). Jesus clearly teaches his church to instruct sinners and to act rightly. Instruction requires correction; you cannot get around it. Being the salt of the earth means the church must seek to preserve a certain moral value in society.

Judging people as beyond salvation is clearly forbidden in the New Testament just as allowing sin to progress unchecked is also. To think that the unbeliever is somehow immune from criticism for his actions would mean that we never share that another person is in need of salvation! For one must be saved from something, and that something is the sin that plagues all of humanity. If we are not able to declare immoral acts sinful, then evangelism is worthless and Christianity becomes a feel-good group, not the truth of the ages.

References

1. Unger, Merrill F., R. K. Harrison, Howard Frederic Vos, Cyril J. Barber, and Merrill F. Unger. "Gentile." The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody, 1988. 466. Print.
2. Kahn, Yoel H. The Three Blessings: Boundaries, Censorship, and Identity in Jewish Liturgy. New York: Oxford UP, 2011. Print. 10-12.
3. Unger, 466.
4. "Krino." Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdsmans, 1985. 472. Print.

4 comments:

  1. please admitit... it's a tricky subject.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I actually agree with this website's interpretation. Christians and even nonbelievers judge each other, Christians should point out sins, and encourage people to turn away from their sins and go to Jesus to be saved. I know myself that if I wasn't judged I would continue to sin.

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  2. I am really interested in Christian Apologetics and Theoretics than ministry, but ministry will go very well with them. I keep praying that I learn to love everyone just as Jesus Christ, God almighty the Father love everyone. To judge rightly is to have the expression to love where God portrays through Christ. God sees the heart, and He will judge things that only HE will judge. We have our place and our judgement towards others; Godś judgement is Gods only. We are called to judge righteously.

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  3. I feel like I get a ... I don´t know, a boost towards apologetics. There´s something about it that turns me on and get´s me going...

    ReplyDelete

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