Stop Judging the World and Start Judging the Church

The Christian understanding of judgment has reversed the biblical one.

I love criticism. In my mind, progress and improvement are impossible without tearing apart our presuppositions and scrutinizing every value we hold dear.

Unfortunately, few people see it that way. Criticism and judgment are almost universally perceived as negative activities that reflect poorly on those who engage in them. They make people like me come off as divisive and even destructive.

Judgment is especially unwelcome when leveled against the church from those within. We're already hated enough so publicizing our internal disagreements is seen as hurting Christ's reputation. We appear dysfunctional and divided and nothing like the body of loving people we were called to be.

It's no small irony, then, that the church is quick to judge everyone outside of it. Whether it's friends getting drunk every weekend or an entire nation accepting transgender people, some Christians are almost too eager to sow dissension and ruin relationships.

So much for that reputation.

No one cares what you do in your own home as much as what you do in theirs. So while it may be discouraging to weather criticism from within, you'd be surprised how little anyone else cares. In fact, to those on the outside it just looks like refinement.

Like building muscle requires tearing it, so spiritual growth requires a similar level of discomfort and deconstruction. And what feels like infighting may actually be the working out of our faith.

The early church was no stranger to internal conflict as it considered and rejected heresies like Gnosticism and Arianism. Throughout the centuries, the church has slowly codified orthodoxy regarding the nature of God and Jesus Christ. Today's conversations are no different as the we seek to establish orthodoxy on human nature--especially sexual orientation and gender identity.

Furthermore, God commands his people to judge each other. In the days of Moses, the Israelites were told to purge the evil from among them. Paul picks up that refrain when speaking to the Corinthians about their significant moral failures. We cannot ignore our differences for the sake of unity. Rather, we must reconcile them because we have unity.

Judging the church isn't divisive because we're united in Christ. If we cannot separate that which God has joined together in marriage, how much less can we separate those he has joined together in marriage through his son?

Worldly unity is flimsy and transient. It's built on the conditional will of fickle human beings. But the foundation of Christian unity has Christ as its cornerstone. We needn't worry that our fleshly pettiness can destroy that which is built solely by God.

But we should worry about what our flesh will do to the world. Paul very clearly said that we have no business judging the world. God will judge them himself. So when we start criticizing our non-Christian friends and our non-Christian nation, we're not conforming them to the unity of "biblical values"; we're tearing down what little unity they have.

When Christians judge the world, out of our own fleshly rebellion to Scripture, we usurp God's authority. He alone raises up nations and repays vengeance. So when we claim to wield his authority, we're just as impotent as the young men who attempted to exorcise demons without the Spirit. When we tell them to submit to God's law, we're essentially telling them to submit to us.

Thus, judging the world is divisive because they have no foundation apart from themselves. And in subverting God, we present ourselves as the foundation they need--one just as brittle as their own.

If it is impossible to please God without faith, then it is impossible to submit to his values without Jesus. Biblical values come from knowing Christ, not imposing legislation.

The world needs Jesus, not different values. And we only interfere with that by reversing the objects of our judgment. By judging the world instead of each other, we put ourselves between them and God as ignorant Pharisees.

By judging Target for their bathroom policies and condemning their disregard for sexual predation, we expose our own hypocrisy. We don't condemn Christian organizations like the Institute of Basic Life Principles for cultivating predators like Bill Gothard and Josh Duggar. We don't condemn the Christian shame culture that blames the victim and protects the home as the safest place for an abuser to hide.

The world looks at this and they don't see Jesus. They see weak people too prideful to admit when they're wrong. And when God's judgment comes upon them, we won't be able to say that we didn't stand in their way to salvation. Bearing witness to the gospel of Christ works both ways.

Conversely, judging each other instead of the world forces them to answer directly to God. Without condemnation coming from our lips, the conviction they feel can only be attributed to the Spirit, not our guilt-ridden coercion. Likewise, we appear as nothing more than humble sinners, daily in need of redemption just like them.

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