Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Standing in Judgment

It is common for Christian leaders to view the modern church and modern Christians with contempt, particularly in the United States. Now it is not my purpose to deal with all the specifics involved here, but there is an underlying attitude  that needs to be addressed. Scripture makes it clear that we are to correct those involved in specific sins and doctrinal errors (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Matthew 18:15-17). (There is also an attitude of gentleness required in those who correct, but that is another subject.) It also clearly calls us to preach against falsehood (2 Timothy 4:1-4; Ephesians 4:11-16; Acts 20:27). But Scripture condemns a certain type of judgment (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 14:4; James 4:11,12). We are to correct identifiable sins, but we are to avoid making an over-all judgment of the person. Paul says he does not even judge himself (1 Corinthians 4:3,4). This does not mean he does not examine himself for particular problems to correct (1 Corinthians 11:31,32; Psalms 139:23,24; 2 Corinthians 13:5,6). But he does not try to determine his place before God. Only God, who knows the heart, can give a correct final judgment (1 Corinthians 4:5; Romans 2:16; 1 Timothy 5:24,25). Also, we are told we will be judged based on the standard we use to evaluate others (Romans 2:1; Luke 6:37,38; James 2:12).

Now I do not want to discourage the correcting of specific errors or the call for specific improvements in the present Christian church. But much of the generalized criticism would seem to fall under what is forbidden by Scripture. That does not mean I want to deny that the current church has its failings. All ages of the church have had problems. (If we examine the New Testament epistles, we see this was true from the very beginning.) But is it really my place to decide how our age rates? Is it not more important to address the specific problems we see and let God make out the final scorecard? And could it be that part of the problem is unrealistic expectations? We look for the kind of perfect church that will not exist until Christ returns (Ephesians 5:26,27; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Revelation 19:7-10). Yet we are all still sinners and have not arrived at perfection (Philippians 3:12-16; Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:25). Now I do not want to justify sin or discourage realistic work for the improvement of the present state of the Christian church. But I think that a generally cynical attitude is not helpful for this but actually makes it harder. When people perceive you are looking down on them, they find it hard to hear what you are saying. And it is easy to build up an attitude of superiority that prevents us from reaching people (John 7:49; Luke 15:27-32; Matthew 9:11-13). Then we become part of the problem, rather than part of the solution.