Rushing to label someone judgemental says more about your view of scripture than whether you are right

I have been concerned by the sheer number of discussions of late that appeal to judgementalism as a defence against any accusation. Anybody daring to call out the behaviour of another person who professes to love Jesus is labelled ‘judgemental’, as though the mere mention of the word ends – even wins – any given argument of itself. If you have ‘judged’ another person, you have acted unbiblically they aver. You, therefore, are a hypocrite and what business have any of us listening to hypocrites? Jesus didn’t like them very much – that’s what he called the Pharisees and they sucked!

A veritable feast of such comments have been prevalent in discussion between David Robertson and Vicky Beeching, their followers and various onlookers. Typical of such comments are the following:

The problem here, of course, is that scripture regularly tells us to judge these things. Indeed, Jesus himself judged these very things and Paul specifically tells churches to excommunicate its members over them. In each case, the position being held is that such people ought to be removed from fellowship because they show – by the things they affirm and their particular behaviours – that they do not belong to the Lord.

Paul, for example, says the following in 1 Corinthians 6:

do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Just in case you think this was a one-off statement that Paul made on an off day, consider Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

You might call this a little judgemental. You might consider Paul’s argument wrong because he appears to be stating, in rather black and white terms, that certain people engaging in certain continued behaviours are outside of Christ, will not inherit the kingdom and are, therefore, not saved. But there it is, not once but twice, in scripture. The apostle John says something similar in Revelation 22:15.

Even Jesus said such things. Consider Matthew 23:

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous,30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

Is Jesus being judgemental? Some would say so. Others, seeing the issue, suggest that Jesus could see the heart thus could legitimately judge this way. But what about when Jesus tells his followers to judge such things for themselves?

Consider Matthew 7. Even Jesus’ opening statement that we should ‘judge not, that you be not judged’ is stated in the context of being able to ‘see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.’ We are to judge having first judged ourselves. Jesus goes on to tell us that we must beware false prophets whom we are to judge ‘by their fruits.’

We are, then, faced with a problem on the absolute non-judgement position. Jesus – the perfect, sinless one – judged people. We cannot make this a unique role of Christ because he tells his followers to judge people too. Indeed, in response to the Pharisees’ judgement of him, Jesus does not tell them to stop judging altogether but to ‘judge with righteous judgment’ (John 7:24).

This same approach to judging those who belong to the kingdom is given to the church by Jesus (cf. Matthew 18:18-20). This same judgment is followed by Paul (cf. 1 Cor 5:3, 12; 6:9-11; Gal 5:19-21), John (1 Jn 1:8; 2:3-6, 9-11, 15-17, 3:4-10, 24; 4:1, 4-6, 5:1-3; 2 Jn 1:4-11), Jude (Jude 1:4, 8-16), Peter (2 Pet 2:1-3) and others. It’s all pretty judgey and yet there it is in scripture. A clear statement of who we might consider ‘in’ and whom we might reckon ‘out’ of the kingdom, a judgement encouraged by Christ and the apostles and given specifically to the church.

This is significant for us in current discussions. It first means we cannot simply shut down conversation as ‘judgemental’ when Christ and the apostles specifically call us to exercise judgement in these matters. Nor can we dismiss as judgemental those who suggest there are individuals who profess Christ who, in fact, do not belong to Christ. Not only does scripture explicitly tells us this will be the case, it gives us guidelines for specifically spotting such people and commands the church to bring such people under discipline, even removing from the church altogether as a statement of apparent unbelief despite their profession of faith.

If Christ and the apostles did it, and commanded the church to do the same, we cannot simply dismiss those who would call out false profession as judgmental. Those who point to scripture and suggest an individual doesn’t belong to the faith, based on the clear guidelines the Bible gives us, cannot be written off as though merely throwing out an accusation of judgmentalism ends all discussion and renders the accused unfit to comment forever after. Whether you think it judgemental to point to the comments and behaviours of individuals and determine that they do not belong to Christ or not, scripture calls the church and the followers of Jesus to make such assessments. Any who demur are standing against scripture and the clear position of Christ and his apostles.

The issue at stake is not judgmentalism per se but right judgement. Feelings are not the arbiter of right judgement. If somebody’s feelings are hurt by a suggestion that they don’t belong to Christ, it does nothing to alter the fact that they are either in Christ or not. The issue is one of objective reality. The question is whether we are judging rightly. Right judgement belongs to God alone and thus can only be judged according to his revealed standard in scripture. All feelings aside, those who profess to know Christ but deny doctrines that scripture deems essential or unrepentantly indulge behaviour that scripture expressly states will keep one out of the kingdom, manifest that they do not belong to Jesus. They may resent the suggestion but it is for them to show from scripture that the judgement is wrong, not to decry the very concept of judgement altogether as though it is somehow unbiblical.

Let us stop using ‘judgement’ in a way the scripture doesn’t. We are not called to credulity, naivety or stupidity. The Bible specifically calls us to judge rightly, even judging the very profession of faith made by an individual. We aren’t to simply assume that everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ belongs to him. If you think you are taking the moral high ground by refusing to assess a profession of faith by the words out of people’s mouths, the affirmation or denial of central doctrine and ongoing practice of specific behaviours, you are taking the moral high ground on Jesus himself.

If you think yourself more moral than Jesus, how can you really claim to be in him? Indeed, why would you want to be in him when you have more moral fortitude? As he said himself, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31f). If you’re no sinner, if you’re alright as your are, why on earth are you trying to co-opt Jesus anyway? If you who refuse to judge are more righteous than he who judges, and calls his followers to judge, your stated desire to want to claim to follow him at all is highly confusing. Perhaps it is this, to paraphrase Augustine, if you believe what you like about Jesus, and reject what you don’t like, it is not Jesus you are following but yourself.