On October 30, 2012

Judging the World

I read this story over a decade ago, and it’s been haunting me ever since. A month doesn’t go by that I don’t think about this story. It’s in Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace. A friend of Yancey was a Christian counselor in Chicago, and a young woman had come to him with a severe addiction. She had to started to prostitute her body out to provide for her substance abuse, and when that wasn’t enough money, eventually she started selling her 2 year old’s body  as well.

Now this counselor has got to report her. But first he asks her a question, he asks her, “Have you ever thought about going to a church?” And she says, “Church?!! Why would I ever go there? I already feel bad enough about myself.”

Told you it’s a haunting story.

So for the past several weeks I’ve been writing about the need for Christians to live in a community that is able to judge each other in loving ways, and today is the last post in this series. And on some level this whole series has all been a set up for this post.

Because despite that first story, I do think that Christian communities should be known as the places where we are able to speak the hard truths into each other lives. I do think we should be known for being lovingly judgmental, but not in any sense like Christians are known today.

The real problem with the Western Church today is not a lack of programs or leaders, it’s not us not having the right building location. The real problem we have is a lack of American Christians looking like Jesus. The Barna Group is a famous research company that surveys American Christians, they basically ask us “What has following Jesus changed in your life?” And every time the Barna group comes out with another survey, the answer is always the same, “Not much.”

We sleep around at the same rate as non-Christians, we use our money the same way non-Christians do, we are just as likely to beat our spouse or divorce as a non-Christian is. Christians are even more likely than non-Christians to object to someone of a another race moving into their neighborhood.

I like the way Dallas Willard talks about this:

Non-discipleship is the elephant in the church. It is not the much discussed moral failures, financial abuses, or the amazing general similarity between Christians and non-Christians. These are only effects of the underlying problem…It is now understood to be a part of the “good news” that one does not have to be a life student of Jesus in order to be a Christian and receive forgiveness of sins. This gives a precise meaning to “cheap grace” though it would be better described as costly faithlessness

In other words, The biggest problem is that Jesus followers don’t follow Jesus.

So I started off this series by talking about the story in 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul writes a church where a guy is sleeping with his step-mom, and Paul tells them that he has already judged this man, and they should kick him out. Now it’s important to remember Paul wants them to do this because he wants the man to repent and be restored. Paul is fighting, not just for the church, but for the guy.

He wants this guy to be everything God made for him to be. But look at what Paul says next: 2 Corinthians 5:9-13

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.

Did you catch that? What business is it of mine to judge those on the outside?

If Paul was here today, I bet plenty of people would have an answer for that question.

I’ve grown up in the era of culture wars and battles for values, I’ve seen people who believe in God scream some of the most vile, hate-filled things at people who don’t.

I’ve also grown up in a time where less people are in any church, and more disturbingly where it seems like less Jesus is in His people. We aren’t creating disciples as much as we create attenders. Because we don’t judge each other inside the community, we don’t look like Jesus, but I’ve noticed that for some reason we sure want other people to.

There’s a time (in this same letter) in 1st Corinthians 15, where Paul is talking about the Resurrection of Jesus and how that has to inform the way Jesus followers live, and Paul says, “Because if the Resurrection didn’t happen, than let us eat and drink, because tomorrow we die.”

In other words, if this Jesus story is not true than Paul seems to think you should do whatever you want. The reason we hold Christians to a certain standard is because we believe in the resurrection, and if you don’t believe that story, than Paul seems to think there isn’t a really good reason to do or not do much of anything.

See judgment was always meant for those of us on the inside, not primarily for those on the outside.

And I would argue that the Western church has reversed this. 

We have churches filled with people who are Christians but don’t look much like Jesus, yelling and screaming judgment at people who don’t even claim to want to be like Jesus.

But on what basis? They don’t believe like we believe, they don’t have the same hope, they have no reason to try and live like Jesus.

I know that the world needs to adhere to a kind of common grace toward each other, we need to care about creating at least a minimally decent society and cooperating with people outside of the church. I get all that. But what I don’t think is that we get this basic truth: Christians only judge each other, not the world.

And the great irony of this all is that the very thing Christians want we are destroying. We want to create a better world, we should take a hint from God’s playbook. He creates a people who are distinct and loving, who serve the world and challenge each other. Not the other way around. That’s a community the world needs to see. Yes Jesus has something to say about our sexuality, yes Jesus has something to say about life and the environment and our finances, but He is saying those things to the people who are following him, so that the world would see a community living into the dream God has for everyone.

In the Gospels, people who were nothing like Jesus, liked Jesus. He was distinct, but he was with them, and they loved him, they also had this funny idea that he just might love them too.

I’m tired of seeing Fred Phelps and his band of crazies everywhere, or hearing church members condemn the latest public sin of just about everybody in the world except the people they’re sharing life with. I’m tired of belonging to a group of people who seem to be more known for what they are against, and then statistically participating in it at the exact same rate. I’m tired of us judging the wrong things, and ignoring the right ones.

I’m tired of Christians judging the world, and not each other.

Because the world doesn’t need to be judged by the Church anymore. They didn’t sign up for following Jesus…we did.

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  • http://twitter.com/DChristianson David Christianson

    Excellent. Excellent. Excellent. Well said. Amen and Amen.

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  • Stacy

    I always read your posts…this is one of your best.  Love it.

  • notaseasyasitsounds

    While I agree with your basic premise, I think part of the confusion results from 3/4 of Americans self-identifying as Christians.  (as recently as Dec. 2009 as per Gallup) 

  • Nellsims70

    Knowing how to say the hard things to our fellow Christians, and to hear them is much harder than throwing hard words (or e-mails) at people we don’t even know, but feel free to judge. If we have just one person who is willing to keep us honest, we are fortunate. 

  • http://twitter.com/pcunningham3 Philip Cunningham

    Bulls eye.

    Fine series.

  • mattdabbs

    You know where this starts? Church leaders. We can talk about Christians who look like the world, but what about those of us who serve in leadership positions…do we look any different than the world? That is where we start…leaders taking discipleship personally.

  • Jonathan Huddleston

    Nice comments, Jonathan. I hadn’t seen your blog before.

    It’s funny, though–I actually don’t know any Christians like your stereotype of “Western Christians” here. I never have. I’ve always heard that Christians are judgmental–and I’ve never really seen it.

    Of course, sometimes we seem judgmental simply because we have different standards/ values. If you hand me a ballot where I get to vote “yes” to prostitution or “no” to prostitution, I’m going to vote “no”–and then you may call me judgmental. If my kid’s public school class is going on a field trip to see an R rated movie I may ask for my kid not to go–and then you may call me judgmental. But in neither case am I trying to judge people outside the church. I’m just living according to my values.

    I guess I’m saying that I think it’s hard, in a society as permissive as ours, to have any standards at all without being accused of being judgmental–but none of the Christians I know are really judging people outside the church. Do you really see this happening, or is it more of an unfair stereotype?

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Matt, I think that’s spot on. I think this is at the heart of James’ idea about teachers being judged more harshly. We have to smoke what we sell. I’m thankful to have been a part of faith communities that did that. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Jonathan so good to see you on here! It really is great to have your voice weigh in here from time to time. I think generally speaking my experience with Christians has been really positive. What am I thinking through is the remnants of Christendom and the idea of imposed Christian values through external means vs. discipleship within a small group of Christians that you share life with. I see the first a lot more than I see the second, and that’s what I was trying to get at in this post. 

    Thanks for weighing in Jonathan!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Nell! I sure do appreciate you and your perspective. That is exactly right, the way this kind of discipleship has to happen is through a close knit community that deeply loves one another. Thanks for weighing in!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks for helping me clarify. The recent survey that came out about the growing number of people who claim “none” as a religion has helped us clear that up a bit. What they discovered is that the people who were just nominally associating with Christianity were now deciding to no longer go by that name. And from what I’ve heard that is not actually a bad thing. 

    You make a good point, if everyone is signed on (or at least the majority) than we should be able to hold the majority accountable. But what I’m talking about in this series is the kind of judging that I think the New Testament has in mind…one that happens in the context of deep community and with a few trusted people that we let guard our soul. Hope that helps to clarify a bit of what I meant. 

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Stacy!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks for helping me clarify. The recent survey that came out about the growing number of people who claim “none” as a religion has helped us clear that up a bit. What they discovered is that the people who were just nominally associating with Christianity were now deciding to no longer go by that name. And from what I’ve heard that is not actually a bad thing. 
    You make a good point, if everyone is signed on (or at least the majority) than we should be able to hold the majority accountable. But what I’m talking about in this series is the kind of judging that I think the New Testament has in mind…one that happens in the context of deep community and with a few trusted people that we let guard our soul. Hope that helps to clarify a bit of what I meant. 

  • Kevin Bridges

    i always see stats about how Christians are no different than the world in terms of behaviors, values, etc. The premise is that following Jesus should make you more perfect. I don’t really see that in scripture and I don’t really buy the stats for one reason. The difference between Jesus followers and the world is that Jesus followers come to recognize their failures, repent and keep trying and seeking holiness. The world often just doesn’t care or even recognize sin as sin. Froms a stats view they seem the same in behaviors, but in reality, they are not the same at all. In addition, throughout scripture some of the most immoral individuals are labeled as “the on after God’s own heart” because of their repentive attitude, bot because of their perfect behaviors. I don’t believe Barnas data is that useful because it inly show how Christians and the people of the world sin in the same ways, but it doesn’t and really can’t measure repentance. Just something to think about.

  • Kevin Bridges

    Man did I have the typos. Hope you got what I was saying.

  • Jonathan Huddleston

    It’s great to see the blog. I guess I just worry that this whole thing is sort of a false alternative. I certainly agree that we don’t have enough discipleship or shared life. But on all sorts of public debates, starting with abolition but extending to publicly-funded abortion versus publicly-funded marriage counseling, I think people are too scared of “imposed Christian values”–and too quick to talk about this in terms of “judging.”

  • Jonathan Huddleston

    Yes and no.

    Unfortunately, public leaders are often seen as poster-boys whose job it is to exemplify virtues that nobody else is supposed to follow. This becomes a catch-22. If they fail, they draw scorn down on the church. But even if they succeed, all they do is draw admiration–everybody praises them, but nobody thinks, “I should imitate that example.”

    That’s why I think lay people have even MORE of an opportunity to set an example. But of course, if they do, then they become “leaders” in the very best sense of the word. . . . That might be the point you were making.

  • Mannagod

    Outstanding! Thank you for reminding us of what we should have never forgotten. May God Be Praised!

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  • Regan Epps

    Sarah and I were talking about this this past Sunday. Our class was discussing the idea on if Christians are angry. And a lot of them are… Angry at the political system, society, and the “decline of American values.” Christians are angry, because the world isn’t the way they think it should be. It brings to view an idea of “Christian Privilege.” We see it in the news, with talk of a “marriage amendment” or a “life begins at conception” amendment to add to the constitution. This is what I mean by Christian privilege. Some people want to amend the constitution so that their personal or religious values are protected. This is not what Jesus talks about when he says to be humble, that the first in the kingdom of heaven will be the one who serves others.

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  • Dixiemomx2

    I sincerely try to promote my own love of Christ through spreading love and kindness instead of hate and judgment. Your post offered a very thought-provoking and fresh assessment on the subject of not judging outside the church. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, thoughts,and love.

  • Dixiemomx2

    I sincerely try to promote my own love of Christ through spreading love
    and kindness instead of hate and judgment. Your post offered a very
    thought-provoking and fresh assessment on the subject of not judging
    outside the church. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, thoughts,and
    love.

  • Peter Mosley

    I think the problem here is twofold.  First, Christianity represents a view that is supposedly better than every other one in existence.  Thus, when you vote, you vote THAT view — because you think Christian morality represents the best way to operate a society.  I don’t get the sense that Christians (including, formerly, myself) vote out of spite or judgment, as much as they vote out of a sincere desire to make sure the country stays on track to being the best way it can be.  They love this country, and they love other people, oftentimes — the problem is that the prescription in the Bible is the wrong one.  I think many Christians are beginning to see this and diminish the Bible’s application in the world, which is a good thing.  But I think those who do this should be honest that this is what they are doing.  That was me.  I found that the way the Bible said to live was not right.  The way it talked about homosexuality was simply atrocious, and the way it discussed women (even if you only think about wives there) was even worse — and that was the tip of the iceberg.  And people seemed to know this.  I can’t overemphasize, even through tears, how frustrating it is to be told that the Bible is the answer for the world and then be told you can’t act like it’s the answer for the world, especially to people who care about the world.  I don’t support corner preachers, but they are some of the most sincere Bible Believers I’ve seen, and I when I talk to them I see the hurt and pain in their eyes because someone told them that the Bible contains the Words of the Almighty God, and they are treating it that way and they are out there because they love people as they are treating it that way, only to be demonized again and again and again by those in and outside the very church that should exalt those words but often clearly contradicts them for the sake of culture.  We should forsake those words for the sake of culture and people, but we should be honest that this is what we are doing.  Otherwise we send a damaging, hurtful message.

    Second, Christians try to fulfill a standard that is simply unrealistic and has little to do with the “real world.”  I’ve never seen a “real Christian.”  Not once — and when I thought I had, I got to know them a bit better and saw their flaws.  Nobody lives like Christianity is true.  Christianity tries to strip you of your real self–your real identity — and then offers you a new one and says, “here, this is better.”  And people keep trying to live the life and those who try hardest (like Mother Teresa) are often the ones who get most torn apart.  What you’re doing here in ratcheting up the criticism of these people and forcing them into boxes they will never be able to fit in by holding them accountable to an unrealistic identity will suppress people and hurt most of those who actually take it seriously.  I had no idea how deep the scars were that I covered in Sunday brainwashing session addiction until I left the church, and  I am not alone — in the past few weeks, I’ve heard dozens of stories like mine.

    What we should do, I think, is be honest about loving each other.  Be honest about us not wanting lines between the church and everyone else.  Get to the work of helping and serving and laughing and crying openly, showing our genuine selves to each other instead of imitating an unrealistic model that ties us up in knots.  Break down the barriers, get rid of the story that created them, and embrace humanity.  Concentrate on that, and extraneous concerns (the Bible and the God it contains?) will become increasingly irrelevant.  If the polls are right, we’re heading that way already — going in the direction of the UK.

  • Peter Mosley

    I also want to add to the second part of the twofold problem — the frustration people feel in being unable to fit their lives in the straightjackets of the Christian identity they feel pressure to confine themselves in incites pain, and telling people to quiet that pain is like telling people to silence screaming from intense physical pain (emotional and physical pain, scientifically, often have similar effects in the brain).  So I think some of the angry Christians you see are screaming out in pain, and by telling them the right response is to shut up and focus on themselves, you force them more into the straightjackets, which ratchets up the pain — and the solution to the pain, you say, is to wear the Christian straightjacket tighter, which ratchets up the pain more…and the cycle continues and intensifies and people are more and more trapped — dependent for relief from pain on the very straightjacket-tightening that causes the pain.  That’s why people here will applaud your message, but those who most take it to heart will feel more pain in the long run.  I can see this already in many comments on this blog from people trying to validate themselves after reading this and from people that say that reading this “hurts” or “stings” — and yet, still applauding it.  It’s a sad cycle, and your most devout readers and listeners seem as if they will repeat till their deathbed is cleared, and that the same will go for their children :'(

  • Jon Sherwood

    I see this was written a while ago, but I just had a friend forward it to me (this is my first contact with your blog), I greatly appreciate your words here as I have encountered much of what you talk about as well. Thank you.