Issue #94 -------
December 27, 2003
Distrust your judgment the moment you can
discern the shadow of a personal motive in it.
--- Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916)
In his classic tale of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) wrote, "There's not the least thing can be said or done, but people will talk and find fault." Zeuxis, a noted Greek artist who lived during the 5th century BC, phrased the sentiment this way: "Criticism comes easier than craftsmanship." Shakespeare (1564-1616), in his play Julius Caesar, spoke of one who evidenced all the qualities of the harsh judgmentalist -- "All his faults observed, set in a notebook, learned, and condemned by rote." What a pathetic spirit such actions evidence!
The Scriptures speak often with respect to the deadly dangers of harsh judgmentalism. In His Sermon on the Mount Jesus commanded, "Do not judge lest you be judged" (Matthew 7:1). In Luke 6:38 we are further instructed, "Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned." Such passages can easily lead us to the conviction that ALL judging by disciples of Christ is forever forbidden. Some suggest there are NO circumstances or situations in which judging is ever justified. Is this true, or have these persons assumed too much? It is my studied judgment that the latter is the case.
It is obvious, after carefully examining the Scriptures, that judging others is sometimes strictly forbidden, while at other times it is actually encouraged. Often the passing of judgment upon others is condemned, this is true; but there is also no denying that at other times the passing of judgment is condoned. For example, Jesus stated, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24). In that second phrase the word "judge" appears in the Imperative Mood in the Greek text, which is the mood of command. Thus, our Lord is commanding His disciples to "judge" .... but to do so within specified parameters. In this present Reflections I would like for us to examine this thought more fully. Since acceptable judgment is limited by divine decree, we need to define the parameters of judicious review. In other words, under what circumstances are the disciples of Christ allowed to pass judgment upon others?
Areas of Acceptability
God's people must be discerning. We must make judgment calls each day of our lives with regard to various situations, circumstances and challenges. Some years ago, an author by the name of Frank L. Cox wrote, "Due to a desire to avoid the spirit of stern judgmentalism, some people swing to the other extreme -- they condone, they compromise, they tolerate. You should not judge; yet you must discriminate. You must avoid the spirit of stern severity; yet a dog is to be esteemed a dog, and a swine a swine (Matthew 7:6). It is wrong to be unkind to people, but it is also wrong to tolerate evil."
What this author was suggesting, and what the Bible also commands, is that the disciples of Christ must be very discerning in their assessments of people as well as situations. The apostle John wrote, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). Doesn't this involve making judgments? Discerning good from evil, truth from falsehood, servants of Christ from servants of Satan, can only be done by submitting others and their teaching to close scrutiny, and then making an assessment. This is judging, and it is commanded of us. Paul expressed it this way: "Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thess. 5:21-22).
There are occasions when God's people must judge whether certain actions or attitudes, as well as those who embrace them, are of God. Indeed, at times, we must judge whether or not to even focus our efforts upon reaching certain persons, or if our time would be better spent in more "fertile fields." In Matthew 7:6 (alluded to above) Jesus said, "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine." Determining who is and is not a "dog," and who is and is not a "swine," calls for an act of judging on our part. We are to make careful examination of a person, and we are to render a judgment. "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15-16). In essence, Jesus is asking us to be "fruit inspectors." This involves judging! "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning" (Titus 3:10). Again, we are to be discerning; we must determine what constitutes factiousness, and we must reject such a one. Who is factious, and who is not? A judgment must be rendered.
There are times when judgment must be passed upon our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. These can be very painful moments, but they are often necessary. In 2 Thessalonians 3 Paul admonishes the brethren to "keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life" (vs. 6). Determining what constitutes an "unruly life" might be difficult at times for some to determine. Thus, some degree of perceptive, Spirit-guided judgment is required by those assessing the lives of others. This difficulty in discernment is seen clearly in Paul's discussion of a disciplinary case in the church where the "punishment was inflicted by the majority" (2 Cor. 2:6). Obviously, not all came to the same judgment on the matter. Sometimes, however, an event is just too obvious to ignore, and rendering a godly judgment is pretty much a "no-brainer." In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul speaks of a situation in the family of God at Corinth that had reached such depths of depravity that even the Gentiles were appalled. A man had taken his father's wife (vs. 1). The members of this congregation were tolerating this situation, rather than judging the offender as behaving outside the will of God. Paul wrote and told these hesitant brethren that he had "already judged (as though I was present) him who has so done this deed" (vs. 3). The brethren in Corinth were actually rebuked by Paul for not passing judgment.
What makes one judgment acceptable and another unacceptable in the sight of God? How do we determine the acceptability of our judgments against others? I believe it boils down to the standard of measurement one employs to render his or her judgments. Is the standard your own, or is it from God? Jesus alludes to this truth in His Sermon on the Mount, declaring, "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:2). Jesus is not here condemning judging; He is condemning the use of ungodly standards by which we examine others. He suggests the same in John 7:24 when He says, "judge with righteous judgment." Again, He is not forbidding judging, but rather the use of unrighteous standards.
J.W. McGarvey observed, "All judging from surmise, or from insufficient premises, or from ill-will is prohibited." Dr. A.T. Robertson suggests Jesus had in mind "the habit of sharp, unjust criticism." We may indeed declare the judgments of God, as revealed in His Word (in fact, we are obligated to do so), but we may not establish our own standard of what is "divinely approved" and then scrutinize the lives of others by these self-devised standards of measurement. "When they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding" (2 Cor. 10:12). You and I, and our own personal preferences and perceptions, are not the standard by which others are to be judged. We all have opinions and convictions that we hold strongly, but Paul declares we are not to pass judgment on such matters, but rather accept one another, differing convictions notwithstanding (Romans 14:1f). "Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls" (Romans 14:4). The standard of judgment, therefore, is the standard of the Master .... not of the fellow slave.
In our judging, we must display the attitude of Christ. We must seek to perceive people and situations through His eyes, rather than through the colored spectacles of our own dogmas. "The command to judge not is not a requirement to be blind, but rather a plea to be generous" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 184). Far too frequently in the family of God we find sibling rivalries resulting in harsh judgmentalism. Christians caustically criticize one another, and even condemn each other to eternal destruction, over petty party preferences. Tradition is elevated above Truth, and the tragic result is a dismembered body, a dysfunctional family, and endless factional feuding and sectarian squabbles. The "field white unto harvest" ... countless precious people in need of the saving message of grace ... is left to wither and die. We have other matters of greater significance to occupy our time and energy -- such as: how many cups to use in the Lord's Supper, whether the fruit of the vine is fermented or not, clapping during our singing, which version to use, whether an orphan can be supported from the treasury, whether a kitchen can be built into our church buildings, whether we can eat a sandwich in the building, and on and on and on and on ... ad infinitum ... ad nauseam. Encourage the faint-hearted? Seek the lost? Not as long as there are still sandwiches to be ousted from buildings and plastic cups to be removed from communion trays. We must be about the Father's business, you know ... the business of judging and condemning all who won't parrot our party shibboleths. The lost and dying will just have to wait!!
Brethren, as long as this kind of judging continues in the Body of Christ, we will continue to "bite and devour one another" ... and the end result is self-destruction. Such judging only comes back to haunt us. Yes, we must judge with righteous judgment, which means we must hold ourselves and others accountable to the standard of God's Word. We must NOT seek to hold all others accountable to our own perception of God's Word, however, and certainly not to the tedious traditional tenets of some faction within some religious movement. When our standard of measurement is based on Sectarian Tenets, rather than Scriptural Truths, we bring down judgment upon ourselves. Such judging will cost us our lives! It is time for it to cease in the family of God.
From a Reader in Oregon:
Al, Great picture of you and Belle! I'm sure you realize that you left yourself wide open to some of your critics, however, who in hopes of strengthening their own arguments will probably put in print where your ideas originate. We wish you the best for the coming year, and are grateful you and your Reflections are a part of our life. Keep up the good work.
From a Reader in Colorado:
Al, Thanks for a great year of reading material. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
From a Reader in New Mexico:
People get caught up with being liked and doing things a certain way so everyone will like them. But you are different; you get in there and search the Word and you write it like it is. Then you let the Holy Spirit guide you in the rest. When one of our Elders told me about your Reflections, I thought "okay." But, when I read them, I thought "Yessssss!" Someone is finally getting down and writing it like it is; not here to please men, but God.
From a Reader in Washington:
Merry Christmas to you and your wife, Shelly. Thanks for sharing your photo and your inspiration with us. I have often wondered what you looked like. We are thankful you get inspiration, however you get it. We are glad you share your inspiration with us. You are like a breath of fresh air. We look forward to all that you write. I am sure everything you write speaks to someone. God is using you in a mighty way, dear brother. My husband and I are in our seventies. He served many years as an elder in the Church of Christ. We are thankful for the new insight, and we hunger to know Truth and to give up traditions and laws God has not made. My husband prints many of your articles off and saves them. He also shares many of them with others. I send your messages on to others and have had many write back and thank me and tell me how thrilled they are to read what you write. Your readership is growing. May God continue to bless and inspire you to share the Truth with those who have not yet seen the light.
From a Preacher in Tennessee:
I have been reading Reflections for quite some time. I love your style of writing: encouraging, yet uncompromising. I have considered submitting articles to several magazines for publication. Presently, I am a weekly contributor to the online magazine: Forthright -- http://forthright.antville.org/ -- Would you consider reading some of my articles and giving your analysis of them as a Christian writer? I would appreciate your suggestions. Keep on Reflecting.
From a Reader in Virginia:
I recently discovered your website and have enjoyed reading your Reflections on a wide range of issues that we are facing in our brotherhood (the Churches of Christ). I am a graduate student in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. My area of focus is Christian ethics. I have been impressed with the careful, scholarly approach you take to the issues you discuss, and am encouraged that these issues are being discussed.
From a Well-Known Brotherhood Leader:
Dear brother Al, Please add me to your mailing list. I appreciated your comments, in a previous Reflections, about Stephen Eckstein. He stands forth as a humble, rather quiet giant in the last half of the twentieth century. He was not in one of "our" population centers, nor one of "our" colleges. He never wrote profusely for any journal. He never waged a militant campaign. Yet years before Abilene could grant a Master's degree, he could. Quite a few would receive their Bachelor's degrees and then go to ENMU to get their Master's under him. He was teaching Grace in the fifties at a time when most of "our" colleges did not want a professor that taught it. He had broader views of fellowship when it was unpopular to have them. He left his imprint on most of his students. He invited me to speak at the Lectureship there in '71. He assigned me: "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul." I would love for you to read it.
Someone told me that you are a kinsman of Grover Cleveland Brewer. In the late winter or early spring of '36, I heard him deliver a series of five messages on the subject of prayer. I had never heard anything like it. I was brought up under the old school of preachers who regularly preached hellfire and brimstone, the establishment of the church, baptism, how to conduct the Sunday worship, against innovation, etc. One of brother Brewer's lessons was, "The Power of United Prayer." It has always been in my memory. In many ways G.C. Brewer was ahead of his time. I consider him one of the foremost three personalities in the Twentieth Century among the a cappella brethren.
From a Reader in Mississippi:
As usual, another great article (Advice For Troubled Marriages). I could feel the love and compassion with which you wrote! I appreciate you, Al, and I appreciate the time and effort you put into doing the Lord's work, and the love and compassion you do it with. I hope you have a wonderful CHRISTmas and a blessed New Year.
From a Reader in Canada:
It is my prayer that God brings to you and your family more blessings this new year than any other year past. I want to truly Thank You. You have been such a strong influence on me. I look to you as a mentor and a great scholar. I don't believe I could have survived this past year without your Reflections. Most days, because of my failing health, they were my only hope and a welcomed mental challenge. They give me such joy when I read them. You have also shed light on things I had never considered before, and in so doing you open yet another door of revelation that brings a closer walk with the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and the Father.
Dear God, put a wall around Al and his family so he can continue to write and to work with folks like myself. These are trying times, and Al is truly a ray of your personal Glory that we all can see. Al has helped so many to see clearly what you have provided by your grace. I love him and ask you to care for and inspire him.
From a Reader in Okinawa:
Merry Christmas to you from Okinawa. Having been a subscriber to your Reflections for close to a year, I have been tremendously impacted by your writings as I struggled through a major confrontation with some "Old Paths" folks here on the island. My family was forced to begin home church and we have been blessed beyond measure by God's grace. Studying your writings, and the writings of others (Fudge, Ketcherside, Shelly, etc.), has been a big help. As part of my "therapy" in the wake of the "Old Paths" confrontation, I began a website:
I worked on it for 8 months before finally putting it on the web last month. It is an attempt to collect Scripture, articles, and links in support of freedom in Christ and the importance of grace over law and patterns. It is also an attempt to show who the "Old Paths" advocates are and quote some of their most outrageous teachings. I wanted to ask your permission to quote Reflections articles in their entirety on my website. Please let me know if I have your permission. Thank you so much for your ministry. May God continue to richly bless you.
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