Judge not, that you be not judged,” (Matthew 7:1, ESV).

That seems to be a favorite Bible verse today.  I won’t get into the problem that is is often misapplied and ripped out of its context in this post.  The point is that things have changed and the Church is definitely perceived differently today than it was by a previous generation.

The Church is now seen as judgmental, and that is the topic of Chapter 8 of the book UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… And Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.   This is one of outsiders’ most significant concerns about Christianity – that Christians are judgmental.

Respondents to our surveys believe Christians are trying, consciously or not, to justify feelings of moral and spiritual superiority.  One outsider described it like this: “Christians like to hear themselves talk.  They are arrogant about their beliefs, but they never bother figuring out what other people actually think.  They don’t seem to be very compassionate, especially when they feel strongly about something.”

The authors define what being judgmental is in this way:

To be judgmental is to point out something that is wrong in someone else’s life, making the person feel put down, excluded, and marginalized.  Some part of their potential to be a Christ followers is snuffed out.  Being judgmental is fueled by self-righteousness, the misguided inner motivation to make our own life look better by comparing it to the lives of others.

The authors learned that 87% of young outsiders and 53% of young churchgoers believe that the label of judgmental accurately fits present-day Christianity.  Judgmental attitudes are difficult for Mosaics and Busters for a couple of reasons according to the authors.

  1. They are insightful people’s motives.
  2. They are increasingly resistant to simplistic, black-and-white views of the world.

Pointing people to Jesus is not achieved by being popular.  The outrage of outsiders does not change or diminish God’s expectations.  People still have to answer to a holy judge.

Yet an entire generation of those inside and outside the church are questioning our motives as Christians.  They believe we are more interested in proving we are right than that God is right.  They say Christians are more focused on condemning people than helping people become more like Jesus.  Could this be telling us we have lost something in the way we articulate and describe God’s expectations?  Are we more concerned with the unrighteousness of others than our own self-righteousness, (emphasis mine)?

The authors point out that followers of Christ need to understand the distinction between condemning people and helping them become soft-hearted – “aware of, and sensitized to God’s standards.”  Often times when we point out sin in others we fail to do anything for the people affected by that sin.  “The perception is that Christians are know more for talking about issues than doing anything about them.”

If we cross the line and judge people to make ourselves feel better, we are just as sinful as those whose actions and attitudes we condemn.  Being judgmental pushes people away from God’s purposes, and people become repulsed by an image of Jesus that is not at all like the real thing.  When Christians are judgmental, when we are arrogant and quick to find fault, we are unChristian.

Those surveyed highlighted four forms of judgmental attitudes:

  1. Wrong Verdict: “The first error that Christians make is coming to the wrong conclusion.  God’s judgments are perfect; ours are not.”
  2. Wrong Timing: “We sometimes have the right idea about God’s views, but we describe that verdict in the wrong context or at the wrong time.”
  3. Wrong Motivation: “We may have the right verdict but give it with the wrong motivation.  Scripture is clear that we should be motivated by love.”
  4. Playing Favorites: Being judgmental in reverse.  “It is human nature to show partiality, but favoritism affects the relationships of Christians in unfortunate ways.”

Jesus gives a clear example of pursuing people, of accepting people at face value.  Often he scandalized others by hanging out with the least desirable people in the culture, and his teachings is unambiguous: do not judge others or you’ll face the same yardstick; remove the log from your eye before pulling a splinter from your friend’s eye; and you do not have the right to condemn others, unless you are sinless (see Matthew 7:1-5).  How have Christians gotten so far from this?

Pride.  It is the fuel behind judgmental attitudes.  “Arrogance is perhaps the most socially acceptable form of sin in the church today,” writes Kinnaman.  We have forgotten that God says that he “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” (James 4:6, NIV).

God is the righteous judge.  We are not.  We are not qualified.  He alone does it impartially.  He alone is perfect.   We need to remember the grace that He has shown us.

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.  We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.  Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance, (Romans 2:1-4, ESV – empahsis mine)?

We need to consider how we can build mutual esteem, and some guidelines that outsiders gave:

  1. Listen to me.
  2. Don’t label me.
  3. Don’t be so smart.
  4. Put yourself in my place.
  5. Be genuine.
  6. Be my friend with no other motives.

Build mutual esteem, show respect, exercise humility, and let’s not just talk but let us serve outsiders.  We also need to remember that we all are in need of God’s grace.

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15 comments
  1. ““The perception is that Christians know more for talking about issues than doing anything about them.””

    I would say that hits the nail right on the head about a lot of people’s basic feeling with church and experience that have seen them leaving. I have to say I also see the same problem in a lot of churches in that there is a lot ‘talk’ culture but a not a lot ‘do’ culture. Things need to change or at the very least balance out better.

    I think the guideline are a step in the right direction but they seem to address a single problem – listening to another – which makes sense in a mere ‘talk’ culture. I think the bigger problem which is not addressed is how to ‘serve the communities’ around us – and this is going to require programs that show true concern for the basic needs of those around us. Talk will take us a little ways – we need to start seeing actual programs that show our compassion and demonstrate our beliefs.

  2. ““The perception is that Christians know more for talking about issues than doing anything about them.””

    I would say that hits the nail right on the head about a lot of people’s basic feeling with church and experience that have seen them leaving. I have to say I also see the same problem in a lot of churches in that there is a lot ‘talk’ culture but a not a lot ‘do’ culture. Things need to change or at the very least balance out better.

    I think the guideline are a step in the right direction but they seem to address a single problem – listening to another – which makes sense in a mere ‘talk’ culture. I think the bigger problem which is not addressed is how to ‘serve the communities’ around us – and this is going to require programs that show true concern for the basic needs of those around us. Talk will take us a little ways – we need to start seeing actual programs that show our compassion and demonstrate our beliefs.

  3. ““The perception is that Christians know more for talking about issues than doing anything about them.””

    I would say that hits the nail right on the head about a lot of people’s basic feeling with church and experience that have seen them leaving. I have to say I also see the same problem in a lot of churches in that there is a lot ‘talk’ culture but a not a lot ‘do’ culture. Things need to change or at the very least balance out better.

    I think the guideline are a step in the right direction but they seem to address a single problem – listening to another – which makes sense in a mere ‘talk’ culture. I think the bigger problem which is not addressed is how to ‘serve the communities’ around us – and this is going to require programs that show true concern for the basic needs of those around us. Talk will take us a little ways – we need to start seeing actual programs that show our compassion and demonstrate our beliefs.

  4. You know the problem lies more in my summary, than in the chapter itself. They did touch on that some. For instance:

    Instead of just speaking against divorce… mentor a single mother’s son, etc.

    The ministry I serve encourages people to come into juvenile detention centers to meet with kids (not just Bible studies, but also play board games and just to be present in their lives) and mentor high-risk kids in the community.

    With homosexuals – get involved in AIDS rallies, work in hospices, show compassion and care. Those are some off the top of my head examples.

    A lot of those programs already exist… it is just getting people plugged into them.

  5. You know the problem lies more in my summary, than in the chapter itself. They did touch on that some. For instance:

    Instead of just speaking against divorce… mentor a single mother’s son, etc.

    The ministry I serve encourages people to come into juvenile detention centers to meet with kids (not just Bible studies, but also play board games and just to be present in their lives) and mentor high-risk kids in the community.

    With homosexuals – get involved in AIDS rallies, work in hospices, show compassion and care. Those are some off the top of my head examples.

    A lot of those programs already exist… it is just getting people plugged into them.

  6. You know the problem lies more in my summary, than in the chapter itself. They did touch on that some. For instance:

    Instead of just speaking against divorce… mentor a single mother’s son, etc.

    The ministry I serve encourages people to come into juvenile detention centers to meet with kids (not just Bible studies, but also play board games and just to be present in their lives) and mentor high-risk kids in the community.

    With homosexuals – get involved in AIDS rallies, work in hospices, show compassion and care. Those are some off the top of my head examples.

    A lot of those programs already exist… it is just getting people plugged into them.

  7. “A lot of those programs already exist” (Shane)

    Some of those programs exist – lot would mean they are big within many churches – this is blatantly not so – usually the most opportunities some congregants get for actual involvement is prayer meetings and bible studies – and for programs – that does little for involvement in the community.

    Really liked your ideas about programs – it’s that kind of thinking that will propel the church into the next millenium with a positive outcome.

  8. “A lot of those programs already exist” (Shane)

    Some of those programs exist – lot would mean they are big within many churches – this is blatantly not so – usually the most opportunities some congregants get for actual involvement is prayer meetings and bible studies – and for programs – that does little for involvement in the community.

    Really liked your ideas about programs – it’s that kind of thinking that will propel the church into the next millenium with a positive outcome.

  9. “A lot of those programs already exist” (Shane)

    Some of those programs exist – lot would mean they are big within many churches – this is blatantly not so – usually the most opportunities some congregants get for actual involvement is prayer meetings and bible studies – and for programs – that does little for involvement in the community.

    Really liked your ideas about programs – it’s that kind of thinking that will propel the church into the next millenium with a positive outcome.

  10. I’m speaking from my perspective in Iowa, and I’m not just thinking church-based ministries, but para-church as well. I obviously can not speak to what is going on in your community.

  11. I’m speaking from my perspective in Iowa, and I’m not just thinking church-based ministries, but para-church as well. I obviously can not speak to what is going on in your community.

  12. I’m speaking from my perspective in Iowa, and I’m not just thinking church-based ministries, but para-church as well. I obviously can not speak to what is going on in your community.

  13. I would say that the key here is community and permission. Most people give permission to certain others to be honest with them. Most people are offended when someone off the street walks up and starts passing judgment on their lives.

    You have to earn the right to speak honestly with someone. Making a judgment call about behavior and life isn’t bad and it is unavoidable. It’s choosing whether or not you have the right to confront someone that is the real issue, at least as I see it.

  14. I would say that the key here is community and permission. Most people give permission to certain others to be honest with them. Most people are offended when someone off the street walks up and starts passing judgment on their lives.

    You have to earn the right to speak honestly with someone. Making a judgment call about behavior and life isn’t bad and it is unavoidable. It’s choosing whether or not you have the right to confront someone that is the real issue, at least as I see it.

  15. I would say that the key here is community and permission. Most people give permission to certain others to be honest with them. Most people are offended when someone off the street walks up and starts passing judgment on their lives.

    You have to earn the right to speak honestly with someone. Making a judgment call about behavior and life isn’t bad and it is unavoidable. It’s choosing whether or not you have the right to confront someone that is the real issue, at least as I see it.

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