“You can’t judge me!” The guy on the plane was screaming at me so loudly that the flight attendant came over to check on us.
“You can’t judge me!” the man yelled again. “It’s in your Bible that you can’t judge me!”
My mid-air conversation with a gay rights activist turned ugly and ceased to be a dialogue about three sentences in. The flight attendant reseated me several rows away to settle everything down.
I was unable to catch the fellow after disembarking in Philadelphia, but the experience did give me the impetus to study the New Testament very carefully for guidance about how we make judgments about others and their choices.
Leaders make judgments. It’s part of the job description. Christian leaders are accountable for making judgments in ways that honor Jesus Christ and testify to grace and truth.
In any organization you’ll need to make decisions about standards, how to manage events, which things to prioritize, where you draw lines, what is celebrated, what is condemned, etc. Making these decisions – which are all judgments – is easier to accomplish consistently and well if you have a biblical framework for how to make judgments.
Let’s begin with this simple framework and develop the details.
One Lord and Unity
The foundation of all our judgment relies upon the character of God, the true and righteous Judge. He is the ultimate authority over us and indeed the whole of humanity.
Everyone in Christ has the same Lord and Master and is accountable to him. “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” (James 4:12; Matthew 7:1-6; Luke 6:37-42; Hebrews 9:27-28; Romans 14:4, 8-12; 1 Corinthians 8:5-6; 1 Corinthians 4:2-5)
God desires a loving father-child relationship with us, not a master-slave relationship (Luke 15:25-32; John 14:14-15; Galatians 5:1). The fact that we have a loving father relationship influences how we in turn make judgments of others.
In Christ we’ve been given a wonderful treasure: unity in the Holy Spirit. We don’t invent or create unity with others. God creates unity in the Body of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. Our assignment is to steward unity for the glory of Christ in the Church, which is the Body of Christ (Psalm 133; Ephesians 4:1-6; Colossians 3:11-17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Galatians 3:28). This unity is born out of both grace and truth in the Gospel (John 1:17).
God has created both our commonness and our differences to bring us together. He has made us to be a fellowship of differences, all collectively reflecting his glory to the world (Ephesians 4:7-16; 1 Peter 4:10-11; 1 Corinthians 12:4-26).
Non-Disputable and Disputable Matters
The Bible gives us boundaries for judgments. Not every issue is of the same importance. Decisions within a Christian fellowship are managed differently than in the world at large. Getting these confused is one of the major sources of our problems in making judgments and often confuses not-yet believers as well.
A non-disputable matter is a truth which applies to all people, all times, and all situations. These are the few critical truths that would require you to break fellowship with another believer with whom you disagreed. We are called to make moral judgments where we have clear scriptural commands about non-disputable matters. God holds all of us to the same standards in judgment (Matthew 7:1-6).
Within the church, these judgments lead to discipline, repentance, and restoration (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 11; Galatians 6:1-5).
Outside the church we speak the truth in love but must not look down on others. These people, whom God created and loves dearly, are still shackled in sin (Romans 6:17-23; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; Jude 1:20-23).
By contrast, disputable matters are areas where we can (and should) develop our convictions about what is best – but we would not break fellowship with other believers based on their choices being different than ours. Here are some examples:
(True for all people, all times
(Personal but not universal convictions)
|God is THE Creator and Judge||Holiday traditions – Christmas, Easter, Halloween|
|Man is sinful and we cannot save ourselves||Mood-altering drugs – Alcohol, Tobacco, Caffeine|
|Salvation is through grace, not works||Media/Entertainment choices|
|The Bible is reliable and true||Housing, Transportation choices|
|Mode of baptism|
|How often to have communion|
|Worship order and music|
People can develop very strong views on disputable matters. Here’s a list of “Real Christian stuff” to illustrate what I mean:
- Real Christians never watch R-rated movies or play cards with numbers on them.
- Real Christians don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t party, and don’t hang out with people who do.
- Real Christians are baptized [insert whichever way you think is right] and always celebrate communion once a month.
- Real Christians don’t drive a beater, or a fancy car, but one that is modestly just right. Or a truck.
- Real Christians don’t let their children plunder the neighbors of their candy on Halloween or talk with any neighbors who do.
- Real Christians only use [insert your preferred Bible translation].
- Real Christians vote [insert your political party affiliation].
God wants us to study, think, and develop our personal convictions on all these matters. But our personal convictions on non-disputable matters must not be used to put others down or legalistically decide who is a “Real Christian.” Instead, we are called to accept one another in the context of dialogue and mutual edification for disputable matters (Romans 14-18; Romans 15:7).
We make up our minds to be sensitive to how we use our freedom in Christ so that weaker/newer believers will not be led into sin by our example (Romans 14:13-15:3; 1 Corinthians 8:9-13; Galatians 5:13-15). Hallelujah, we have liberty! But we hold our freedoms in check at times out of deference to others.
All these judgments call for wisdom, and God graciously provides it when we ask in faith (James 1:5-8). Leaders do well to use a biblical framework for judgment and in turn develop the next generation of leaders who make judgments with discernment.
Click here if you’d like a one-page chart illustrating this framework.