Some Thoughts on Judgement and Church Discipline
I've noticed that the only people who ever object to their behavior being evaluated by fellow Christians seem to be people who are living out of order. If they would only judge themselves they would never have to cry out frantically: "Don't judge me!!!!"
"For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. " (1 Corinthians 11:29-32)
A loving brother or sister confronts sin BECAUSE they love their brother or sister. The sin is what is judged in these cases.....not the person living out of order.
The mature brother or sister who is approached in this way will self inspect, will see the sin, will repent and will be thankful they are loved like this. (It's difficult to be the one who sees the sin and addresses it in another and reveals their love by caring enough to approach the other.)
The immature brother or sister will not question themselves. Rather, they will speak ill toward the brother or sister that loved them enough to address the sin.
Those who find themselves on either side of this issue will know that this is a VERY uncomfortable thing for everyone to experience.
It's important that we understand what we mean when we say the word "judge" or "evaluate" because there seems to be so much misunderstanding about them in the Church today.
Daniel Webster was a Christian man who, according to reports from his day, was so familiar with the Bible that he could quote Old and New Testament verses and passages at will. When he wrote the Webster Dictionary the definitions he gave are based on Bible definitions. According to the Webster Dictionary, this is the primary definition of the verb "to judge": "to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises".
The primary definition of the word "to evaluate" in that dictionary is: "to determine or fix the value of." Having read that, I question my own use of the word "evaluate" in this thread and will no longer use it in discussions about "righteous judgment" because nowhere in my thoughts about righteous judgment is there a value affixed to the one who is being judged.
If the person truly is a Christian his or her value is astronomical due to the fact that the value of anything is its purchase price and every Christian has been purchased by the life, death, blood and suffering of Jesus. This causes every Christian to be extremely valuable.
In matters of judgment, the person is never the one being judged. Rather, it is his or her behavior that is being judged and the standard used is what is most important in that judgment. That is why this verse is in the Word of God:
"For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." (Matthew 7:2)
and this verse:
"For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." (2 Corinthians 10:12)
In other words, if a person's standard about their behavior is their own behavior and not something bigger than themselves, they are "not wise" according to the Holy Spirit of God through Paul. Our standard is the Bible.
Having said all that I would like to quote the secondary definition of the word "to evaluate" from the Webster Dictionary: "to determine the significance, worth, or condition of - usually by careful appraisal and study." It sounds almost identical to Webster's primary definition of the word "to judge".
This is because the matter is not a matter of legalistic semantics about what word will be used. That's punitive and beneath us as mutual adults; it is designed to take us off task and to direct us away from the question at hand. The issue, as always with Him, is a heart issue: it has to do with human souls and their health.
The ones who cry out "You can't judge me" seem to often miss the point. They think that when someone judges their behaviors or practices that they are judging them as a person. That's usually because the one practicing sin often sees himself in terms of the sin. So, when the sin is challenged the person takes it personally.
The heart issue behind the action of loving another enough to righteously judge the other's behavior is that he loves the one he challenges.
I'm sure that there are those who DO devalue others, considering them and their sin to be the same thing. I personally try not to do this. My grief in the whole matter usually has to do with knowing the person's potential in Christ and seeing it squandered for some transient earthly pleasure.
When a person is approached by his brothers in love and has his behavior challenged he will sometimes, in turn, judge them and their motives for loving him in this uncomfortable manner. In so doing, he will fall prey to the very thing that he is accusing his brothers of doing and THAT truly is the sort of judgment Paul speaks against in Romans 14:4, 10 and 13.
Many who cry out "You can't judge me!" seem to camp on those verses and ignore ones like the following that indicate that righteous judgment is correct to do.
From the mouth of Jesus:
"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you."(Matthew 7:1-2)
"Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?" (Luke 12:57)
"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." (John 7:24)
The truth is that if we will seek to treat the Word of God with respect we won't cherry pick verses and just use the ones that make our case. We must look at them all and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal what He would have us know about all he knows on any given topic.
Again, the issue is not really judgment; the judgment is what brings the real issue to bear. The real issue has four components:
1) the condition of human souls,
2) strongholds that exist in us that impede our growth as Christians and harm others in the process,
3) whether or not we love one another enough to address those strongholds and
4) whether or not, when we are challenged by our brethren, we have the humility and courage to self-check, repent and approach God to have our souls healed.
At times there arises a situation in which spiritual authorities approach a person they believe to be out of order and that person rejects the input of those judging his or her behavior. Sometimes the decision is made to ask the person to leave the group.
The question has been asked in such a situation: "Was the person kicked out of the church or was his behavior kicked out of the church?" My reply is simple: if one's behavior typifies the person....I suppose both would be asked to leave.
The fact is that people in authority in any Christian group cannot make anyone behave in any particular manner. Only the person performing the behavior has authority in their own life and can behave any way they want in their own body.
If the behavior is considered to be destructive enough, especially to the degree that it can harm others, there is a principle in the Word of God that is sometimes necessary for Christian leaders to employ. This has to do with inviting the person in question to step out of the group. It is not to be used lightly.
This principle is found in 1 Corinthians. In the case in Corinth, the issue was blatant sexual immorality but the same principle could be applied to any sinful behavior that the leaders believe will warrant exclusion from the group. The purpose is not to cause the behavior to stop because, again, only the person doing it can stop any behavior. The purpose is to protect the rest of the group, especially those members who might be spiritually immature and vulnerable. However, since the behavior also harms the person practicing it, it would be good for that to change as well.
It would be good for anyone interested in this topic to read 1 Corinthians 5 slowly and carefully. The language is strong but the stakes are high! The souls of the man being corrected AND those of new believers are being affected by the behaviors being practiced by the man being corrected. (This is often the case in any Christian group.)
"But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside?" (1 Corinthians 5:11-12)
It should be noted that Paul specifically tells us that we are to judge other brothers in Christ. In these verses Paul is telling the body of Christ in Corinth to not keep company with (literally, to not associate with) Christians who are overrun by some behaviors. Please note: the person's identity as a Christian is never brought into question - just the behaviors that seem to typify him.
In verse 13 Paul says something shocking, considering how much he loves EACH of the people in the church in Corinth:
"Therefore, put away from yourselves the evil person." (1 Corinthians 5:13b)
That word "evil" is the Greek word "poneros" and it means "hurtful in effect or influence" and does not mean "wicked in essential character."
So, according to the Bible it is correct for leaders in a body to approach a Christian brother or sister, judge the behavior and call for the person to repent. If the person shows a lack of repentance, it is correct for those leaders to invite that person to leave that group.
There is a reason for this. The Christian body has a standard of behavior that is clearly outlined in the Word of God. In addition, in every Christian group God causes to emerge leaders who will have inherent authority in that body. It's always evident who these leaders are and when anyone chooses to associate with a group they are to honor those leaders and obey them in the Lord.
"Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you." (Hebrews 13:17)
"Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready for every good work..." (Titus 3:1)
Whenever I go into a house church, church building or ministry I honor the leaders there because when I honor their authority I honor God." (Romans 13:1-2)
When a person chooses to associate with any Christian group they, by matter of course, agree to respect and honor the authority in that group. It's simply how Christ in us would have us to be. Therefore, if one chooses to resist the intervention of loving Christian leaders he is essentially saying, "I don't want to be here." When he is asked to leave, those asking are really only honoring his own desire not to be subject to the authorities in that place.
So, the Apostle Paul presents a principle in 1 Corinthians 5 that is difficult for everyone involved to experience - but is necessary. When I first studied this letter this incident grieved me deeply. I was confused as it seemed that Paul did this with no emotions, but I could tell was a loving man from his other writing.
The expulsion of this man from fellowship is not the end of the story. Hear Paul's heart in 2 Corinthians:
"For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you. But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. " (2 Corinthians 2:4-5)
Paul was grieved to have to write that first letter and he knew those Christians in Corinth were grieved too. He was monitoring the progress of the Church there through the reports he was getting from travelers. He knew there was more to the story of what God wanted to accomplish there and that should always be a factor in modern day Church discipline too.
"This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. " (2 Corinthians 2:6-8)
Paul was apparently always ready to command the leaders in Corinth to reinstate this man should he repent. In the modern Church we should be the same way.
There is an impediment to this, though: many people whose behavior has been addressed this way will simply move to another autonomous congregation....something that never existed in the first century Church. The fragmentation of the body of Christ has cost us in many ways and one is that if God disciplines someone through a group of leaders, the person will simply sidestep those leaders and approach a new group, not revealing why he is no longer associated with the last group.
He has the most to lose in this situation because it helps him remain in his sin. By choosing not to repent and to escape God's mercy as it manifests in the group he is leaving, he also cheats himself out of the joy of eventually being welcomed back - whole and restored in Christ. I believe the whole situation thrills our enemy, satan.
My hope is that what I have written here makes any situation like this make more spiritual sense to those experiencing it.
I hope it will inspire church leaders to discipline always with possible future restoration in mind. I also hope it will inspire those of us who will come under correction to know that this is just part of the process God has for us to be everything He has in mind for us.
In so doing, we will all step into our destinies in Christ.