World Standards Ought Not to Become Church Standards

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:1-5 ESV

I [Paul] wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? – 1 Corinthians 5:9-12

The first of these two passages is very popular. “Do not judge” is a call that resonates deeply with our culture. We ought to be able to say, do and dress the way we want without people calling that into question. This is so much the case that we even work to dismember any appropriate ways to critique these parts of our lives. With the exception of politicians, it is no crime to get drunk often (in fact, in many groups its uncool not to). There is no appropriate way for a man in our culture to tell a woman that she is wearing too little clothing. The line between vulgar and appropriate word choices and conversation topics is fast eroding in all media mediums, if only to try and keep up with the “anything goes” approach we take to “off the air” or everyday speech. Public identities that we craft around what we do in the bedroom are not appropriate points on which to critique someone – whether it be promiscuity, homosexual identity or niche sexual preferences. While a lot of subtle critique goes on for women or minority groups in these areas, it’s not officially tolerated. Conversely, men are congratulated for notches in their belt.

How do we respond? Paul reminds us of what Jesus said in Matthew when he points out that we ought not to judge those outside the church. We often try to convert people to our morality rather than our Savior. Some absurd train of logic tells us that if only the world didn’t swear or wear thongs to the beach they’d come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Obviously, that approach does not work. The world’s standards will always be different, and without changing the world’s heart so that it longs for Jesus, we cannot produce a lasting impact on its morality. If we try, we will not only fail to win people to Jesus, we’ll be branded as arrogant and judgmental.

Conversely, we become reluctant to call out fellow Christians on behavior that is wrong. Part of that is a biblical humility in recognizing that we all have fallen short of God’s standard in the past. Which Christian has never sinned? Let him cast the first stone. But part of that is an unholy reluctance to call a sinful identity wrong and an attachment to our culture’s “do not judge” mantra. Paul doesn’t say, “Oi, never associate with one who has been drunk, one who has been greedy or one who has been sexually immoral.” He calls out the drunkard, the idolater, the sexually immoral who are continuing in those practices. He’s not nitpicking specs from another’s eye. This is an identity that is ongoing, a sin that is not being renounced. 

Too many believe that Christians ought to love the sinner and hate the sin when talking about everyone. That’s our calling when we interact with the people of the world. We are to love the people of this world, and demonstrate a right lifestyle. We ought to resist the imposition of un-Christian morality upon us and our children via the school system and publicly funded entities- including redefinitions of acceptable sexual behavior. When asked for advice, we ought to give it – this includes a responsibility to vote for just laws and to give Christian counsel even to those who are not Christian. But when the world does not ask, we are not called to condemn. We are called to demonstrate Christ’s love.

Within the church, we also ought to love our brothers and sisters in the faith, but when their sins start usurping their identities as a Christian, we ought to call them out on it. As a follower of Christ, they have a responsibility to follow rather than go their own way. Christians are called to uphold Christ’s church standard among themselves, not tolerate the status quo of the world. The purpose is not to make people feel terrible, but to create a community that nurtures holiness. Its hard to do that when anything goes.

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