From Voice, Jan/Feb 2015. Adapted from Stephen Davey’s book In Pursuit of Prodigals. Kress Biblical Resources (The Woodlands, TX, 2010). Used by permission.
In the matter of church discipline, the Bible is clear that believers must judge themselves (See Part 1). When else is it right to judge?
2. It is right to judge someone who is openly living in sin.
The Apostle Paul instructed the church in Corinth:
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you. You have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this. (1 Corinthians 5:1-3)
Paul clearly announced, “I have already judged him.” It is important to note that Paul called attention to this man’s sin (sexual immorality) in the presence of the congregation.
It is also ironic, in respect to our own culture today within mainline denominationalism, that Paul considered the church to be arrogant for refusing to condemn sin. He did not applaud them for being tolerant of other viewpoints regarding sexual activity. Instead, he publicly judged the church in Corinth by calling them what they truly had become—arrogant. They had become superior to God’s Word; they were smarter than God’s design for relationships and more sophisticated than God’s created order for sexual relations.
Even so, they were probably surprised by the verdict. Paul judged the church as defiantly arrogant in their tolerance of sinful, immoral behavior. He then challenged them to deal with the sinning man by removing him from their fellowship.
This process would be, of course, time consuming, painful, awkward, and difficult—not to mention the fact that the church would probably lose a few key families who thought it had become a bastion of legalism with Neanderthal leaders. Just who gave the church the right to stick its collective nose into someone’s private behavior, the bedroom, no less?!
Paul evidently believed that God had, for he wrote: “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus … deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so
that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
In other words, Paul believed the unrepentant man to be a Christian but in need of the church delivering him over to the full consequences of his immoral behavior, so he could feel the full penalties of his immorality as he stubbornly pursued his sin and, effectively, Satan. Instead of emotionally subsidizing the man, he was to be put out of the fellowship to fully illustrate that he had lost fellowship with Christ–and Christ’s church.
The judgment of the church became the visible demonstration of the invisible judgment of God.
3. It is right to judge someone who denies biblical doctrine.
Increasingly, our culture and the Church are resisting the idea of theological absolutes. Doctrine is considered too dogmatic—too black and white—too divisive. The siren song to the Church today is lay aside doctrine and unite in love. The church which mirrors biblical integrity must keep in mind that popular perspectives can be unbiblical messages. “Politically correct” most often means “biblically corrupt.”
The Bible actually delivers a far different message. “Now I urge you brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Romans 16:17). “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds” (2 John 1:10).
Sounds pretty dogmatic, doesn’t it? Paul and John don’t sound loving at all. We can only wonder how popular these early church leaders would be today with the average church which mindlessly repeats, “Let’s abandon doctrinal differences for the sake of unity.”
The leader who wanted his denomination to stick together even though they were dividing over the issue of homosexual leaders said, “If you must make a choice between heresy and schism, always choose heresy”12 Seriously? Unfortunately, yes. He was actually saying it is better for the denomination or church to be united and heretical than divided over anything, including heresy.
Paul would have a few words to say as he further warned the Galatians, “if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed” (Galatians 1:9). This is a nicer way of saying “let him be dedicated for everlasting destruction.”2
Imagine the implications: the minister who calls sin acceptable is self-condemned; the church that chooses to ignore or rewrite what the Apostles taught is effectively voting to rename their church Ichabod. That church might still hold services; it may light candles and robe choirs, but it is virtually under the abiding anathema of Christ until it repents and returns to the gospel.
Judging wrong doctrine is evidently not an optional activity for genuine believers. In essence Paul is saying, “If the church must choose between heresy and division it must always choose division.” Keep that in mind when a few people leave to shop for a less divisive church, having written you off for obeying the Scriptures.
4. It is right to judge our culture in light of Scripture.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “But he who is spiritual appraises al things” (1 Corinthians 2:15). That about covers everything else.
Paul is endorsing critical thinking and critical judgment on the part o alert, discerning Christians. A spiritually discerning Christian actually judges “all things”—that is, he examines, investigates, inquires into, questions, and discerns all things. He doesn’t mindlessly follow the crowd … pagan or Christian.
We made up an exercise with our children as they were growing up. It was called “Spot the Lie.” Following TV commercial or program they were allowed to watch, we’d ask them to tell us the subtle lies wrapped inside the program or commercial. Even at a young age they were able to develop critical thinking ability and became fairly adept at the exercise.
Spot the lies: smart people have this model cell phone; stylish clothes make men and women successful; good moms feed their children this brand; dads are unnecessary because moms (or the kids) come to the rescue; sex can be safe regardless of who you’re with; your dog actually wants to eat food that contains vegetables; it’s up to the human race to save the planet, etc.
Our problem isn’t that the Church thinks too critically—it’s that the Church isn’t thinking at all as she absorbs the lies of her culture. Prodigals are people who’ve simply abandoned themselves to the lies.
Keep in mind that being a critical thinker doesn’t mean you have the right to become a critical person. Those are two different animals. Critical people complain about everything without any biblical reason. They were simply born in the accusative case. They are not models of discerning Christianity.
There is a difference between being critical and thinking critically. There is a difference between being judgmental too—which is unacceptable—and wisely judging all things, which is commanded.
Today believers are barraged and challenged by a vast array of conflicting advice, differing religious perspectives, and prating pseudo-spiritual leaders.
We are living in a day when spiritual discernment is of paramount importance. The Church must be capable of judging experiences, trends, and beliefs in light of Scripture. Can we spot the lie?
William Tyndale, in 1526, judged the religious sentiment of his day to be a lie. The Church had declared the Bible as a book only to be owned, read, and interpreted by the priests. Bibles were chained to pulpits and off limits to the populace. Tyndale rejected this politically and religiously correct notion of his day and gave his countrymen an English translation of the Scriptures. He paid for his judgment on the Church with his own life.
Clearly, there are reasons and times when it is right to judge. But someone might ask, “Aren’t there times when it is wrong to judge someone?” The answer to that is absolutely!
(Part 3 considers when it is wrong to judge and concludes the series.)
1 Fred Jackson and Jody Brown, “Episcopal Bishop: Tolerance of Heresy Better Than Schism.” Agape Press, February 3, 2004. <http://www.christianheadlines.com/news/episcopal-bishop-tolerance-of-her… accessed January 25 2015.
2 Fritz Rienecker and Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek Testament. Regency, 1976,p. 500.
Stephen Davey is senior pastor of Colonial Baptist Church and president of Shepherds Theological Seminary, as well as principal Bible teacher on the “Wisdom for the Heart” broadcast. After earning his MDiv from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary, Stephen and his wife, Marsha, moved from Dallas to Cary, NC and started Colonial Baptist Church. In 2003, Stephen and the elders of Colonial founded Shepherds Theological Seminary, now fully accredited.