One of the primary objections people give regarding church discipline is that Christians aren’t supposed to judge others. After all, didn’t Jesus say, “Judge not, lest you be judged”?
Yes, he did say that, but Jesus also laid down a moral code for living, and even went so far as to call the Pharisees “dogs” and “pigs.”
This verse speaks to a judgmental attitude—one who is quick to look for the flaws in others and takes it upon themselves to be the moral authority for the world.
But pronouncing judgment for sin is not just allowed by God; it is a necessary part of true church discipline.
As we examine this tricky topic of what Christian judgment looks like, we will find three situations when judgment is permitted, and two instances when it is prohibited.
WHEN IS IT RIGHT TO JUDGE OTHERS?
1. It is right to judge someone openly living in sin.
In 1 Corinthians 5, when confronted with news of a particularly offensive case of sexual immorality in the Corinthian church, Paul writes, “I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing” (1 Corinthians 5:3).
In this case, Paul commanded that local church body to completely remove that sinning believer from the fellowship of the church and turn him over to the full consequences of his sin. In a larger context, Paul tells the church they are defiantly arrogant in their refusal to call out the sin in their midst. We would be arrogant as well to let unrepentant sin fester in the body of Christ.
2. It is right to judge someone who denies true doctrine.
In a world where the absolutes of right and wrong are rejected by culture, some will say that the church should unite in love, even if that means laying aside significant doctrinal differences.
In fact, one church leader, when considering the topic of homosexuality, said, “If you must make a choice between heresy and schism, always choose heresy.” And he was serious!
Both Paul and the apostle John command just the opposite. Judging and rejecting heretical doctrine is a necessity for any church who desires to shine the light of Christ— both His truth and His love—into the world.
3. It is right to judge culture against Scripture.
Earlier in his letter to Corinth, Paul wrote, “The spiritual person judges all things” (1 Corinthians 2:15).
The Christian examines all things— policy, morality, culture, the church, and themselves—by the objective standard of God’s Word.
Paul here is endorsing critical thinking and critical judgment in the way we interact with the world. Without a clear understanding of what in our world is wrong— what is in error against God—we will be more persuadable, more susceptible to being absorbed into the behavior of the world.
WHEN IS IT WRONG TO JUDGE?
1. It is wrong to judge before knowing the facts.
The believer should never judge someone based on a rumor or inference. Facts are required for judgment, and we should be slower to react and quicker to seek truth regarding the possibility of sin.
2. It is wrong to judge based on preferences.
Not all issues in the church are matters of doctrine; some are matters of preference. The Bible gives no definitive instructions on credit cards, dating practices, television, contemporary music, pants, or social media.
The church should not judge each other based on how strict or lenient a person’s guidelines are when it comes to these matters of Christian liberty but should allow grace to prevail in these cases.
As we seek to honor God in a spirit of love for each other, we will judge matters by the standard of God’s Word, without allowing ourselves to acquire a critical, judgmental spirit.