By now it is universally accepted that people – especially young adults are leaving the church in masses. One reason, it seems, is because Christians are perceived as being prideful and critical towards others.
How did we acquire this image of a judgemental character?
Face it, Christians are perceived as being arrogant about their beliefs, never trying to find out what others think about issues. Don’t believe me? Try this….have a conversation with someone that you entirely disagree with. Attempt to listen to the person until he/she has completely made their point. It’s difficult to do, isn’t it? And that’s armed with the awareness of holding back. We try to point out something that is wrong in the other person’s suppositions making them feel small or marginalized. We seem to focus on other people’s faults and failures rather than on motive and simplification. To Christians we think that we’ve stood our ground against sin, raised our banner to overcome evil, but all we’ve really done is tried to prove that we were right, rather than what is right in God’s sight.
There is a BIG difference between condemning people and helping them become sensitized towards God’s standards. A lot of it has to do with grace, mercy and love. We tend to talk more about the issues than “DO” anything to actively alleviate them. We forget that sin is on both sides of the arguments. We are failing as churches as being perceived as agents of love and cultivating love in our communities. (Barna Group Survey indicates only 20% of non-Christians see churches as instruments of love in their communities). We are missing the point of reflecting Jesus to outsiders. But, how to shift this stigma is a daunting if seemingly impossible challenge.
Let’s break down where these judgmental attitudes exist.
First, Christians come to the wrong conclusions. We stereotype young adults by what they wear and what they say and what they do; rather than acknowledging that they are a generation that expresses themselves differently. Thus, giving the impression that we don’t care about their lives.
Second, we may have the right answer, but we present it at the wrong time. When to say something and when to be silent is a tough call for many Christians. And, when it comes to outsiders, those outside the faith, Paul clarifies, in 1 Corinthians, that we have no right to judge them. Also, our interpretations may be correct, but our motivations may not be correct. Jesus challenges us to choose compassion over retribution any day of the week (John 8:7), because if our fixation is on the sin then it will be impossible to demonstrate love.
Finally, a small but very real attitude felt by non-Christians is favoritism towards fellow Christians – and against nonbelievers. It gives the impression that we are determining who has the greatest spiritual value and the highest potential. It makes those outside the faith feel inferior and worthless. Who would want to hang around people who radiate that kind of attitude? So, to summarize, wrong conclusions, wrong timing, wrong motivations and ill-directed favoritism, all add up to damaging worth and heartfelt relationships amongst fellow humans.
What can we do about this? Well, we can begin by rejecting arrogance. God, not humans, has the only right to judge. It is actually God’s kindness that leads us towards repentance (Romans 2:4). Many times we tolerate our own pride, but we need to see ourselves for the people we really are – needing and hurting, but with a great amount of potential! And, friendship with nonbelievers does not need to be a choice between two impossible extremes. When Christians create relationships built on respect, these alliances are accepted with genuine respect.
So what are some of the actions that will cultivate mutual esteem?
Don’t always need to be right.
Empathize; walk in their shoes for a day.
Be genuine and transparent.
And, offer friendships with no strings attached.
If we want to change the perception that Christians are judgmental, we need to see others as God sees them. We need to demonstrate grace by finding the good in others and seeing their potential, as God does. Author Philip Yancey offers us great insight when he says that the opposite of sin is grace. We need to move beyond trying to fit others into our box of expectations and help them to discover God’s purposes.
This is a great piece with some solid wisdom. Thanks for sharing, Albert!
How have Christians acquired a judgmental character. It comes naturally to Christianity. It’s part of Christianity’s DNA.
A popular evangelism program of the recent past (and used in the CRC) asked the question, “If you were to die tonight and stand before God and he should ask you, “why should I let you into my heaven,” what would you say? The expected answer is, I’m not such a bad person; I think God will let me in. People, in general, think God will weigh both the good and bad a person may do, and probably most people will be admitted into heaven. But then the presenter of this evangelism program will explain from the Bible, that all fall short of God’s standard of perfection. All are sinners and fall short of God’s acceptance. As to salvation God does not count the good a person may do, but only the sin. This just does not correlate with natural reasoning. When we judge the people around us, we weigh both good and bad and usually the good wins out. Of the people we know and are close to, there are few that are serious criminals and deserving of any condemnation but in general of reward But according to the Bible, God weighs only sin and everyone falls short and deserves eternal damnation. This is what the Bible teaches. So the Bible presupposes a sinful humanity in contrast to popular opinion, as well as most other religions. Of course people will, in general, recognize that there are some terrible people in the world, but of the people they know, few fall into this category. Beside people, in general, would rather think of God as a forgiving and gracious God rather than a God who condemns most people to an eternity of damnation. So you see, this idea of Christians being judgmental comes naturally. If they look at people with the mind of God, they will look at them as sinners. That’s Christian DNA.
Sure Christianity offers an escape in Jesus Christ, but that is only if a person has heard the gospel message. Of those not hearing of salvation in Jesus (which is the great majority of the world’s population), they are also deserving of damnation, according to the Bible. That doesn’t put the Christian God in a very good light, and contributes to this negative and judgmental perspective of Christianity. I’m not sure what you mean when you say, we need to see others as God sees them.
I don’t know how the gospel of Jesus can be presented without first demonstrating one’s need for a Savior. That “need” is the fact of sin committed by all people (none is righteous and all fall short). So again Christians cannot get around the fact of sin, or pointing out that sin to others. So Christians may not have to specifically condemn a person, but a general condemnation is enough to put Christianity in a bad light. How do Christians choose compassion (Jesus’ challenge) without showing the need (sin) for God’s love in Christ? So you see, it’s natural for those outside the Christian community to think Christians are judgmental. It’s part of the Christian DNA.
I appreciate that Roger has made these comments, because he has a reasonably good understanding of the impacts of major portions of christian thought. (Is that a judgemental statement?...) However, perhaps I could correct (unjudgementally) some of his ideas. While the bible does presuppose a sinful condition, this does not mean that God disregards the good that people do. God's demands are high. Very high. Much higher than we would like them to be. When we judge good and bad, we do it by our imperfect inadequate, barely passing grade standards.
The Israelites before captured and being exiled thought they had a passing grade. They offered sacrifices to God to pay for their sins; they kept some of the commandments and they looked after their families. It doesn't seem so bad, does it? But on the way to the temple, they offered sacrifices to Baal, some sacrificed their children, and they didn't keep the sabbath, nor did they care adequately for the widow and orphan. By human standards, they might pass... they were covering the bases so to speak. But since every good deed was filled with selfishness or pride, even their good deeds were inadequate.
A person who never murders anyone for 40 years... never murders his neighbors, nor even any enemies, nor even kills a dog, but then in his 41 st year, he kills his wife. Will his 40 years of innocence excuse his one year of violent hate ending in murder? No.
It is humans who judge unjustly. We make excuses where God does not. In doing so, we reduce the value of Christ's sacrifice, because we say we didn't need Christ and his sacrifice for us... that our sins were not quite that bad... we could earn our own way.
As to the original question of being perceived as judgemental... have you ever thought that there are none so judgemental as those who call others judgemental? The world is often more judgemental even than christians. Think of how they judge those who condemn homosex, or pornography, or premarital sex, or premarital cohabitation. Think of how severely they judge the church when it makes mistakes in managing finances, or seems to become greedy in property, or when a leader condemns adultery.
However, as Christians we should be careful to put God's grace in front of every sin, even while condemning the sin. If Christians are perceived as being less judgemental, thus encouraging people to wallow in their sin, then our lack of judgement may cause more people to fall under the judgement of God.
Thanks John for your response. Thanks for trying to correct some of my thoughts. But I think you may have fallen short. Albert asked how those outside the church acquired an image that Christians are judgmental. He wasn’t asking what Christians think. Well, you pretty well answered the question yourself, John. You said, “God's demands are high. Very high. Much higher than we would like them to be. When we judge good and bad, we do it by our imperfect inadequate, barely passing grade standards.” In fact, according to the Bible, God’s standard is not just higher than we would like it to be, but is perfection, not just relatively good, or even very good, but perfection. That’s why the Bible teaches it is impossible to please God. This is why Christianity and Christians come off as judgmental. Christianity disqualifies any good a person may do or try to do in pleasing God and caring for neighbor. As to having acceptance with God, human good works count for nothing. If Christians are true to the Bible and the gospel message, they will tell the person on the street that nothing he does, no matter how good in his own eyes or the eyes of others, will contribute in the least toward salvation. And you think people on the street will agree with this? This simply doesn’t correlate with the human experience. And it doesn’t correlate with most other religions which understand God judging a person by his works. But according to the Bible, all people are deserving of eternal damnation in hell. Do you think this doesn’t cast suspicion on Christianity and the church?
The only place good works play a role in the Christian faith, is after one has come to faith in Jesus Christ. Then good works may count to a sense of reward. But before salvation they count for nothing, as far as God is concerned. As you say, John, “ every good deed was filled with selfishness or pride, even their good deeds were inadequate.” The Bible says they are as filthy rags. What the Bible teaches just doesn’t correlate or relate to human experience. People do good every day for their spouses, children, or neighbors, both near and far. But when it comes to having an acceptance with God these acts mean nothing? You think the world outside of the church doesn’t see this as judgmental? Most certainly, they do. And when Christianity teaches that the only good that counts with God is the good done post conversion, you think this isn’t hypocritical in the eyes of non Christians, especially when the actions of Christians are no better than those who are not? That’s why I said that if Christianity is perceived as judgmental, it’s because it’s part of its DNA, it’s part of what Christianity teaches.
Your illustration is also faulty, John. The person being judged for his act of murder is only being judged for the single act of murder in his 41st year, not for the previous forty years of good he may have done. That single act of murder was a heinous crime in itself and deserving of severe punishment. If the crime was a lesser crime, stealing, lying, cheating on taxes, etc., then we would likely judge that person, not just in regard to the one crime but by his whole life, good and bad. When God, according to the Bible, judges people (which he will) one sin, small or large, is enough to condemn them to an eternity in hell. The good he has done counts for nothing. No one will escape God’s wrath. God does not weigh both good and bad, as we do, but judges in regard to sin. In fact the good a person may do is only filthy rags. Again, this does not correlate to justice as most people consider justice, and makes Christianity perceived as hypocritical and judgmental. It’s part of the Christian DNA. At Christianity’s root it is considered faulty by most reasonable people outside the church.
You may think Christianity is reasonable, in its demands, and that’s ok. But Albert wasn’t asking what Christians think or what may be reasonable to them, but he asked why people are leaving the church and why the world looks at Christianity as being judgmental. I don’t know how you can change this perception that the world has, because this is just part of Christianity’s DNA. It’s at the core of Christianity itself.
As John suggests, "if Christians are perceived as less judgmental, then they will encourage people to wallow in their sin." So I guess Christians should continue in the tradition of Elijah in the Old Testament and John the Baptist in the New and preach a message of hell fire and brimstone, and reap the deserved criticism of being judgmental. Is there really an alternative?
Roger, you have eloquently presented your case. I agree with most of it.
I am remembering a quote that George MacDonald had in one of the characters in one of his novels, which said approximately , "your desire to do good, and your doing good, means you are on your way to knowing who Jesus is."
Thanks John. Is McDonald’s statement similar to what Jesus said to the teacher of law, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” (Mark 12:34) Sounds like a compliment to me. Thanks.
Roger: Although the Kennedy Explosion Evangelism program is a great resource, it is outdated and only now useful to point us in a direction of solving the dilemma of pointing others towards God in the light of love. Sure we make decisions about others, based on good and bad of others, but "we" should not make that exclusion of where their lives are with the Lord. The built-in DNA as you so eloquently put it has replaced the embracing of love of ANY child of God. Our job is not to judge and because we have taken on that role, it has changed our DNA. Sin is sin, and must not be ignored - nor downplayed -, as we agree, but embracing others into the fold with love, and nurturing their understanding of the role they play first, is paramount to then making them aware of their sin. Here is how I see it: We have not put enough emphasis on LOVING invitation and We have not put enough emphasis on building RELATIONSHIPS with those new believers of the faith - rather we think they are hooked and let them flounder by their own demise. Being courageous to step out of our comfort zones to actually do something helpful and loving. Doing better job in just these three areas alone would have a huge impact on the dynamics of how we arae perceived. How would this happen practically? For each church and individual, this is different; but if the denomination tackled this on a denominational-wide scope, I believe we would begin to see that cloak of judgmentalism begin to evaporate in real ways.
Thanks for all your imput.....
At an individual level, as Christians we can make our attitudes that of Christ, who ate with publicans and sinners, who walked the streets and talked with the Samaritan woman, and used a Samaritan (outcast 2nd class) as an example of how to be a neighbor. At the same time Christ said he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. And it was exactly because of the requirements of the law, that Christ came to die in our place. Grace is not tolerance, but grace is also not condemnation. Help us God, and show us to love the sinner while detesting the sin.
But at a church level, institutional level, what can we do? What is a practical change we could make to be less judgemental, to put in perspective what Christ has done for us, and to allow the witness of those who are growing, following imperfectly...? My suggestion is this: That we do not restrict Lord's supper to members, and that we do not restrict profession of faith to membership. Profession of faith for membership is presently a very judgemental process in the way that agreement with specific confessions, teachings of the church ("this church"), and christian lifestyle, is required. Suppose we had a formal or semi-formal process that allowed new converts, or young christians, or any christian to witness to their faith, to proclaim their allegiance to Christ, without requiring a formal membership agreement. A profession that did not include the use of forms, but allowed the use of personal testimony and witness. A profession made by the person, rather than by the minister. A profession made in the context of individual life, rather than general principles. Would this not provide a way to reduce the appearance of judgementalism?
And then, if christians desired to become formal members of the church, they could sign an agreement, indicating their committment to the confessions, to christian living, to authority of the elders, to church attendance, and to church charitable giving. At that stage, some judgement would be required, both on the part of the individual, and on the part of the elders who approve the membership.
Separate the two things, and perhaps we could find a way to be less judgemental, while still demonstrating the value of increased committment. Just because one is not a formal member does not mean they are of less value, nor does being a formal member mean that you are closer to God. Let's find a way to demonstrate this concretely.
Having said this, I see difficulties also. If you have someone who confesses Christ, but lives an obvious unrepentant unchristian lifestyle, leading a worship team or playing the drums in front of church, or teaching sunday school, there will be a bad taste in the mouths of christians, converts, and seekers alike.
John: I like very much in theory what you propose....so, when will you be creating this Overture for Synod? :>)....A slight shift away from doctrinism to relational thinking. "to be less judgemental, while still demonstrating the value of increased commitment." Sure, a lot of details would need to be thought, talked and worked through, but I can see how this could move definitely in the direction of highlighting the joyfulness of Christianity. Once a commitment is made and the value of what Christ has done embraces the individual, then they would be more likely to understand and see value in the life-choice that they were drawn to, through the work of the holy Spirit; spurring on the desire to mke an investment with their lives that would eventually lead to sacrifice. What a great start and dream!!!
Someone else will have to take this to Synod. But individual churches can implement this even without synod. Local councils can make this decision if they want to. At least they can make the decision for individual witness and testimony by new christians, or renewed christians, when a non-membership profession of faith is made. However, perhaps it would be advantageous for synod to recommend that councils do not just read the form for profession of membership, but instead, have a spoken or written testimony from the new members read or said for the church by the new member as their witness of their faith. I have seen a member with Down's syndrome do this... which would seem to make it clear that there is no reason or excuse for anyone not to be able to , and in fact, not to want to do this, if they are really sincere in their dedication to God. If they are unwilling or unable, then there is probably a spiritual illness that needs to be healed first, that is every bit as serious as a lack of understanding of the confessions, or a lack of willingness to live a christian lifestyle.
But the big advantage of a non-membership profession of faith,is that it can be encouraging, without being judgemental. We can rejoice in that.
Good thoughts John. The only hesitation I would have would be making mandatory a public testimony of faith for a new professing member. A written testimony, as you suggest, could be a step up for some people, in lieu of a spoken testimony. Some have a heightened fear of talking, even reading, in front of people. The fear is no different for some people as telling a person who is afraid of heights that they have to dive head first off the high dive into a swimming pool. Getting in front of people, other than a few friends, creates real panic for some people. It has nothing with their sincerity and dedication to God. Otherwise, good suggestions.
Hi John and Albert. I think John is on to something. I like what you have to say about the Christian at the individual level as well as the church at an institutional level. I like what you have said, Albert, as well.
As to the individual level (this would be true, as well for the church), Christians need to demonstrate a more Christ like lifestyle, as you pointed out, John. Jesus related to all kinds of people without judging them or reminding them of the law. If you ask me, Jesus’ main thrust in nearly all of his teaching and example was getting at the motive behind a person’s action, and the only motive acceptable to Jesus was a motive of love for God and neighbor. That was the ultimate kingdom principle. He didn’t come to do away with the law because if a person is driven by love for God and neighbor then the law is already fulfilled without even having to mention the law. The law is fulfilled in the living of Christ’s teaching. But we somehow have to keep putting the law in face of church members. We read it nearly every Sunday (or at least, on many), as you, Albert, being from a Canadian church, know to be true. That (the reading of the law) is really a great invitation to visitors. Not. The Jews of Jesus’ day had all but lost this sense of motive. Ethnicity (pride) and a legalistic keeping of law had become the Jewish ticket. I could go on forever on this. The law is fulfilled when a sacrificial love (Christ’s love) is demonstrated. So I agree with you, John, at an individual level, we need to live amongst all people as Christ did. Of course that’s not easy. But Jesus didn’t say it was impossible. That’s how he called upon people to live.
As to the institution of the church, I also like what you suggest, John. There certainly is no reason to restrict the Lord’s Supper to CRC members. Such a policy definitely contributes to outsiders thinking the church is judgmental and superior. And certainly loosening the grip on the Lord’s Supper would go a long way toward young people feeling accepted and loved. I still see problems as to the institutionalized church.
I appreciate that you, Albert, want to see the church as a more inviting place for our own young people and for outsiders. You have a very difficult task ahead of you. For one thing, people are leaving the church in masses, as you say. The direction has already been set, and has been set for many years. It’s not easy to change a declining pattern. It’s like pushing a boulder uphill. People’s minds on the outside of the church have already been made up. The church is not a place that they want to drop into or be part of. For one thing, the formal setting of the church and church worship has little appeal to those on the outside. It seems to outsiders a thing of the distant past. Formal worship, to outsiders, feels archaic. To make this feel inviting won’t be easy.
Another thing you have to ask is, how many people are visiting your church weekly. If you have one visitor every other week (or less), that pretty well tells you that your community already has an impression of your church. And how will they know to change their impression unless people are already coming. How do you even get them in the door. People on the inside may recognize the change, but not those on the outside. Now Albert, this isn’t meant to be an insult. But I know you are up in the distant hinter lands of Canada. (I love Canada, eh) And you know that CRC churches are much more ethnic than in the states. It will take a long time for the Canadian CRCs to loose their wooden shoes. Non CRC people in Canadian towns refer to the CRC church as the Dutch church. And many people in town think the CRC church is an ethnic church for people of Dutch background. And, of course, this goes back to a much more recent immigration from Holland, post World War II (50s and 60s). In the past, and still in the present for many, the church has been a safe haven away from the world. People in your Canadian communities have felt this sheltering of the Dutch and exclusion of non Dutch for many years. So anything you do in your churches will not change the mind set of the community overnight. It will probably take generations. In the meantime, the organized church is continuing to decline. You have a difficult problem. So you better get on the stick quickly. That cloak of judgmentalism is not going to evaporate quickly. Of course a new church plant is a different story. They can begin without the wooden shoes requirement and begin with a much more casual worship setting that may feel comfortable to outsiders (no weekly reading of the law), and less formal restrictions, with an emphasis on sacrificial love for God and neighbor. Sorry about the lack of encouragement, but as John may have noted previously about me, I’m not overly encouraged by the organized church. Blessings to all.
Roger...no insult taken, and for a good portion of Canada, your generalities are correct. My situation, however, is unique since I grew up and spent 45 years in the CRC just outside New York City, with a tremendous amount of multicultural integration within church environments, and was transplanted to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, which is practically the Mecca of multi-cultural integration in all of Canada. So our church sees a huge amount of multicultural visitors (Africa, India, Korea, Japanese & Chinese - amongst the most); that, and we are situated right next door to the only University on the Island. :>).....so that leap of change is not quite as impossible as what you may think for us.....but it still has some of the struggles that you mention....
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