One of my regular readers asked me to reflect on the whole issue of judgment in the church. His starting point was Matthew 7:1: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” How can we make sense out of this whole business about judging—a word used often in the New Testament and sometimes in opposite ways?
Wow! Big topic. Years ago I wrote a 250-page ThM thesis at Calvin Seminary on “The Idea of Excommunication: An Analysis of the Biblical Passages,” and that thesis dealt with only one form of judging. Guess I cannot cover the topic in a few hundred words, can I? But I will say a few things, and let my readers continue the discussion.
Personally, I think the best place to start reflecting on this issue is 1 Corinthians 11:27–32, because Paul speaks there of four levels of judging, and each level uses a different Greek word (though I want to say upfront that this issue cannot be solved simply by word study; words occur in context, and context determines nuances of meaning; moreover, the same words can have different meanings in other passages). The first word is διακρίνω. In 11:29 Paul calls us to “discern the body of Christ.” Since Paul does not add here “the body and the blood of Christ, he is probably encouraging the Corinthians to reflect on what attitudes they held relative to other members in the body of Christ, the church. In Corinth, we know, certain members of the church (i.e., the elite) were looking down on other members (i.e., the poor and the slaves) in the manner in which they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Paul has some harsh words to say about that type of behavior. Note that the verb διακρίνω is repeated in the “if clause” in 11:31.
The second level of judging occurs in 11:28, where Paul uses the verb δοκιμάζω to encourage the Corinthians “examine themselves” in their relationship to Jesus Christ and in the meaning of his sacrifice on their behalf (symbolized in the elements of the Lord’s Supper). Do they perceive that Christ’s sacrifice was for all of God’s people equally? Do we realize that we all stand needy before the cross with empty hands, asking for his forgiving power in our lives? Do we love the Lord and what he did for us, and do we love the church? It is significant that these first two levels of judging require us to look at ourselves. We would get much further in our spiritual lives if we spend our time looking at our own hearts and lives rather than the lives of others.
The third level of judging is expressed by the verb κρίνω, which can easily happen if we are not consistently and regularly examining ourselves but “judging” others instead. If we are not discerning ourselves, we will come under God’s disciplinary judgment (κρίνω, which occurs again in 11:32, where it refers to judgment done by the Lord in order to educate us [παιδεύω]). Some examples of such judgment by God are given in 11:30 (“that is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep”). There are other ways, of course, that God can use to educate us; he uses both his Word and our experiences in life to speak to us for our spiritual growth. Note that if we do consistent διακρίνω and δοκιμάζω, God will not need to use his κρίνω.
The final level is in the last part of 11:32, the verb κατακρίνω. This is the strongest verb among these four, and it means “to condemn.” If we fail to judge our relationship to Jesus Christ accurately and if we fail to listen to God’s nudging education in our lives, the end result is eternal condemnation. I don’t like to talk about hell, but that is what this verb implies. God doesn’t like to talk about hell either, for “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Well, this is a start. Lots more could be said and I leave that up to you.