Friday, August 10, 2012

Judgmentalism 201: Sharing the Word without judgment

Yesterday, we talked about the often-misunderstood concept of avoiding judgmentalism. I mentioned that two common errors exist among Christians today:

Some explain away the commands to avoid judging, and fall into the hypocritical role of the Pharisee, denouncing sin in others’ lives while their own lives are unclean. Some do this by taking verses out of context, using passages which discuss judging the fruits of false teachers and applying them to non-teachers. Others simply ignore the passages because they bring a cultural reading into the New Testament, and tend to ignore any reading which disagrees with their pre-conceived view of the world; they think they know what “feels Christian” based upon how they were raised, and sadly for them, avoiding judgmentalism does not figure into this worldview.

Others use the term “judging” so liberally that basically any sin is acceptable. Often they use modern American society as the guide for right and wrong rather than the Bible; thus they wholeheartedly accept Biblical condemnation of rapists and murderers, yet get uncomfortable about Biblical condemnation of sex outside of marriage. They do so because their view of morality is not a Biblical view, but is rather an American legal system view. Thus “right and wrong” becomes a discussion not about God’s law, but rather about civil liberties. Just like the Pharisees above, they bring their cultural definition of acceptable behavior into their reading of the Bible, allowing them to draw improper conclusions.

Obviously, I find both of these horribly false teachings. (And to counteract the inevitable snarky response: as discussed yesterday, we are not only allowed to, but commanded to judge the teachings of someone to determine whether they are Scriptural or not. So it is perfectly fine for me to judge the teachings above.)

From a practical standpoint, then, what does it mean to avoid judging? When Peter, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul taught, a good portion of their teachings were about sin and how we all fall short of God’s glory; if the lost do not hear about sin, then they cannot realize their need for a savior. [1] How then are we to share someone’s need for a savior from the shackles of sin without judging them?

It will be no shock for my readers that I recommend doing this by going through an in-depth Bible study. Luke’s second book of Scripture, the Acts of the Apostles, is a great example of how to share the need for salvation with sinners while avoiding judgmentalism. (Duh, right? If you want to know how to spread Christianity in accordance with New Testament teachings, why not read the book which records how the New Testament authors spread Christianity?)

I encourage you to do this study yourself, but for the lazy/trusting readers, I have done so for you. What I recommend is to read through each page of Acts and make a list of when the Gospel was shared with unbelievers, and how it was shared—that is, what was the trigger point which led the apostle to share the Gospel, and then what did they discuss with the lost?

I did so, and here is my list of when the Gospel was shared:

• 50%: Teaching in synagogue or Temple [2]
• 27%: Asked to speak in public (examples: philosophy debates, trial, prayer group, prison) [3]
• 20%: Does good works to help another, is asked about why/how [4]
• 3%: Cold-call evangelism (Philip overhears someone reading the Bible and offers to counsel) [5]

As far as how the Gospel was shared, it is always the same formula: (1) Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophesies; (2) Jesus was raised from the dead; (3) following Christ requires repenting from sins and profession of faith/baptism. The sole preaching point is, to use Paul’s words, “Christ, and Him crucified”. It is an extremely Jesus-centric approach.

So do the Apostles talk about sin with people? Absolutely! Their “avoiding judgmentalism” does not mean that they let people think they can live however they want and simply hope everything will be fine. The Apostles by no means take a “live and let live” approach.

However, notice that 97% of the evangelism shown to us in Acts starts with relationships. The evangelists have developed some form of relationship with the hearers – either they go to synagogue together, or the evangelist is invited to speak to a group of interested parties, or the evangelist has done good works of service to help the other person and the other person then asks about Jesus. The one exception to this—Philip’s teaching in Acts 8:29-39—is not really traditional American cold-call evangelism either: in this case Philip is led by God to go to a certain place, and he watches and finds someone reading the Bible confusedly. Then he approached.

Almost without fail, the evangelistic approach of the early Christians was to go about their daily lives and build relationships with people, serving everyone around them. When a relationship is built and spiritual conversations arise, they share the Gospel. Even the public evangelism begins with relationships -- the reputation or relationships built during daily life lead to the apostles being invited to speak to a public group (e.g., Paul on Mars Hill, or in synagogues, etc.).

Their lifestyle is not the “keep quiet about your religion” approach preferred by many liberal Christians, but neither is it the “door to door” evangelism or street preaching preferred by many conservative Christians. It seems that in Acts, the primary focus of the apostles was to be a Christian all day, building relationships of love and service to everyone around them, and when the person asked why the apostle was different, they shared the Gospel. I cannot help but think of 1Pet 3:15, where we are told to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. This implies a relationship in which the other person has seen you in difficult times being filled with hope, and they approach you to share the Gospel.

This has great practical influence because it is highly effective. It is human nature to reject someone else who is clearly trying to shape your beliefs or sees you as a project to be fixed. Very few people who claim conversion after this sort of “drive-by” evangelism actually undergo radical change in their lives or belief systems. Effective, lifelong conversions seem generally to begin with relationships; the convert begins to seek out God, often because of how they see a Christian living their lives.

There is a flip side of this, though: actually it is easier to just do cold-call evangelism, or put a bumper sticker on your car, or run a blog (!), or take part in a boycott/anti-boycott, than to actually build relationships with unbelievers. Building relationships takes time and energy. Serving others means giving up things you would like to keep for yourself (money, time, energy). Serving the lost sacrificially means that often you will see no return on your investment, so to speak: you may receive little other than hatred in response for your work.

It is much easier to go volunteer for some job at the church on Sunday than it is to cultivate a relationship with an unbeliever for years for the purposes of evangelism. This involves meeting someone different from you, spending time with them and treating them as a peer (not sitting on the judgment seat condemning them), yet at the same time letting them know that there is something different about you. You are not the same as others. Then one day they will want to know why you are different; at this point they are like a pump primed to work – because they are seeking God, they are receptive to hearing about Him.

Let me give you a couple of practical examples from my work life.

Situation A: I have in the past had a co-worker who is a Christian. To protect him, I will keep his name out of it. This particular person—as I happen to know from free time outside of work—is a passionate Christian who loves Bible study and has very firm convictions. At work, he has a reputation…but not as a Christian. In fact I might be one of the very few who knows he even claims to be a believer. His reputation is as the most foul-mouthed person anyone has ever heard. He is seen as sarcastic, depressed, and cynical. How bad is it? A non-Christian engineer who reports to me requested a move into a different part of the office because he could no longer stand to hear the person dropping curse words (including frequent F-bombs and taking the Lord’s name in vain).

So here is a person who is going about life in an antinomian fashion. He wears his curses as a badge of honor for how “real” and “sincere” he is. But the practical result is that no one asks him spiritual questions. No one at work—Christian or non-Christian—desires to have a life like his; in fact, most want to avoid ending up like him. They use him as an example of unprofessionalism: “Sometimes I get angry at work; I need to get that under control so I don’t end up like .” The rare relationships he does build at work are with sinners…but he is not a light in their lives; rather, he generally encourages sinful behavior and engages in it with them. One of his friends at work is clearly a lustful and sexist man, which the Christian encourages by pointing out women and talking about their looks while at lunch or in the office.

He has definitely not come across as judgmental of others, and does spend time eating with sinners, like Jesus did. But because he is antinomian in his work life, no one wants what he has. They are completely and utterly comfortable staying where they are in life; if anything, they think of him as the bigger sinner. He avoids judging, but encourages sin and has no possibility of leading anyone to Christ as a result.

Situation B: I have another co-worker who is not a Christian. I have worked with him for three years or so. To say we see the world differently is an understatement. He is a non-Christian, and very liberal politically; I tend to be more conservative and obviously am an outspoken Christian. He lived with his girlfriend for years before being married. Now I could have approached this like my co-worker from Situation A, encouraging him by asking questions about their sex life or agreeing that it was wise to “sample” living with her before marrying her. Or I could have gone the other way, and judged him. I could have said something like, “I’m a Christian and I don’t want to hear about that. That is a sinful relationship and I don’t want it discussed around me.”

Instead, I have built a relationship with him. I am sincere—I talk about my own sins, but not in a way which glorifies them; rather, I talk about struggling with those sins and trying to improve. I treat him no differently than I would treat a friend at church, nor are any subjects out of bounds. I don’t “shove” Christianity at him, though: I just treat him like anyone else. We talk and laugh and play poker and go out to eat at lunch. If we are talking and a funny thing happened at church which is relevant, I tell it. I neither seek out chances to “shoehorn” church into the equation, nor avoid anything “churchy” lest he feel uncomfortable. I simply go about my life sincerely. I treat him just like any believing friend. As a result, he has occasionally asked spiritual questions and, because he is the initiator and because he sees that I have something he wants, he is receptive to hearing the Gospel.

I try to be the same guy at work that I am at home. I neither hide the Christianity from my life, nor try to force it on others. That sounds nice to everyone, but most people do one or the other: either they avoid “churchy” things, or they try to turn all conversations to spiritual things. I believe neither is effective evangelism. I simply live the way I live, with Jesus in me trying to make me a better person. I don’t put a Bible out on my desk, because I do not use a physical Bible but rather use the Blue Letter Bible app; but I also don’t hide the Blue Letter Bible app if I am reading it and someone walks in on me. I neither avoid telling stories about church nor try to find a way to fit them into conversation. I neither shy away from discussing spiritual things nor force him to listen to my philosophies. I would bet that nearly everyone here believes I am a Christian, nearly everyone here respects me and thinks I'm a kind and good person, and no one here thinks I have judged them. This is exactly how things have to be if we are going to have an impact in the lives of others.

Putting it all together

People take extreme positions on judgmentalism—falling either into Pharisaicalism or Antinomianism—because really when it gets right down to it, they do not do evangelism the way that the Bible teaches. Either they (like the fundamentalists) try to separate themselves from all sinners and denounce them publicly via boycotts, or they (like the Stoics) try so hard not to offend anyone that nobody sees a difference between the Christian's life and their own lives.

These examples are so far removed from Biblical evangelism that it is difficult to apply the concepts of judgmentalism. Judgmentalism—claiming moral authority to pronounce condemnation on a person—is something which really is meant to apply to interpersonal relationships. It is true that the Pharisees among us are judging others, and that Stoics are not; but in both cases these failures originate not in their approach to judgment but in their philosophical approach to evangelism.

The Christian Pharisee believes that people who have never met them will somehow be convicted or impressed by the Christian’s stance on a public issue. They won’t, because you have developed no relationship with them. If people do not know you, they have no choice but to apply stereotypes to you; as such, rather than be convicted by your strong stance on sin, they apply stereotypes and ignore you as an ignorant, bigoted, brainwashed simpleton.

The Christian Stoic believes that people will see how “cool” they are with their lifestyles and somehow decide that they want this Jesus dude in their lives too. This is both false and dangerous. False, because people only change when they believe there is a gap between what they want to be and what they currently are; if they see no difference between the two of you then they have no motivation to change. Dangerous, because believing that they can simply say “Jesus” without making any commitment to letting the Spirit into their hearts to change them will not result in salvation. Salvation is the receipt of the Holy Spirit as a guide in life, which requires an understanding that changes are certain. [6]

The key is to return to the trial roots of the word krino. We are not the judges, but rather are fellow prisoners on our way to the courthouse. You have a defense attorney in the Holy Spirit, while your fellow prisoners are representing themselves. So how do we share for them the news that our Advocate can help them, too? The Pharisees seem to think that reminding people they are guilty is effective; it isn’t. People just stop hanging around the mean guy, and thus never learn about the Advocate. But also not effective is the Stoic person who sits by and says, “Yeah, man, you’re doing fine. Just keep on keeping on. You’re no worse than the rest of us so I’m sure it will all work out.”

No, it is the co-prisoners you spend time with, and build relationships with, who you can impact. They see that you do not fear the Judge like they do, and so eventually the opportunity arises for you to share from where you receive your confidence.

As such I would make the following statements, based upon the above study, of the right approach to evangelizing others without being judgmental:

1. Focus most of your energy toward improving your own life and having Christ impacting everything you do. [7]
2. Show the fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, loyalty, gentleness, and self-control — to the people with whom you interact. [8]
3. Go out of your way to become friends with the lost, building real relationships and friendships with them. See them not as a project, but a friend. [9]
4. Do good works for others, expecting and desiring nothing in return. [10]

(Note: items 1-4 are really nothing other than, “Be a Christian”, right? Be open to letting Jesus guide you to improve your life, and look for opportunities to help others.)

5. Always be ready to talk about why you have hope and are different from others. [11]
6. When spiritual conversations happen, the primary goal is to make it about Christ and the freedom from sin. [12]
7. Encourage your sinful friends to attend a church where the Bible is taught and they can feel the Holy Spirit, for it is only the inspiration Spirit who can effectively convert and cleanse us of sin. By far the most common method of the Spirit moving in Scripture is in a church setting, hearing the Word of God be preached. [13]
8. Be willing to share in public, but generally do so when invited and welcome, rather than inserting yourself into conversations uninvited. [14]
9. Above all, be open to the Spirit leading you; He may bring people into your path. [15]


In short, the New Testament model for attacking sin in our world is actually pretty simple:

• Live a lifestyle filled with the hope and peace which other people desire
• Build relationships with those who need Jesus so they can see this lifestyle
• Look for opportunities to make people’s lives better and show them God’s love in practical ways
• When spiritual conversations happen, point people to the Scripture (which is inspired by the Spirit) and the Church (which is run by the Spirit), for it is the Holy Spirit who can change them, not you

The reason that Jesus and the Apostles are so harsh about judgmentalism is that it destroys all four of the above. If people see you as “holier than thou” and looking down on them, then they will not desire such a lifestyle for themselves, nor will they build relationships with you. By considering yourself an authority on what is right and wrong, you will not be looking opportunities to serve people, but opportunities to correct them. And if you consider yourself the authority on morality, you will be pointing people to you instead of to Scripture and church for the rule of living.

This is the issue of judgmentalism in a nutshell: do not usurp God’s authority. The Holy Spirit and the words of Christ are the judges of morality, not you or I. [16] Your task as a Christian is to serve all men (Christian or non-Christian) with God’s sacrificial love…and then, when they desire to know why you have such hope and love and peace, to point them toward the Holy Spirit (Scripture and the Church). Judgmentalism destroys your service and their desire to know you better; going too far in the other direction, and failing to share God’s Word and point people toward His Church, ensures that they never move from their broken lifestyle.

[1] Rom 10:4
[2] Acts 5:20-21, 8:12, 13:5, 13:16-52, 14:1-7, 14:19, 16:1-5, 17:1-3, 17:17, 18:1-11, 18:24-28, 19:1-8, 20:7, 28:17-31
[3] Acts 7:2-60, 10:1-48, 11:1-17, 16:6-15, 16:25-32, 17:18-34, 19:9, 22:1-26:32
[4] Acts 2:1-41, 3:1-11, 3:12-26, 9:32-43, 13:6-11, 14:8-18
[5] Acts 8:29-39
[6] Acts 19:2-6
[7] 2Pet 1:5-11, Matt 7:5
[8] Gal 5:22-23
[9] Matt 9:10
[10] Acts 2:1-41, 3:1-11, 3:12-26, 9:32-43, 13:6-11, 14:8-18
[11] 1Pet 3:15-16
[12] Jo 3:16-18, 5:24, 12:47-48; Acts 2:1-41
[13] 2Tim 3:15-17; Acts 5:20-21, 8:12, 13:5, 13:16-52, 14:1-7, 14:19, 16:1-5, 17:1-3, 17:17, 18:1-11, 18:24-28, 19:1-8, 20:7, 28:17-31
[14] Acts 7:2-60, 11:1-17, 16:6-15, 16:25-32, 17:18-34, 19:9, 22:1-26:32
[15] Acts 8:29-39, 10:1-48
[16] Jo 8:15, 16:11

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