In high school, I was not a Christian. Some Christians in our large public school, however, wanted to change that. Year after year, we would have debate after debate. They would try and convert me, and I would try and castigate them. At some point in nearly every debate they would tell me that I was going to hell because I was a sinner. At that point in the conversation I would pull out the only Bible verse I had committed to memory and say, “thou shall not judge.” For me, this was my ace in the hole.
Many who make no claim to follow Jesus are especially critical of what they see as the failure of Christians to live up to their own principles of tolerance. As a guy in Phoenix put it, “The basic belief of Christianity is that you’re not supposed to judge your fellow man.” He continued,
“Saying somebody is going to go to Hell because they don’t believe as strong as the other person, or because they did something, that’s a sin. The basic pretext of Christianity is supposed to be tolerant, compassionate, loving, forgiving, merciful. But there’s a lot of examples in the Bible where biblical figures, they pass judgment on their fellow man. They demonstrate hatred for their fellow man and most definitely not very compassionate.”
THOUGH SHALL NOT JUDGE?
I need to point out that asserting tolerance as the core of Christianity misses the point. The message of the Bible from start to finish is that Jesus came to save sinners and bring them to an eternity in heaven. But this guy makes an argument we heard repeatedly. Group participants continually quoted one particular Scripture in some form or other: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NLT). Even people knew little of the Bible were quick to quote this verse, putting it out there multiple times in multiple cities to argue for complete tolerance where no one is ever allowed to judge anyone else.
Read in isolation, that verse seems to prove their point. We might think we should imitate an imaginary Jesus who wanders the countryside speaking poetry and religious pleasantries. That interpretation, however, ignores the rest of the passage, which says
“For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” (Matthew 7:2-6).Interpreting Scripture is like understanding a conversation. If you only catch a line or two in the middle you could easily misunderstand the whole of what was said. Likewise, the same easily happens if you grab a line of Scripture without checking the context. In Matthew 7 Jesus rebukes religious leaders who condemns others for sins they tolerate in their own life. Jesus himself judges them when he calls them hypocrites who have logs protruding from their eyes. He even calls some people “pigs,” an extreme offense in a culture that considered pigs religiously unclean and defiling. A few verses later in Matthew 7:15 Jesus rails at “false prophets” who are “wolves,” yet another stinging judgment. What Jesus forbid was not all judging but rather rash judging and wrong judging. That warning hits home for me. It was religious leaders who attacked Jesus the most viciously.
All of this is why Jesus said in John 7:24, “Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” How Christians can judge correctly challenges every generation. Throughout history there has been a nonstop stream of voices who try to steer the church away from black and white thinking and mix everything into gray. They attempt to combine the right teachings of the Bible (thesis) and the misguided opinions of culture (antithesis) into a new gray mess (synthesis). This is often done in response to cultural pressure to update, modify, and edit Biblical teaching to make it more palatable to its detractors. This “liberal” or “progressive” Christianity marries the church to the changing culture instead of the unchanging Christ. Some Christians still seek a gray way in the name of progress, enlightenment, and love. They accept all sexualities, spiritualties, and ideologies under the banner of the new tolerance.