This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Judge Not..." What It Really Means

I was not actually planning on doing another article for 2014, but a recent incident forced me to take a look at an issue we hear a lot about these days.  It has become a sort of new "11th Commandment" in this increasingly secularized and post-modern culture to say that we are "not supposed to judge anybody," and often it is based on a Scripture in Matthew 7:1 - "Judge not lest you be judged."  No one, of course, wants to be "judged," but there are a couple of problems with that desire, so let's examine those first.

Judging has become a cardinal sin in this day and age, and to be labeled "judgmental" means that somehow you are some sort of prude, a snob, and (gasp!) a religious Pharisee or something.   However, here's the thing - whether we liked it or not, we all have already been judged twice if we are Christians.   We were judged guilty of original sin when Adam and Eve first sinned in the garden, and we inherited that curse of original sin when we entered this world.  Therefore, we need to give a little refresher course on that.

Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and what that means in many cases is multiple times!   Why is that?  Because in ourselves, we have no righteousness - it is not something that is endowed upon us at birth (Romans 3:10).  And, thanks to our ancestor Adam, our judgement has already been sealed if we don't know the way of redemption, and that penalty is death (Romans 6:23).  This is where the Cross comes in - Jesus' shed blood on the cross is what provides a reversal of that judgement, because through His shed blood for us we are made righteous in the eyes of God.  However, it doesn't just mean we are covered-over with some kind of blanket.  Dr. Regis Martin, my professor at Franciscan University, once explained it this way in a Theology of the Church class - imagine that each of us is a dunghill, and as a dunghill the stench of sin is upon us strongly.  However, Jesus enters into that dunghill, breaking down and destroying the stench of sin, and in time we are transformed - from where the dunghill once sat, a rosebush arises.   Many of our Evangelical friends unfortunately miss this in that they think that our reception of Jesus is like a snowfall over the dunghill - all it does for them is that it covers the stink, but the sin is still there.  You must remember something - at the fount of baptism, all of our original sin is washed away and we become a new creation in Christ who transforms us.  We are not merely a stinky dunghill covered with snow, but we have become the rosebush.  Sure, on occasion even roses are prone to bugs and blight (this is the sin and imperfection of our own human nature) but repentance prunes off those bad leaves and heals us from that sin, provided we are aware enough to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit to repent in the first place.  Which now brings us back to the original discussion.

Many post-modern Evangelical Christians have this mentality of the covered dunghill - they feel as if they are covered but often think they remain a dunghill that has just been "destunk."   Therefore, if all we are is just covered dunghills, each of us must stink as much as the other, right?  So, we have no right to "judge" each other when some of that snow of redemption melts and the stink wafts back out, right?   Instead, the stink, according to these people, is sanctified and it is now OK to be a "stinky saint" mirroring the world because somehow we don't "judge" others that way then.  The logic behind this is flawed however, and here is why - often, those who are on this "do not judge" bandwagon often are possibly engaging in something that they should not be engaging in, and to judge someone else is to expose them for a similar thing.  However, as I shall explain momentarily, that type of thinking has gaps.  This is one reason why it is often interesting to hear these people saying "do not judge" all the time, for what they are really saying is this - "I don't want you to judge me for something I am doing that maybe doesn't fit 'your' view of Christian experience."  I will also get into that shortly as well, as this is a flawed understanding too, but I wanted to set up the background first before moving forward.

I want to tell you a little story to illustrate my first refutation of the above arguments.  Some time ago, a lady who was a devout Christian had a fall upon hard times and ended up out of work for a considerable amount of time.  She (rightly) trusted God, and soon her situation began to turn around.  However, some people in her family went through a similar situation, and although her family was equally faithful and devout, here is what she said to them - "Are you too proud to work at MacDonald's?"  Mind you, the person she was directing this at has a college degree, and has worked too hard to go to MacDonald's for a job, so yes, that was true.  But, the problem was did she have a right to make that judgment about her family members without knowing the full story?   This is what Matthew 1:8 is talking about - this is unjustified judgment, and it was totally inappropriate.  That lady should have remembered a little parable of Jesus about this that is found in Matthew 18:22-35.  In that story, if you recall, a man was indebted to the king for a huge debt of what would be millions of dollars in today's economy, and as the king was getting ready to pronounce judgment on this man for his inability to pay, the man gave a hearfelt plea for mercy, which the king was moved to grant.  However, like an idiot, what does this newly-liberated jerk do?  He goes out, chases down a guy who owes him about $5, and has him thrown in prison!    The king heard about that and was furious, and as a result that punishment was reinstated.  The lady in question should take heed to something like this, because in actuality she is a management-level professional who herself has been out of work for a considerable amount of time, and she is also thinking about selling her house because she may not be able to afford to keep it, yet she so eloquently dispenses this "advice" about MacDonald's on others - in her situation, if this is such an easy answer, she should maybe try that herself!  Of course, in reality, we all know that if MacDonald's is a career choice, something is very wrong (and degreed people don't normally aspire to flip burgers anyway), but that is beside the point.  The point is that this lady chose to judge the situation of another, due to a circumstance they couldn't help, and that is what Jesus spoke against.  That type of presupposed judgmentalism is uncalled for and doesn't do anyone any service.  However, is this the same as showing concern about some things that go on in God's name purposely in many churches?   Let's examine that now.

In the historic teaching of the Church, there are two types of practices and teachings.  One type are called primary teachings, and they are essential to the Church's testimony and are not up for debate or change.  By "teachings" I also am referring to common traditions and practices which have been part of the Church from the beginning.  A good example of something primary is the celebration of the Eucharist - it is always to be celebrated with only wheat, the "fruit of the vine" (grapes), and water, and is only to be administered to the baptized.  So, Dorito's and Pepsi-Cola are not acceptable as Communion species!   Also, for anointing, only olive oil can be used - you do not crismate people with lard or Pennzoil, sorry!   Another practice that is a primary is marriage - it is only between one man and one woman, and should always be viewed by the Christian as a sacramental union.  Therefore, it is not consistent with Church teaching to support things such as "gay marriage," polygamy, or any other deviation of the marriage covenant.  And, another hot one is music - Church music should always be compatible with Church teaching, and aid in the worship of the Church, and thus is set apart for that purpose.  For this reason, "Christian rock" isn't a proper genre for the worship setting.  Whether or not people listen to "Christian rock" in an informal setting is their business, as the Church doesn't really address that specifically except to say that we need to be careful to not encourage sinful lifestyles and behavior (which rock music in general tends to do).  All of these are examples of primaries that should not be messed with in the life of the Church.

There are other things, however, which are called secondary teachings, and on these there is some leeway.  For instance, the mode of administering baptism is a secondary - as long as it is done with water, it is acceptable. Also, as a secondary, new hymnody (so long as it is consistent with Church teaching) is not only allowable, but is also a real thing - gifted people of all generations are inspired by God to write new sacred music all the time, and that is part of the inherent creative ability God gave us, and to use such a gift to glorify his kingdom is not only good, but also commendable.  Other things as well - charismatic gifts, using a keyboard instead of a pipe organ, the office of deaconness, etc. - are all secondaries and are perfectly fine in that they don't compromise essential Church teaching.   But, even with secondaries, they have their time and place.  Some secondaries, for instance, have been in practice before, later dropped, and then revived - the office of deaconness is one such thing - and that is acceptable as well.  It largely depends on the need for them in that particular time for the Church.   That being said, let's talk about "judging" in this context.

There are many people who are part of these contemporary worship services who feel that they should not be "judged" for what they do, yet what they are doing, based on the above discussion, is tampering with primary aspects of the Church's life and teaching they shouldn't mess with.  Yet, if you call such people on that, they will bristle and instantly accuse you of "judging," but is that really the case?   First, if it is a legitimate concern, it is probably so because the Church has ruled on it, and the person expressing the concern is not making the judgment, but rather the Church is - the verse in Matthew 1:8 says nothing about the Church making a judgment of what is or is not a valid practice, and indeed, Christ gives a lot of leeway to His Church to guide and direct its members in that regard. For instance, let's read in Matthew 19:19 about this.   Depending on which Christian denominational tradition you are part of, this could mean a couple of different things.   If you are a Pentecostal, you may have an understanding of this verse as meaning that believers have the right to bind evil spirits and release blessings, but that is not the story or context.  If you are a Roman Catholic, this means to you the authority of Apostolic Succession, specifically the office of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope).  A little closer, but not quite.  The real meaning of this verse is that Jesus imparted a teaching and regulating authority to the Church which endows her with the power to enforce teaching on primary issues (binding) and to allow leeway on secondaries (loosing).  And, it is that context I am addressing this.  So, yes, the Church has the office and power to judge, bestowed by Christ Himself, and in having that authority, those of us who are part of her should be educated enough in the teachings of the Church to uphold what she says and educate others as part of our own individual Christian witness - if we fail, then we are accountable.  Therefore, for the CCM crowd, the Emergents, and others who are making huge efforts to redefine things, let me say this to you - I have the authority to discern that what you may be doing is wrong, but you don't have the authority to change that.  And, this is not my judgment - if you have an issue, familiarize yourself with actual Church teaching and examine it for yourselves.  I personally don't have that authority to judge, and you give me more credit than I deserve - it is the Church you are to take those matters up with.  That, therefore, should dispense all this "do not judge" misunderstanding.

This has been a brief but intense teaching, but let me summarize as follows - it is time that people understand the context of some verses in Scripture before trying to use them to justify their own behavior, and it is important that such Scripture passages be understood in the light of how the Church has traditionally taught.  Matthew 1:8 is one such verse, and hopefully today I have done my own small part to correct misinterpretations.  God bless until next time.