Written by: Rev Nathan Hill
Jesus gives Christians a clear command in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1-3) not to judge one another, lest we too be judged by the same measure. Nevertheless, I must confess that I have found myself sitting in the seat of a judge on a few occasions, feeling almost as though I belonged there. One innocent judgment leads to another and before you know it we are not only judging external things in people’s lives (as if that is okay), but we are also judging unseen things like motives, the condition of their heart, and the secret intentions behind their behavior and attitude.
This form of judgment is especially found between different faith traditions within Christianity and also between those who espouse different styles of worshipping God Almighty. Everyone is a heretic and a hypocrite—except my group of peers and me. If you do not believe me, try a little experiment. Think of your favorite preacher, evangelist, or Christian movement. Then, type the name of this person or movement into a Google search followed by the word “heretic”. The results might surprise you. Go ahead and do it now…I’ll wait.
So, I’ll bet you a Grande Peppermint Hot Chocolate from Starbucks (2% milk, hold the whip) that you just discovered your esteemed preacher, evangelist, or Christian movement is actually walking in heresy. Who knew! Well, apparently those who publish on the web knew, and they were so kind as to leave their thoughts in this public forum to rescue the likes of us who are far too gullible to spiritually discern on our own.
Maybe its just me, but I was shocked to discover that the Christian movement that ordained me for ministry, the movement that I have worked in for a decade, the movement that includes many respected individuals and a fruitful harvest of souls worldwide, the movement that ministered to me…is actually a heretical offshoot from orthodox Christianity. Well that was sure a let down. Talk about a waste of so many years of my life.
I have to say it can be enticing to sit in judgment—we dress it up and call it discernment—of different groups of people. However, I have recently come into a new way of thinking. Think of churches like different flavors of ice cream. We have vanilla ice cream, a staple in our culture. Then there are the chocolate lovers, for those who want something a little more interesting. Of course, we also have the out-in-left-field people who like pecan praline or fig & fresh brown turkey (yes, that flavor exists…Google it!). Its all ice cream because its made from cream, sugar, and flavoring—its just a different flavor. Now, if you take out the cream and insert yogurt you will have frozen yogurt—that’s not ice cream. Likewise, if you substitute ice chips for the cream you will have sorbet—that’s not ice cream either.
When we encounter a church or a group of people who are a little different than us and we are inclined to sit in judgment against them, just ask yourself this: are they just a different flavor, or do they have different ingredients? To be quite honest, when I read the book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament I thought he was a nutcase—certifiable. Laying in the streets for days on end, cooking food over burning dung—that’s just not right! And yet, Ezekiel heard from God. Let that soak in—Ezekiel heard from God. Perhaps his eccentric personality was braver than you and I—he heard from God and obeyed regardless of being labeled a certifiable nutcase. This revelation alone changed the way I view the Christian world around me in a significant way.
So, instead of being quick to judge, lets just be real. There are some flavors you will not like and never will like—but they are still ice cream. Scripture does tell us that there will be those who substitute the truth for a lie—they are not ice cream. However, instead of wasting our precious time and energy judging between the two, how about we just let their own words and the fruit of their own life and ministry condemn them (if indeed they are not ice cream). The book of Psalms tells me that it is actually more satisfying that way and a lot less messy on my end! In the end we might be surprised, or maybe things will turn out just as we expected. Our heart, however, is that thing that will be saved if we stop judging and simply live to honor God.