Christianity is often seen as a personal and private relationship between the believer and God, a relationship developed through faith in Jesus. And that is true–or at least part of the truth. But Christianity is also a faith where the private and personal relationship with God is to be expressed in community. We are called to love each other as Christ loved us (John 14.34-35) and even more, our ability to relate to each other shows the reality of our private and personal relationship with God. (1 John 4.20-21)
So Christianity is a faith in which the community pays a very important part. When we are in relationship with God through Christ, we are also called to be in relationship with other believers through Christ as well. And because we are all human and all at different stages of our growth in faith, our Christian communities are not always going to be harmonious places where everything is perfect.
There are going to be times when someone within the community goes against the standards of the community or of God. There are going to be people within the community whose words or actions are not only troubling but move into the unacceptable. Sometimes, because of the status of the individual in the community or the nature of the community, the unacceptable is ignored, overlooked or downplayed.
But there are times when it must be dealt with. We need to make a judgement call. In fact, Jesus calls on believers to be willing to police the community. He even gives us a process to use for those occasions when someone within the community of believers goes outside the lines. It is found in Matthew 18.15-17. Briefly, Jesus gives a four step process to deal with sins committed within the community: a private attempt at reconciliation; a small group attempt at the same thing; having the church as a whole deal with the issue and of all that fails, treating the offender as a pagan or tax collector. This last step, by the way, probably indicates that we begin treating the person with even more love and concern than we have been showing, based on how Jesus relates to tax collectors and pagans.
The point of this is to say that we believers are called upon to pass judgement on people within our community of believers. I have sometimes tried to make this sound less pointed by saying that we are to evaluate each other; support each other; enable each other or some other nice sounding phrase but really, this passage calls us as believers to judge each other and correct each other.
And it is not an isolated concept. We run into a similar sentiment in Galatians 6.1,”Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” NIV. No matter how we spin the passage, it requires believers to make judgements about the behaviour of other believers. We are called to look at others and decide if their behaviour, words and attitudes are within the acceptable bounds of the Christian faith. And then, we are called to correct those whom we judge to have crossed the line into the unacceptable.
Certainly, the Scriptures show us that correction–and presumably the judging–are to be done in an orderly way and “gently”. But the evaluation or judging is to be done. It is part of the nature of the Christian community–we help each other grow and develop in faith. At least some of the time, that help towards growth and development will be the result of a judgement call by some other member of the community. Neither Jesus nor Paul is dealing with self-reporting here. They are both calling on members of the Christian community to become aware of and concerned with the lives of the rest of the community partly through making judgements as to the rightness and wrongness of the behaviour, words or attitudes of other community members.
This has the potential for disaster, which is probably why Christian communities prefer one of two approaches to applying these passages. Some, perhaps the majority, prefer to ignore these words, citing the importance of not judging. Others jump in with both feet and create a coercive and damaging community that generally takes itself in directions that neither Paul nor Jesus envisioned with their words.
Fortunately, there is a way to care for and even judge each other in the community in a way that respects both the Scripture and those involved–and we looked at that in the next post. Sorry about that–I mixed up the posting dates on the posts.
May the peace of God be with you.