In contrast, I want to describe the other way of doing church. It is a kingdom of religion. It’s where we eat and drink. It’s where we draw sharp lines in the sand and say, thou shalt not cross over this line. It’s where gray areas are elevated to the level of moral absolutes. And the most disturbing part about a kingdom of eating and drinking is that it breeds a judgmental spirit. And where there is a judgmental spirit, unity is impossible.
The Bible is clear — God expects His church to be united.
Rom 14:19 — Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Some critics say, why is the church of God divided, why are there so many denominations? That’s a legitimate criticism. But how are we to apply this Scripture? If you apply this to the universal church, then we should all become Catholic. Because that’s what catholic means — universal. One catholic or universal church. Catholics believe this to be the case, that we, as Protestants, are wandering brethren who need to repent and come home. And at the time that Paul wrote this, there was only one universal church.
But we have to remember that each of the New Testament epistles were letters written to specific church communities. And each of them suffered a unique problem. Rome had this split over Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians over matters of food and drink. Corinth had divisions over leadership. The Galatian church was fractured due to differing views on circumcision. What are we to make of this? Considering these facts, I think we have to make a distinction between doctrine and relationships. In terms of doctrine, whether you are a Catholic or a Baptist or a Presbyterian, we have complete unity when it comes to the gospel. We have unity in terms of the commandment to love God and to love neighbor and to fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. But in terms of relationships, we are called to have unity in a specific church context. Because real unity in relationships take proximity and commitment.
I can be one in heart and spirit with Jackie only because I committed to her. And by committing to her, I was saying “no” to all other potential spouses from that point forward. And that unity gets played out in close proximity. We live together, we see each other every day. Proximity and commitment. That’s unity in terms of relationships.
What if I didn’t commit to Jackie and we just co-habitated, we were not married but we lived together. And I kept my options open because what if I can get a better catch by prolonging the decision? If I thought this way, you can’t say we are unified in love. What if I got married, but I moved to another country because of my job and I visited Jackie once every few years? Then, I don’t think we would be very close. Proximity and commitment are the ingredients for unity within the context of a local church.
I can have unity in terms of doctrine with other pastors in the LA area. I am part of the Gospel Coalition chapter in Los Angeles and in order to gain entry to that group, I had to sign a confession of faith. And the members of that group want to uphold a certain theological position so you can’t casually join this group. To get accepted, I was grilled. I had to be interviewed by a founding member of the steering committee several times over several months and we had to work through some issues that I had no clear position on simply because I hadn’t thought through them fully. So that is unity on one level — doctrine. And this kind of unity does not require much proximity nor relationship. For the Gospel Coalition, our goal is to have bi-monthly meetings, some one on one dinners to encourage each other and build friendships. That’s one tier of unity centered around doctrine. But the unity in the Bible runs much deeper and it is reserved for those who commit to one another and live out their faith in close proximity with one another. This is why unity at a local church is so important.
Rom 14:19 — 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
Peace and mutual edification. Make every effort to do what leads to peace. Peace, if you recall, is not simply the absence of conflict. Peace connotes wholeness. So making every effort to make yourself and your fellow brother and sister whom you have committed to whole, mature, complete. This is the concept of peace. Shalom.
Mutual edification has a very similar meaning. That means you are edified, you are built up. That’s half of it. The other half is to do your part to build up or edify someone else. Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to MUTUAL edification where 2 or more parties benefit. Are you making every effort to see a Christ-like character formed in your fellow brother and sister? Are you making every effort to see your fellow brother or sister grow in compassion or overcome an addiction? That takes commitment. And a lot of hard work and time. But God commands us to make EVERY effort. Not just those to whom you get along with, or click with. But everyone that God brings into your life, esp. for us, those God brings to this church.
Unity is more than just having the same doctrine. It’s about making every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification in committed relationships that are in close proximity.
Why is unity hard? Because we are sinful and we don’t make much effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. Rather than exert our effort in peace and mutual edification, many times, we prefer to exert our effort in being religious. We prefer a kingdom of eating and drinking. We prefer rules and punishment and having others conform to our way of doing religion. Because it’s easier to live this way. It’s much harder to live in a way that seeks to build up my fellow brother or sister in the Lord.
We have to be careful of being or becoming a legalistic church. This is the part of the message that I struggled with the most. And I want to be careful how I say it. If we treat the kingdom of God like a religion where you can eat this but not eat that, you can do this but you can’t do that, then we are going to devour one another. That kind of religious, self-righteous mindset is a breeding ground for a judgmental spirit. Of course, we have to be biblical. Adultery is a moral sin. It’s indisputable. That’s not an issue where you can decide to be on the pro-adultery side. But too many times, don’t we take issues that reside in the moral gray area – and I say moral gray area because Scripture does not offer clear instruction on how we should live regarding many issues — or issues that are peripheral, meaning they are not that essential, and we beat others over the head with the hammer of judgment concerning these things.
I want to spend the next few moments dissecting a person with a judgmental spirit. The book, UnChristian, cites that 80% people outside the church view Christians as judgmental and hypocritical. That’s a pretty high number. And perhaps a more shocking number is that 50% of Christians feel that other Christians are the same way. This is people like you and me, we think that half of us are judgmental and hypocritical.
We are all judgmental to some degree. You look at me and you might think, I’m slow, I don’t look athletic, whatever. Then, we play basketball and I light you up. And it boggles the mind and you wonder, how can that guy score so many points in basketball? It doesn’t make sense. Because you look at me and you make a snap judgment.
We look at someone and purely on the basis of their appearance, don’t we make instant judgments? He’s obese. I don’t want him to be on my team. Oh, that person looks stuck up. That girl doesn’t look intelligent. He’s short so I don’t think he’ll make a good manager in our company. We pass judgment all the time.
What happens when we bring this judgmental spirit into the church? It destroys our unity. You can’t be close to a person that you are judgmental toward. At the core, a judgmental person is a person who thinks he is right and the other person is wrong. Or that my way is better than yours. Or my assessment of the situation or another person is the best assessment. Isn’t that what it means to be judgmental? To be judgmental is to form a judgment about another person. And of course, we all give ourselves an incredible benefit of the doubt. Others might be biased, but ME, I am totally unbiased and fair. Therefore, my judgment is trustworthy. We are very sure when it comes to our judgments.
Jerry Bridges, whom I mentioned earlier, recently came out with a book entitled, Respectable Sins. And in an interview on Focus on the Family a couple of weeks ago, he was asked, what is the number one sin in evangelical churches today? His answer: gossip. And Bridges distinguishes between speaking in prayerful concern for another person with merely gossipping about another person. Either we can share something about another person and do it correctly, redemptively, if our intention is to pray for that person and we actually do pray for that person. OR, we can share something, maybe with an intention to pray but we don’t end up praying for that person. We share things about some third party with our friend, and as Christians, there is this unspoken understanding that I share these things out of concern so that we can pray for that person. But do we actually pray for that person afterward? That’s an important distinction — intending to pray and actually praying for someone, there’s a world of difference. If you don’t pray for that person, then it is merely gossip.
How is this connected to being judgmental? What happens when you have a judgmental person? How does that person’s criticisms come out? Through gossip. The criticisms get vocalized. Did you hear what so and so said? No, you don’t say. Yeah, I can’t believe it. I totally agree with you. Or, did you see what she did? Yeah, how could she? Judgmental people perpetuate their judgments through gossip. And these seemingly harmless words spread like wildfire throughout the church.
Factions form. And these opposing factions gossip about one another. It is human nature to gossip. In general, you feel closer the more vulnerable or juicier the things that you share with a friend are concerning another person. The greater the secret, the closer we feel to the person with whom we shared that secret, never mind that it is coming at another person’s expense. It’s like relational currency — I give you this information about so and so in order to feel closer to you. It’s twisted. But it’s rampant in the church and we gloss over it because borrowing from Jerry Bridges, it is a “respectable” sin. We think it’s not in the same category as pornography or adultery. Those are the real, shameful sins. Gossip? What’s the big deal?
It is a big deal. Being judgmental and vocalizing it through gossip are sins that tear churches apart. And the verses about carrying others burdens and loving one another go out the window because you can’t be close to a person that you are judgmental toward. You just can’t.
What happens when 2 judgmental people collide? Sparks fly. And normally, a judgmental spirit goes hand in hand with anger. There is no empathy, no sympathy, no compassion for the other person, there’s no serving or humbling, the dominant attitude is being judgmental and the dominant emotion is anger or annoyance.
Take for example a difficult marriage. The saddest thing that happens in a difficult marriage is that each spouse views the other through the lens of judgment. Your spouse might do a hundred things right but you don’t even notice them. But if they do one thing wrong, then all of this righteous indignation wells up from inside of you and that one wrong thing is all you can see. And a fight breaks out, there she goes again, why are you always like that? How come you never… fill in the blank. Judgment and anger. This is what happens on an individual, person-to-person level.