The Problem with Judgementalism
The nature of Judgementalism
The Timing in Judgmentalism
The Consequences of Judgementalism
The church at Corinth was a troubled fellowship. After Paul’s initial visit on his second missionary journey, the Corinthian Christians found it difficult to establish a ministry of their own without controversies and open sin among the brethren. Paul wrote letters to the Church regarding some of the issues. The letter called 1 Corinthians was preceded by at least one severe letter.[i] In chapter 4 of 1 Corinthians, he addressed the problem of judgementalism.
While he was teaching at Ephesus, news arrived that the problems had increased and were threatening the fabric of the church itself. The fellowship had not heeded his instructions in the earlier correspondence. Sharp divisions were taking place. Individuals were choosing sides. Some chose to follow Paul, the apostle. Some Apollos, the gifted orator. Some Peter, the strong-willed fisherman. Meanwhile another group claimed to follow Christ. Sometimes the orthodox group can be the most cantankerous.
In his salutation, Paul describes his vision of what church is about and how what was taking place at Corinth was contrary to that vision. The church was:
the church of God, which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours[ii]
that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you,[iii]
As a church, they had all they needed for an effective ministry in that godless city. Instead, they were bickering. Their behavior was a poor testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They had become heretics in the biblical sense of the term.
The Greek term translated heretic in the KJV is hairetikos. It refers to “causing division by a party spirit, factious”[v] It is doing and saying even the truth in order to gain a following. W. E. Vine defines the cognate, heresy (hairesis):
(It) denotes (a) "a choosing, choice" (from haireomai, "to choose"); then, "that which is chosen," and hence, "an opinion," especially a self-willed opinion, which is substituted for submission to the power of truth, and leads to division and the formation of sects, Gal 5:20 (marg., "parties"); such erroneous opinions are frequently the outcome of personal preference or the prospect of advantage; see 2 Peter 2:1, where "destructive" (RV) signifies leading to ruin; some assign even this to (b); in the papyri the prevalent meaning is "choice" (Moulton and Milligan, Vocab.); (b) "a sect"; this secondary meaning, resulting from (a), is the dominating significance in the NT, Acts 5:17; 15:5; 24:5,14; 26:5; 28:22; "heresies" in 1 Cor 11:19.[vi]
In chapter 2, Paul describes his ministry among them on his first visit:
I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.[vii]
Paul’s teaching was the wisdom of God rather than the wisdom of men. It was the power of the Holy Spirit that made the difference. This wisdom is not available to those who are soulish (psuchikos), thinking only from a human perspective. The soulish man does not have the wisdom of God and therefore, is not able to examine and determine the truth (anakrino). In other words, the Corinthian believers were not judging correctly.
In chapter 3, Paul continues to lay the foundation for what he will say in chapter 4. Even though they had “the mind of Christ,”[viii] they were thinking and acting “like mere men,”[ix] who did not have the Holy Spirit. How could they possibly judge the heart of those who taught them?
He concludes chapter 3:
“So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.”[x]
The problem of Judgementalism
Christians tend to be judgmental. Anyone who has served as a pastor for any length of time knows this. In my fifty plus years of pastoral ministry, I lost count of the number of times I was called before a board of the church I served or a jury of my peers, to be judged by them. It is hard to forget the sting of lies, half-truths, and rebukes. Of being accused of things I did not do or say or attributing attitudes and actions to motives I never had. I can understand the anguish of the apostle as he was forced to defend himself over and over throughout 1 Corinthians.
Such behavior ruins the ministry of the gospel, shipwrecks younger believers, discourages God’s leaders and drives countless trained and gifted individuals from the ministry. In 2020, in a post on my website, I provided a link to statics provided by The Fuller Institute, George Barna, Lifeway, Schaeffer Institute of Leadership Development, and Pastoral Care Inc. [see].
While statistics can be manipulated and differing conclusions drawn, the statistics on that website are disheartening. How can the church be effective in a fallen world if it acts like the fallen world? The early church, particularly the church at Corinth, was rife with problems. The first, and most important, was judgementalism.
Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.[xi]
Unless they learned to come together and moved forward with one mind, they would not be able to bring glory to God the Father as the spiritual body of His Son, Jesus Christ. Believers are called of God to be discerning, not judgmental.
The nature of Judgementalism
Jesus warned His disciples regarding judging in the familiar verse, “Do not judge lest you be judged.”[xii] This is often quoted out of context as prohibiting making any judgments regarding others. In its context, it forbids judging incorrectly. The negative particle translated “not” is conditional.
Jesus went on to explain:
For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.[xiii]
Judgementalism is using the wrong standard for judging, making judgments without the necessary information to judge accurately, judging when a judgment is not ours to make, or judging with wrong motives. In conflict resolution, this is called attribution. We attribute to another person or persons motives without substantiation.
In Postmodernism, Cancel Culture has become the norm. This is when an individual or group decides that they know what is true regardless of the facts. The validity of words and actions are determined by the one judging not by the one who is being judged. In this way, the person being judged can be cancelled. Freedom of thought and expression is illuminated. Cancel Culture is the ultimate judgementalism.
This was happening at Corinth. In order to support one individual over another, false charges were being leveled. Previous conclusions regarding Paul’s ministry were being set aside in support of one’s party affiliation.
Beginning in chapter 4 verse 1, Paul lays out the facts.
Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.[xiv]
In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.[xv]
In Paul’s day, a steward (oikonomos) was the overseer or manager of the household. He was a slave entrusted with all that his master owned including his family. To be untrustworthy was to receive harsh punishment, dismissal, and sometimes death. If Paul was a steward of the mysteries of God and the accusations lodged against him were true, then he was an untrustworthy steward and would be judged by God. To the Romans, Paul asks, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls.”[xvi]
So when Paul states, “But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself;”[xvii] he was not dismissing all judgment of himself. He was making a comparison between human judgment and God’s judgment. Their judgment, and even his own, was minuscule by comparison. Even when he examined himself, he did not claim to be above criticism properly rendered. This included his own assessment.
The Timing in Judgementalism
Next, Paul addresses the timing of judgment. If God’s judgment is infinitely more important than human judgment, when will God’s judgment take place? In one simple statement, Paul draws the obvious conclusion:
Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God.[xviii]
At any point in our lifetime, the last chapter has not been written. What we know or think we know might be incorrect, only part of the story, or as in modern parlance, spin. To draw conclusions based upon false or misleading facts is judgementalism. To draw conclusions when it is not our place to do so or before the time is also judgementalism.
The Consequences of Judgementalism
In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addressed the problem of eating food sacrificed to idols. This was a major problem in that day because almost everything bought and sold in the marketplace was leftovers from heathen sacrifices. It was a major sticking point for the judgmental Christians at Corinth. Paul wrote:
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.[xix]
Simply stated, judgementalism is arrogance. The Corinthian church was rife with arrogant people who placed themselves above others, great men like Paul, Apollos, and Peter.
James in his epistle to the early church wrote, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”[xx] Peter expresses the same in his first epistle. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.”[xxi] So we have many Christians today who want God to exalt them by making themselves humble through their own efforts. Both texts are mistranslated suggesting that humility is an action taken by the one seeking to be exalted. It is mistranslated because the grammar of the verb is Aorist Passive Imperative. The Passive Voice means that the subject of the verb is being acted upon, not doing the action.[xxii] The Imperative is permissive rather than causative. A better translation would be, “Allow yourselves to be humble,” or “recognize yourselves as humble.”
The arrogant, judgmental person is often humble in his own eyes as he looks down his nose at the one he is judging. Recall the parable of the publican and the sinner.
And He also told this parable to certain ones who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted."[xxiii]
A similar clarification is needed here. The grammatical construction of “everyone who exalts himself” is Active Voice, meaning that the subject is doing the action. The grammatical construction of “he who humbles himself” is Passive Voice, meaning that the subject is being acted upon. Hence the better translation would be, everyone who exalts himself...he who is humbled by his circumstances.”
The judgmental person is not only arrogant because of what he thinks he knows; he is arrogant because he places his judgment of himself above the judgment of God. Paul wrote,
“For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”[xxiv]
Paul adds an additional dimension to the judgmental person in 4:6-8. A judgmental person considers himself to be superior to those he is judging. Consequently it is his right to judge.
Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and I would indeed that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you.[xxv]
An individual who genuinely has the right to judge another, has power over that other person. It may be merely the power of influence, but it is power none the less.
"To the Nth Degree" is a metaphor used to describe the upper limits of a sequence. It describes exponential amplification or the amount of the final multiplicated number.[xxvi] This is a good description of what is taking place in this Postmodern era of “wokeism,” Critical Race Theory, and Cancel Culture. Judgementalism, hiding under the guise of critical thinking, is the tool of choice for gaining influence and power in the world. It is destructive wherever it is employed.
In an article on thechristianpost.com website titled, Wokeism is far more dangerous than secularism, Hedieh Mirahmadi writes:
Wokeism, which some call the "new" religion of our day, is entirely incompatible with Christian values and, left unchecked, will undermine the foundation of American society. If that sounds hyperbolic, we fail to acknowledge that its very purpose is to do just that.
Originating from Critical Theory, wokeism challenges existing power structures and seeks to dismantle what we see as universal truths. The U.S. is a nation shaped by the principle that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". Since the founding fathers were Christians, "the inalienable rights from the Creator" can be further expanded to include God's vision for man and society as told in the Bible:
I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality and to do nothing out of favoritism. 1 Timothy 5:21
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. James 2:8-9[xxvii]
It is no hyperbole to see what is taking place today in society in light of what was occurring at Corinth in Paul’s day. The flesh, whether of unregenerate man or regenerate man, seems to thrive on gaining power and influence. In its infancy, it appears to be innocent and harmless. But it has never been innocent and harmless. It has always been destructive. I have observed churches struggle and die from judgementalism. I have even seen individuals whose faith was destroyed and in at least one instance, the person died a premature death because of false judgments being made.
Judgementalism has no place among God’s people. We need to recognize it for what it is. It is an evil poison that kills life rather than promotes it.
[i] 1 Cor 5:9-11.
[ii] 1 Cor 1:2.
[iii] 1 Cor 1:5-6.
[iv] 1 Cor 1:7.
[v] Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.
[vii] 1 Cor 2:1-5.
[viii] 1 Cor 2:16.
[ix] 1 Cor 3:3-4.
[x] 1 Cor 3:21-23.
[xi] 1 Cor 1:10.
[xii] Matt 7:1.
[xiii] Matt 7:2-5.
[xiv] 1 Cor 4:1.
[xv] 1 Cor 4:2.
[xvi] Rom 14:4.
[xvii] 1 Cor 4:3.
[xviii] 1 Cor 4:5.
[xix] 1 Cor 8:1.
[xx] Jas 4:10.
[xxi] 1 Pe 5:6
[xxii] Cf. D. B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, (Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 440-441, 489-491.
[xxiii] Lk 18:9-14.
[xxiv] 1 Cor 4:4.
[xxv] 1 Cor 4:6-8.