There are some interesting but often neglected verses in one of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside…” (1 Corinthians 5:12, 13 NIV).
Unfortunately today, the church seems to suffer from judgment dyslexia; we give ourselves the bye, while pointing accusing fingers at those outside the church.
The result of such behavior is predictable — those outside fight back. They call those inside the church hypocrites, while giving themselves a bye for their own double standards.
It is not my purpose here to judge those outside for their behavior. As a matter of fact, we are reminded in John 3:17 that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17 NIV).
So why is it that so many of His followers seem to think that it is our task or responsibility to do what even Jesus did not do? The Scripture says that it is the role of God’s Spirit to convict the world of sin (see John 16:8) not the role of the church.
Yet, too often it seems that many who claim to follow Christ not only assume this role, but relish it. And while I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, I bet I’m safe in assuming some reading these words are already crafting their refutation of what I just wrote.
Let’s put aside our tradition for a minute and be honest: how has confrontation, criticism and conviction worked for us over the years? Has it drawn people to us or driven them from us?
More importantly, has it drawn them to Christ or alienated them from Him? Has telling people “the Bible says” resulted in converting them to our views or convincing them that we are wrong, backward, and out of touch?
Don’t misunderstand me: I am not for a minute suggesting that we abandon our beliefs or compromise our standards. What I am saying, however, is that we are foolish to think that we can coerce people who don’t share our views by ridicule and confrontation.
In a society that pretty much has totally rejected the authority of Scripture, that questions religious views in general, thinks God immoral when a plane crashes and children die, but think that it’s their moral right to have an abortion, such people are not going to be won by confrontation and condemnation, but by compassion and understanding.
We in the church need to reserve our judgment for those inside the church who are not acting as believers should act, and stop judging those outside the church. According to Paul, the judgment of outsiders is God’s responsibility, not ours.
Steven Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C., reminds us, “If you’re a follower of Jesus, keep in mind you’re working for the defense — not the prosecution.”
When the church starts policing her own (that is, those inside her walls) and stops trying to set policy for those who are not her own (those outside her walls), her message will become more believable to those outside and, in my opinion, more compelling.
Maybe that’s why Paul told the people of his day to act this way, dealing honestly with the sin within their walls, and trusting God to deal with the sin outside their walls. And maybe, just maybe, if we who claim to be Christ followers today began to get this right, we would find our voice once again, and our message would once again be heard.
John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. For more information, visit the Gateway Web site at www.gatewaycommunity.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.