Biblical Discernment or Judgmentalism Author:
Russ Wise Date:10/17/2006 10:03:19 PM
An Analysis of Tolerance in the Christian’s Life
It happened again – I have been accused of being judgmental. The issue that needs our attention is the idea that we are not to judge others, especially the brethren, but is this idea biblical or is there more that we should consider. A primary concern for the body of believers is that syncretism has invaded the church. Many of those who claim Christianity as their world view do not hold to a thoroughly biblical view. We now live in a society that does not honor truth in an absolute form. Actually, the spirit of this age rejects absolutes.
The new battle cry for the revisionist is tolerance and non-judgmentalism. This battle cry – when it is properly understood is, in reality, a cry against the idea of exclusiveness and as a result becomes a cry for inclusiveness and universalism. In other words, all religious beliefs are equally valid and equally true. It would be judgmental to assert one religious expression over another. The greatest spiritual maturity that one can gain is to be open and tolerant of all ideas and beliefs. In essence, the question that begs an answer is this: can there be one true God and if so, how can I best know Him?
Another way of understanding this dilemma within the church is to recognize the influence of postmodernism as the predominant world view in our day. Postmodernism dictates that there is no one truth, but many possibilities. Truth is relative rather than fixed or absolute. The postmodernist believes that a particular truth cannot be equally true for all individuals, but that one truth is as valid as another. Therefore, truth is known by one’s experience or personal construct rather than by a universal truism. The Law of Gravity comes to mind as an example! We can deny it exists, but the affect of our abusing it will result in a negative outcome.
In response, we must ask ourselves the following – do we find the true God by seeking the one that best meets our needs? Or do we find the God that best meets our needs by first seeking the true God?1 Can we know the one true and only God or is God unknowable?
C. S. Lewis made this observation regarding truth. “. . . comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: If you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth – only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.”2
A “pick and choose” mentality leads one to a standard that is founded on self-fulfillment rather than a belief system that provides comfort and meaning. Charles Colson in his article Salad-Bar Christianity put it this way, “the church has lost the capacity to judge between good and evil, truth and falsehood.”3 Now – back to our question regarding the biblical nature of criticism. The concern over intolerance or improper judgment comes in the form of a judgment itself. The comment often is received as follows: Jesus said it is wrong to judge, shame on you! or it might look like this, criticism is unloving and ultimately divides the fellowship – how dare you! As a Christian, Jesus is truly our example. He did speak against being judgmental. However, his admonition was that we not judge by mere appearances, but that our judgments are made righteously.4
In other words, we are not to make judgments based on a surface understanding of an issue or a person, but our judgments are to be made with adequate investigation and biblical discernment.5 Another important aspect of applying proper judgment is to recognize that when an issue is considered to be a non-essential to salvation and does not undermine a cardinal doctrine of the faith we are to be tolerant and accepting of others interpretations or views. It is imperative that every believer develop the ability to rightly discern the truth by rightly understanding the Scripture. By this, I mean that we are not to render our personal interpretation, but rather, use the Scripture to shed further light on itself.
Heresy and false teaching abound in our day. We do not have to look far to see its impact. False teaching is rampant in the church and Christians must correctly recognize it when they encounter new revelation. The recognition of false teaching comes with correct biblical understanding and is easily detected by an intimate acquaintance with the Scripture. Biblical criticism opens the door to true safeguards regarding our faith. We cannot accept just any new spiritual idea that beckons us on our way to a perceived truth.
The Apostle Paul was no exception. The Bereans put Paul’s teachings to the test and Scripture commands us to likewise test all things.6 Deuteronomy 13:1-5 offers the believer a clear understanding that false teachings and sometimes false teachers, on occasion, may arise within the body of the faithful – even from the pulpit.
The Apostle Paul was not timid or cowered in naming those who would deceitfully introduce false teachings into the body of believers.7 Jesus himself warned us against those who would be ungrateful and ultimately turn and attack us.8 He later judged those who were false prophets by calling them wolves in sheep’s clothing and gave us the correct understanding that there would be those in the body of Christ who would attempt to deceive us. As Christians we are given the high duty to be wholly resolute in our defense of the Scripture.9 We must be vigilant in our biblical interpretation, exhort sound doctrine, and stand ready to refute those who contradict or oppose it.10
Tolerance is often demanded when we find that our understanding of “truth” is being questioned. Tolerance has come to mean acceptance. Tolerance really implies a close relationship with truth rather than the acceptance of all views. Tolerance, in reality, is not the acceptance of all ideas – but how much error one is willing to accept in relationship to the standard.
The true application of tolerance in one’s life is the acceptance of the individual – not necessarily his or her position or belief on a given subject, but our acceptance of those with whom we may disagree. As Christians, we are to esteem others whether we agree with them or not. We are to love them as Christ loves them. However, if their teachings seem contradictory to Scripture we are to test them and if they are found to be false we are then compelled to expose the falsity of what they teach.
Truth cannot be voted on. It cannot be based on experience alone. Truth is based on objective reality – it has an absolute source. God is the Author of all Truth and it stands as such regardless of our position or desire. Truth is true – even if no one knows it. Truth is true – even if no one agrees with it. Truth is true – whether anyone follows it. Truth is true – even if no one fully understands it. Truth is grounded in God and Him alone.
I offer the above without reservation. We must stand for the Truth of Scripture, unless we fall for the deception of the enemy. We cannot allow false teaching to penetrate the body of believers – on any level. To do so would mean that we had turned away from the truth for which the Apostles gave their lives. Are we to be rendered ineffective by the liar and the father of lies? We either stand for God’s Truth as revealed in the Scriptures or we cannot stand at all. In the end, we must ask ourselves this question: if Scripture is not the final authority – what is? Is it our reason, our experience, or is it some charismatic leader who has distorted the Truth of Scripture?
3.Charles Colson, Salad-Bar Christianity, Christianity Today, August 7, 2000, p. 80.
6.Acts , 1 Thess. 5:21-22.
7.2 Tim. 2:15-19.
8.Matthew 7:6, 15.
9.1 Peter 3:15-16.
10.Titus 1:9, Acts 17:23-29, Rom. .
It is imperative for the Christian to judge righteously and to do so with full confidence knowing that they have correctly applied the Scripture in their judgment. We are to be tolerant when we are dealing with issues deemed as non-essential to the Christian faith, but when issues are related to one's salvation or are related to the cardinal doctrines of the faith we must take a stand for Truth as it is revealed in Scripture.