Friday, February 18, 2005

VFTP: Judging Preachers

I often hear preachers misuse the words “Judge” and “Criticize” as synonyms. Different Bible translations and commentaries even interchange the two words. These words are not synonyms in the English language. Both words have many different meanings depending on the context. A person can and should judge before criticizing, and a person should be careful to judge ideas, concepts, and behaviors, not people; especially not people who are trying to do the will of God. However, the meanings of the two words are not the same.

“Judge”, “judged”, “judging”, and “judges”, are words that are used many times in all translations. “Criticize” is only referenced twice in the NIV. "Judge" appears multiple times just in the book of James which is a critique (criticism) of the behavior of the early Christians. Nowhere in the Bible are we told never to criticize. If we were, the Bible would be contradicting itself since much of what is written in the Bible, from Moses, to the Prophets, to Jesus, to the Apostles, is criticism.

When Jesus called the religious leaders of his day hypocrites, was he not criticizing them? When he called the generation of his time lazy and adulterous, was he not being critical? When he referred to his followers as hard hearted, was that not a criticism? Why then would preachers say that criticism doesn’t belong in the Church?

When a five-year-old criticizes her father, are her words sinful? I don’t think so. Criticism from my five-year-old is some of the sweetest words I ever hear. I never have to guess at what she is telling me. When she criticizes me, I know exactly what I need to change in my behavior, or I know exactly what I need to change in the way she views my behavior. I only wish the adults in my life were as willing to criticize me as my five-year-old.

I keep asking myself; as iron sharpens iron, how can one man sharpen another, without honest criticism and how can sin in our Churches be identified and corrected without criticism? In Proverbs chapter 27, along with the iron sharpens iron verse, there are some other interesting verses. Verse 5 says "Better is open rebuke than hidden love" and verse 6 says "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses". Both of these verses are references to the importance of honest and loving criticism. Verse 21 is also very interesting, "The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives". Together, these three verses indicate that "Praise" and "Kisses" are the true danger in the church. If I were a preacher, I would make the Biblical case that we need to be suspicious of "Praise" and we need to embrace and encourage "Criticism" and critical thinking.

It is a mystery to me why so many good Pastors and good men believe such a bad and wrong concept. The belief that people should not criticize is a concept from Communism, not a concept from the Bible or orthodox Christianity. It is the totalitarian and insecure leaders who want to avoid and not allow criticism. Great leaders surround themselves with others who are constantly challenging their beliefs and actions. It is the poor leaders who surround themselves with "yes men" who are not allowed to criticize.

It doesn’t seem to me like very many Churches are prepared for the challenges of the 21 century. I don’t see how these Churches will ever be prepared for the future until everyone has the freedom to criticize and correct what is wrong.


Mike said...


Judging is a biblical concept generally used in unbiblical ways.

The Greek word itself has a wide range of meanings, in some places being the equivalent of evaluating while at other points it is pronouncing judgment or condemnation. Context, as usual, determines the meaning.

Jesus states a dual principle of judging: if we don't judge others, we won't be judged; the standard we use in judging will be used to judge us.

Paul states that we should not judge those outside the church but should most certainly judge those within. He seems to be talking about both discernment and passing judgment.

The Christian community seems to be quick to pass judgment on non-Christians, the very thing Paul forbids in 1 Co 5.12-13. And we are often too slow to discipline - i.e., judge - those within our local church.

You are right about the need for criticism: it is the only way for the church to self-correct and stay on course. The Christian life, both corporately and individually, is like flying an airplane: one has to continually make corrections in order to keep headed in the right direction.

Derek Simmons said...

Thanks for the post on the craziness of the way Christians read and react to "judging." Most of the time when the Bible is harsh on judging it is talking about "condemnation." [When I'd figured out what the little "1" next to "Comment" on your blogsite meant--Mike had already said better part of what I thought needed to be said.]

We in the church are so afraid of being labeled "judgmental" that we fail to follow Scripture and exercise discernment or admonish brothers and sisters even in love.

I am old enough to remember when "discrimination" was a virtue and "prejudice" could mean something other than--not better than-- "racial animus." But you have to be old to "get" that.

Today we in the Church are too damned "nice" to each other. We unthinkingly reflect our Culture's value of "do your own thing". That value is supported by a belief that by refusing to "criticize" others, by not "scratching" someone else's "nice" veneer, others will allow our veneer to continue to shine. Unscratched. And, by the way, also unrevealing of our true nature. What have we to hide? That we're flawed? Struggling? Dependent on Christ and not our own self?

Dana Carvey didn't make a living off his "Church Lady" because nobody recognized her.


Ken said...

I hope I don't repeat myself too much. I agree with the comments about the definition of judging and criticizing. I would say, however, that it is definitely NOT the key to the future growth of the church. The key to the growth of the body is found in Ephesians 4:11ff (New American Standard Bible):

"11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.

"14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love."

It is in the body working to encourage and edify its members until we come to a unity of purpose (not a sameness of doctrine) that is the key to the future. Criticism is to be used sparingly--open, frank discussion in love is to be encouraged.

Teresa said...

I guess you all have said it all and I don't need to comment, but to say AMEN!