Wednesday, January 21, 2009

To judge or not?

    We have been taught our whole lives that we should not judge others. One of the main Bible passages that have supported this view is from Matthew 7:1-5, "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged..." (NRSV). Many Christians believe that it is wrong to "judge others." Many believe that we are not permitted to judge others.
    But, in my interpretation of Scripture, not only is judging permissible, it is our scriptural responsibility. No person's teachings are above sound judgment-particularly those of influencial leaders. According to the Bible, authority and accountability go hand in hand  This is alluded to in Luke 12:48. The more and greater the responsibility one holds, the greater the accountability ( James 3:1).
    Moreover, while Jesus warned followers not to judge self-righteously, he also instructed them to make judgments based on proper standards (John 7:24). In the context of the often misquoted command by Jesus to "judge not, or you too will be judged," Jesus urges us to judge false prophets, whose behavior and teachings may lead some people astray (Matthew 7:15-20). Therefore, while Christians are commanded not to judge hypocritically, we are nonetheless called to judge.
    But that must a fine balancing act. Let us not be hypocritical in our judging but let it be with love and good will. In a very surprising book, UnChristian, by David Kinnaman of the Barna Research Group,the following information is revealed: "Nearly nine out of teen young outsiders (87 percent) said that the term judgmental accurately describes present-day Christianity."  Many young people perceive Christianity as being judgmental. That is a shocking and disturbing statistic. This negative perception must be reversed. We must love one another as Jesus loved us!
    The way we react to people and their life circumstances is also a measure of our spiritual maturity. As Christians, full of grace and love, we should be very careful in the ways that we convey the priorities of a Christian. I think at times as Christians we are far more concerned with being right than being righteous.
    We ALL are works in progress. Not one of us is perfect. Some sin is more visible than others, but we all do it. I have no right to harshly judge anyone, because I am just like them! We all need to keep our church doors open, our minds open, and our hearts open as we seek to find our unchurched and dechurched friends and neighbors.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

I am offended!

"You have a constitutional right not to be offended!"

Or so some believe.

    When did we get to the point in our culture and history when we "gained" the right not to be offended? This new and unprecedented "right" is currently the central focus of cultural, procedural, and legal concerns in many different avenues- this supposed right not to be offended. The risk of being offended is merely part of what it means to live in a diverse culture that honors free speech. A right to free speech means a right to offdend, otherwise the right would need no protection.
    Christian philosopher Paul Helm sqid, "People have always been upset by insensitivity and negligence, but the profile of offendedness, understood in this modern sense, is being immeasurably heightened. The right to never be offended, never to suffer feelings of hurt or shame, is being touted and promoted both by the media and by the government and interest in it is being continually excited." Thus, "Claims to be hurt or shamed are noticed. They are likely to be rewarded."
    The very idea of civil society assumes they very real possibility that individuals may at any time be offended by another member of the community. Civilization thrives when individuals and groups seek to minimize unnecessary offendedness, while realizing that some degree of real or perceived offendedness is the cost the society must pay for the right to enjoy the free exchange of ideas and speech.
    But how does this affect Christians? Given our mandate by Jesus to share the Gospel and to speak publicly about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, all believers must understand a particular responsibility to protect free speech and to resist the culture of offendedness that threatens to shut down all public discourse and convesation. But the other side of the coin is this: the right for Christians to speak publicly about Jesus Christ necessarily means that adherents of other belief systems will also have that same right to present their truth claims in a public setting. This is the cost of religious freedom.
    Salman Rusdie, the author of The Satanic Verses, said "The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offened or insulted. We need to make a very fundamental decision and be finished with this discourse: Do we want to live in a society with freedom of speech or not? Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation. In democracies people get extremely upset with each other. They argue vehemently against each other's positions."
    The free speech issue and the defense of it begins at the point where people say something you completely disagree with. If you can't defend their right to say it, then you don't believe in free speech. You only believe in free speech as long as it does not upset you."
    Jesus Christ, on numerous ocassions, offended the Scribes and Pharisees calling them snakes, white-washed tombs,and other insults.Such examples can be seen at: Luke 6:1-11; Matthew 15:10-14; Matt. 21:12-17; Matt. 23:13-36; Mark 7:1-13, and Luke 16:14-17, to name a few. Obviously, He had no problem with offending the Scribes and Pharisees as indicted by the frequency of His actions.
    The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, made clear that the preaching of the Gospel has always been considered offensive by those who reject it. When Paul conversed about the cross as "foolishness" and a "stumbling block" (1 Co. 1:23) he was referring to this very reality. But, at the same time, Paul did not want to offend persons on the basis of anything other than the cross of Christ and the essence of the Christian Gospel. For this reason he would write to the Corinthians about becoming "all things to all people, that by all means I might save some (1 Cor 9:22).
    There is no way for a faithful Christian to avoid offending those who are offended by Jesus Christ and His cross. The truth claims of Christianity, by their very particularity and exclusivity, are inherently offensive to those who would demand some other gospel. Once we begin playing the game of offendedness we start down a very slippery slope where there is no end to the matter. There simply is no right not to be offended, and we should be offended by the very idea that such a right could exist. We should not be surprised that the Gospel of Jesus Christ offends many people.