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It’s hard to understand how a “loving God” would hold a difference in religion against anyone. After all, aren’t we all worshiping the same God? In fact, a survey of 35,000 American adults shows that 70% believe there are many paths to God—all equally valid. Says Michael Lindsay of Rice University, “The survey shows religion in America is, indeed, 3000 miles wide and only 3 inches deep.” The problem is that people do not know why they believe what they believe, and certainly do not understand the uniqueness of the Christian system. Subscribing to such beliefs, they dismiss Jesus’ exclusive claim, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14: 6). Release by Eric Gorski, South Bend Tribune, June 24, 2008, page A3.
Religious persons are often accused of being judgmental, intolerant, and exclusivistic. What light does the Bible shed on the discussion?
Judgmentalism is never right, and a mere “fire and brimstone” gospel isn’t the gospel of Jesus Christ. Still, the Bible distinguishes many types of judging—some commended, others condemned.
Wholesome types of judging include:
- Discerning those receptive to the gospel (Matthew 7:6, 10:11+). It is not unkind to judge who is open to the gospel message and who is not. It's what is fairest to all—both to the person at hand as well as to others who may be seeking the Lord (7:7).
- Making an assessment (Acts 4:19). The act of judgment itself is neutral. The usual Greek verb for “judge” or “discern” is krinein. It is not an inherently negative word. It means moving from premises to conclusions; assessing a situation; discerning; etc. The spiritual man makes all sorts of judgments (1 Corinthians 2:15).
- Disciplinary judgment (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). Church discipline requires that action be taken when serious sin is affecting the congregation, including the expulsion of the unrepentant.
- Judging disputes (1 Corinthians 6:2). This requires judgment (discernment). The apostle assumes that Christians have the collective wisdom to settle their own disputes—without going public.
- Interpreting the scriptures (1 Corinthians 10:15, 11:13). We are all encouraged to correctly study and interpret God's word.
Unhealthy types of judging include:
- Hypocritical judging (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 2:1). This is the kind of judging most people have in mind when they express the judgment that one should not judge. Jesus tells us to get the log out of our own eye so that we can see clearly enough to help our brother.
- Superficial judging (John 7:24). Get the facts, and know the scriptures. That is the only way to make a right judgment. The entire book of Proverbs exhorts us to this sort of practical wisdom.
- Passing judgment on opinion matters (Romans 14:1f). We must all take stands on crucial issues, but it is wrong to judge others on the basis of peripheral, non-salvation issues. (In this case, the disputable matter concerns foods.) Accepting the weaker brother doesn’t necessarily mean leaving him in a state of ignorance or weak faith. Yet the Lord will hold all of us accountable for how our words affect others (Matthew 12:36).
- Judging hearts and motives (1 Corinthians 4:3-5). This is problematic. Yes, out of the mouth comes the overflow of the heart, so there may be some clues to what is going on in someone's heart or mind, and yet only a person of understanding can draw out the innermost intent (Proverbs 20:5). Paul adds that he does not even judge himself. Let's not get tied in knots trying to analyze everybody—including ourselves!
- Criticizing (James 4:11-12). Grumbling—for example, rich Christians complaining against poor Christians, or vice versa—is wrong. We are not to judge others in a critical, destructive manner. Ephesians 4:29!
- Doctrinal nit-picking (Colossians 2:16). The central teachings of the scripture indicate the core doctrines; not all biblical teachings are equally important. We should “draw the line” only where key doctrines are at issue, for example the “seven unities of the faith” in Ephesians 4:3-6.
- Final judgment (Romans 14:10-12, Acts 10:42). This is God's prerogative, and his alone. Sentencing people to heaven or hell is "final judgment." No human has the authority to send any other human being anywhere after death.
The common plea, "Judge not!" is a gross oversimplification. We all must make many judgments every day. Let's be sure we’re doing it in the right spirit.
- Our society has undergone a subtle shift from tolerance of persons to tolerance of ideas.
- Often those who advocate "tolerance" are the most intolerant.
Since intolerance is unpopular, many opine that all religious ideas are “true,” provided, of course, that they aren't too extreme. But to say that we “tolerate” another fellow’s religion scarcely means we agree with him. It implies that we disagree. I do not “tolerate” spinach. It’s my favorite vegetable. Ever since I was a little boy, watching the old Popeye cartoons on television, I have loved the leafy green vegetable—raw or cooked, in a salad or in a can. On the other hand, I tolerate Brussels sprouts. For me, their acrid taste makes them difficult to swallow. Now when they are served, I always take one. That is because I don’t want to be, or appear to be, a picky eater. But as hard as I try, this is one taste I just can’t seem to acquire! But is truth really only a matter of taste, as with vegetables? Tolerance is not the opposite of faith; it is one of its components. In the modern world, tolerance gets a lot of the credit that belongs to apathy.
Interestingly, atheistic ideologies and regimes often exhibit near-zero tolerance for different opinions. Consider the lamentable religious persecutions in China, Cuba, Myanmar, and North Korea to name a few. As in Orwell’s 1984, atheist governments have generally shown themselves unable to tolerate open faith. This is not to say that others are not entitled to their own religious beliefs, only that it is nonsense to say all ideas are equally true. (How can all ideas be equally true when they contradict each other?) This confused way of looking at truth, popular with the masses and promoted by some academics, theologians, and popular icons, must be wholly abandoned if we are to reach a sensible conclusion about God. (The previous two paragraphs have been adapted from my 2010 Compelling Evidence.)
- Critics of Christianity say it is “exclusive.”
- Women are deprecated.
- Minorities are marginalized.
- Gender preferences are disrespected.
- Other religions are demonized.
- But are any of these accusations true? No!
- Women are honored in Christianity even more than they were in Judaism.
- Christianity is color-blind, nor does it hold socioeconomic differences as important.
- We are called to reach out to all people, regardless of sexual orientation.
- If Christianity is true, then rival religions that deny its claims are on the wrong track. No malice is intended in this statement.
- Although truth is exclusive, by its nature—excluding error and contradiction—the Christian faith is expansively inclusive.
- Christianity is not a club (exclusive), let alone elitist (exclusivistic).
- The ultimate vision is of multitudes of men and women from every nation, tribe, people and language (Revelation 7:9).
- If you are accused of being "exclusive," emphasize the inclusiveness of God's love, yet also the logical implications of truth. (If there were no truth, there would be no error; but once we accept a truth claim, we implicitly deny contradictory claims.)
- Judging comes in two varieties, good (at least 5 kinds) and bad (6 or 7 kinds). It's a gross oversimplifcation to say that judging is wrong.
- Tolerance is a virtue when it extends to persons, a vice when tolerance entails the acceptance or endorsement of wrong ideas.
- Truth is exclusive by its very nature. Christians proclaim a message of good news, despite the narrow door one must enter to get onto the path. But the gospel is amazingly inclusive; God wants everyone in (1 Timothy 2:4).
- Let's strive for a truly biblical balance, making right judgments, showing true tolerance, refusing to modify the holy requirements of our righteous God.