Maintaining balance between biblical discernment and judgmental criticism

Becky Spell Vann Contributing columnist

August 16, 2013

Is your church healthy? The church is supposed to be the one place in the world where unconditional love for God and all His children reign as does, honor and honesty, worship and wonderful works, fellowship and friendship, grace and goodness, praise and practicing the example of Jesus. Yet, churches can become stale, sour, and stew in differences that divide the body of Christ. With that said, please read this story with an open mind as I write from a humbled heart that beats with love and thankfulness for God’s healing, mercy, and great gifts He gives every day. The season is now for healthy churches to let their lights shine and for unhealthy churches to repent and remove their lights from under the bushel that binds. May we, (the church) grow closer to Christ and experience Christian unity in LOVE.

In the final chapter of the Bible, Revelation, seven churches received letters written in red. John wrote what he saw, what was happening then, and what was to come; the revelation of Jesus Christ made known to him through an angel. The writings warned the churches of things they were doing that displeased and praise for things that pleased God. Ephesus was loveless – forsaking God as their first love. Smyrna was persecuted, afflicted with poverty – yet they were rich according to words from the One who is the first and the last. Pergamum was compromising and told to repent. Thyatira did good deeds but was corrupt, Sardis was dead and told they must wake up, for He would come as a thief in the night without them knowing the time. The church at Philadelphia was faithful, keeping His Word and honoring His name. They were told to hold on to what they had, so that no one would take their crown for He would be coming soon. The church at Laodicea was lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – with warnings they would be spit out of His mouth. He told them how they proclaimed being rich, acquiring wealth and not needing a thing, but they didn’t even realize they were wretched, poor, pitiful, blind, and naked. He encouraged them to be earnest , repent, and open the door when He knocked. Each letter included the opportunity to come to the Father and overcome with concluding words: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Which of those letters would describe churches today? Is your church healthy with happy people serving the Lord with gladness or unhealthy with discord and division among the believers? This morning my journal opened to a page about churches, a divine sign to write this story. “Healthy churches grow. Growing churches change. Change leads to trust. Trust leads to obedience. Obedience brings a closeness to God.”

Finding an old Turning Point’s magazine with articles about - Churches, Finger Pointing, and The Blame Game - in the same journal was my second sign to write this story now. David Jeremiah shares introductions to each of his writings that would be wonderful for all churches to hear: We need to go beneath the surface of our lives and identify our spiritual fault lines. The devil doesn’t make us do anything. We can resist him. When we blame the devil, we’re giving him too much power. It seems that nothing is anybody’s fault anymore. It takes wisdom to maintain the balance between biblical discernment and judgmental criticism. Only sin that is owned can be overcome. There’s no better example in Scripture of One who overcame temptation by claiming Scripture than our victorious Overcomer – Jesus Christ!

Finger pointing and blaming sour the sweet spirit that should flow freely in healthy churches. Paul (in Romans 14) and James (in James 4) warm us against being judgmental toward those who disagree with us when dealing with doctrine or other matters of practice. James even said, “Do not speak evil of one another brethren…Who are you to judge another?” James 4 11-12

I know what you’re thinking. What would happen in our world without judging others: teachers grading papers, pastors rebuking troublemakers, parent’s disciplining children, Christians admonishing each other. The Bible tells us to recognize good from bad. Dr. Jeremiah’s words ring true to all churches and hopefully will touch your hearts as they did mine. Read and think about the church and how we use our wisdom to do what is pleasing (or not pleasing) to God.

“Some people, in the name of compassion, open-mindedness, and tolerance, tell us we should never evaluate bad behavior. But the Bible tells us differently, to rebuke the wrong, to admonish the sinner, to exercise church discipline, to shun evil companions, and to walk with those who are wise. How can we do this without ‘judging’?

When Jesus, Paul, and James warned us against judging, they were telling us: 1. Don’t be self-righteous and have a critical spirit; 2. don’t assume your opinions are always the correct ones; 3. don’t pronounce condemnation on another as though you were the Lord, who alone knows everyone’s heart; and 4. Don’t blame others for the speck ion their eye when you have a Sycamore n your own; and 5. Don’t have an unloving attitude.

It takes wisdom to maintain balance between biblical discernment and judgmental criticism. This is why James told us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. This is why Galatains 6 tells us to restore sinners gently. This is why Jesus confounded the scribes and Pharisees when He sent away the woman caught in adultery, the one they wanted to stone. He told them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

Remember how our minds work. We often criticize someone else for the very things we’re prone to do ourselves. When we point the fingers at someone else, it tricks us into feeling smug and self-satisfied. But the Bible says, “Don’t look for someone to blame. No finger pointing! You…are the one…”

This story has not been an easy one to write. Most of my July 4th weekend had been spent in front of my computer trying to write what stirs in my heart, I am thankful for Dr. Jeremiah’s words of wisdom, old journal entries, and Scripture that help to tell the story that all churches — and all people in all churches — need to embrace.

My grandson, Connor, and my husband, James, wait patiently to ride bikes as I toil for the perfect end for this story. My pleas to give me just a little more time to get the ending just right are met with smiles from two men who color my world with love. Connor finally poses one simple question that stirs the perfect ending for a message God intends for all His children to hear. The elaboration needed to support this topic is one that each individual church (you, me, and the church where we worship) must write. We must discern if we are healthy and pleasing God, remembering that He sees our hearts and knows our motives. His words to the churches in Revelation remain true today. Are we - the churches - lukewarm, loveless, dead, compromising, corrupt, persecuted, or faithful?

Connor asked, “Nana, why does it take so long for you to get the story right?”

My fingers rest on the keys of my computer as I ponder the power of this message and of Connor’s question. Maybe, just maybe, God is waiting and wondering the same thing? How long will it take us to get our stories right? He must sigh and ask why we (the church) spend so much time trying to get the church (programs, rules, regulations, procedures, etc.) right? When we simply trust and obey, stay in love with Him, listen to the stirrings (His sweet spirit) in our hearts, live by the example set by His Son, and allow God to lead the way…churches will be healthy, happy, and close to God.

And the perfect ending for us (the church) is being close to God forever and ever!