Q: Some people in my church are uptight about nearly everything. If someone doesn't agree with them, they start judging his or her spirituality. I don't think we're called to agree on everything all of the time. How can I deal with this?
A: Multiple issues are present in this question. The first is more a personality trait or habitual way of thinking. It's true that some people are simply more "uptight," "tightly wound," or "wired" in ways that confrontation or conflict just seem natural or appropriate for dealing with issues and questions. For most people, including me, an analysis or thorough understanding of these personality traits is out of reach.
Before addressing issues related to judgmentalism, let me assure you that all believers have never agreed on everything. The New Testament is filled with examples in which Jesus' disciples, the Apostle Paul, and the people populating the first-century churches experienced disagreements. Without these stories that revolved around ministry to non-Jews, circumcision, meat sacrificed to idols, and many more, the New Testament would be much less colorful, exciting, honest, and relevant.
Throughout the centuries, the Church has tried to define the boundaries of orthodoxy with creeds and confessions. The Church of the Nazarene has embraced this, for example, by incorporating a version of the Apostles' Creed into our baptism ritual.
But Nazarenes, from the founding days of the early 20th century, have recognized that unity can include diversity because unity and unanimity are not the same. The difference between "essentials" and "non-essentials" has been evident throughout our history. In the Church of the Nazarene, this can be seen in baptismal understanding and practices and in second coming particulars, among others.
With these other issues touched upon, I think that the question ultimately is about the perceived judgmentalism that you have experienced from others with whom you disagree within your community of faith. The concept of judging or using judgment or being judgmental is not a simplistic idea in Scripture. A quick survey of the number of times the terms judge, judgment, and judging are used in the Bible will verify that fact.
For purposes of precision and focus, Jesus' teaching in the "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5-7) is a good place to start. Matthew 7:1-6 specifically addresses the issue of judging others. The meaning of the word "judge" in this passage is not to analyze or evaluate, but to condemn. A condemning attitude or spirit is the problem about which Jesus and Matthew are concerned. But emphasis, through a specific literary device—a "chiastic" structure—is placed squarely on the phrase in verse 5 — "first take out the plank in your own eye."
The place to begin when responding to judgmentalism or criticism is to conduct some self-evaluation, with the help of God's Spirit, to make sure that we are speaking, responding, and relating in ways that are appropriate and honorable.
Brad Estep serves as senior pastor of the Kansas City First Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, Nov/Dec 2011
In each issue, a forum of pastors, laity, theologians, and church leaders respond to your questions on subjects such as doctrine, theology, Christian living, and the church. Send your questions to Holiness Today, Church of the Nazarene Global Ministry Center, 17001 Prairie Star Parkway, Lenexa, KS 66220| E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The editor regrets that all questions cannot be printed, acknowledged, or answered.
Please note: This article was originally published in 2012. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.