Judging Christians

Ok, enough with this ‘Christ-follower’ business, though I appreciate the stress on the call to follow Christ. A Christian is one who belongs to Christ by legitimately being a part of his Church (normatively by being baptized into faith), which is in Christ as a wife is united to her husband. Period. To emphasize any dichotomy between Christian and Christ-follower as a designation is to set up a two-tiered system with real Christ-followers (the invisible Church) on top and pseudo-Christians (the imposters) on the bottom, as judged by… ah, of course: the individual.

Of course, judgements on who is a Christian cannot be avoided, so ‘we can’t judge’ is entirely untrue for the Church. The Bible forbids lawsuits between Christians, and it forbids the pursuit of a new marriage between a believer and a non-believer, so we’d better have some idea who’s a Christian and who isn’t. Apparently, though, we can’t resist making these judgements individually rather than as a Church through the appointed means of Church discipline in baptism, excommunication and reconciliation.

Even in excommunication, those excommunicated for reasons of moral conduct, it seems, are still considered to be ‘inside the Church’, bearing the name of ‘brother’, however hypocritically:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’ (I Cor 5.9–13)

Who are we, then, as individuals, to resort to private judgement, rather than the judgement of Church discipline, on who is and who isn’t a Christian?

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2 responses to “Judging Christians

  1. So how does a Church judge? Is it the pastor who has the final say? Is it done by democratic vote?

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    • By presuming the baptized to be believing Christians unless they prove otherwise. If this is by egregious misconduct indicative of a long trail of repeated and escalating sin, they get excommunicated (as in I Cor 5), treated as pagans or publicans.

      As for actual decision-making process on gets excommunicated and reconciled, I think it varies. Within a church, each local church should have a procedure that involves the pastor performing the excommunications and reconciliations on behalf of the Church, and then other churches should not disregard this when they administer Holy Communion. If this power is abused, there should be an organ in place for synods to censure or even defrock a minister/bishop.

      One of my concerns with non-denominational churches is that there’s generally no agreed-upon way to defrock a minister from outside of that one local church, though I think elders and those guys are usually given the authority to decide that within the local church. Instead, people usually judge for themselves by leaving or by staying and being stuck with a minister who perhaps ought to be defrocked.

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