I know I'm not alone in this.
Many non Christians are turned off toward Christianity due to these often well meaning people. Many Christians have suffered great pain due to insistence of how "right" their brothers are concerning issues where they do not agree. Some Christians have even wandered away from God in their pain induced by the self righteous judgmental attitude they've experienced in the body of Christ.
My defining experience with judgmental Christians was when I was in my late teens. I went away to a Christian college. I won't say the name of the school because the pastor who has been president of that school for decades is a very well known Christian author, speaker, preacher and evangelist. I've seen many people come to Jesus through this man's ministry and when I look at his doctrine, every single bit of it is accurate. But when I hear him preach, there's always this under current of judgmentalism; this feeling that he's very interested in you and he both being "right" way more than he likes you. My experience at that college was that there was a constant expectation that everyone was to believe all the time in a very specific manner, questioning was not something encouraged. Issues such as if dressing fashionably was acceptable, if it was a sin to go to the movies, if one did watch movies (at home of course) what movies were acceptable, the "fact" that drinking alcohol or dancing were unquestionably "super sins", the need to follow rules to the letter - these were the big issues of the day. This environment left my heart hollow, parched and damaged; so I ended up transferring to a University of California for my last two years. There I joyfully participated in Bible study groups on campus, engaged in meaningful relationships with non-Believers, questioned my professors about everything of interest to me, exultantly wrote papers discussing issues of faith when appropriate, and generally grew greatly.
I think Galations 5:1-6:10 really speaks to the heart of this issue. When I read this passage I'm overcome by a profound gratitude at how great God's incredible grace is toward me. This passage refers to the law of Moses, that law which shows us right behavior. The fact that none of us could ever measure up to this exact standard of right behavior is underscored. I see these words in Galatians 5:4-6(MSG):
I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.
I already know from Ephesians 2:8-9 that it is God, in His supreme goodness, who gave me the ability to believe/have faith in Him. It is His great love that drew me to Himself and His salvation. For me to start this microscopic focus on the external life, on my own and others' behaviors, is to go back to the law which can only bring condemnation. God wants my life to be about loving Him and loving others. In Matthew 22:36-38 I read how Jesus said that loving God and loving others are what makes the rest of the law work.
So, is it always wrong to judge? Is there ever a time when exercising judgment is correct? Do I have a responsibility, out of love, to tell others when they are in error?
Let me tell you what I think, and then I'd be very interested in hearing your thoughts on these questions:
1. Each of us must judge doctrinal truth for ourselves.
1 John 4:1-3 tells me to test for doctrinal truth. I believe that I'm to be a student of scripture, to compare passages with other passages, to be in prayer, to let the Holy Spirit guide me into truth, rather than to just believe what ever someone tells me. I can not read this particular scripture in any way other than to see it as addressed to the individual Believer. I do not see this specific scripture as a call for me to go around judging others doctrine so I can tell them where they are in error, but rather as a call for me to be accountable for what I believe.
2. My role in judgment regarding those who do not know Christ is to proclaim the Kingdom to them.
In Matthew 9:36-38 I see Jesus telling His followers that people are in great need of Him, He directed His followers to pray that God would send out laborers to bring people into His kingdom. I believe that there is the implication here that we should both pray for laborers and be laborers to show others how they can come into God's Kingdom.
3. One of my roles in judgment toward other Believers is to help them learn to judge scriptures themselves and to grow in their faith.
I see the model established in 1 Timothy 2:1-3 where we are to teach others who have chosen to follow after Jesus the scriptures. The entire 17th chapter of John shows how Christ's followers are given His Holy Spirit to be their guide and teacher; to help them understand God's truth. I believe that after someone has come into a relationship with Christ, that the Holy Spirit will reveal truth to that person through God's Word. God will grow that person in His timing and it's not up to me to force my time table onto someone else.
4. Another one of my roles in judgment toward other Believers is to care enough to see if they are caught up in sin and to try to help them out of it.
There are times when a brother or sister in Christ gets caught up in sin. Galations 6:1-10 tells me that that my response to these situations should be about restoration. It's interesting to me how that word "gently" (New International Version) from the first verse is translated - in the Message paraphrase it's says "forgivingly restore him", in the New Living Translation is says "gently and humbly help that person back", in the New American Standard Bible it states "restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness" - every translation or paraphrase that I can find has this tone of kindness. I do not see a heavy handed I'm gonna tell you the truth and you'd better get in line with it attitude; instead I see a kind, compassionate, considerate approach. The goal here is to stay in relationship with the brother/sister in Christ, to live together and help one another; not condemn one another.
There is also the whole thing of church discipline toward one who confesses to be a follower of Christ who is dead set on continuing in sin. But there is so much to in that whole discussion that it requires at least one post all to itself. These 4 points are in no way meant to be all inclusive and to completely cover this topic; these are more of a starting point in my own thoughts on this matter.
So, now that I've shared my thoughts, I'd be interested in hearing yours:
Is it always wrong to judge? Is there ever a time when exercising judgment is correct? Do I have a responsibility, out of love, to tell others when they are in error?