Judgmentalism and "Defending the Truth"

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Our church is currently studying through the Gospel of Matthew, and this Sunday we are considering together Matthew 7:1-6 and Jesus' teaching on a critical spirit (or judgmentalism). I was reading through D.A. Carson's thoughts on this passage earlier today and was struck with the particular section focused on the manifestation of a critical spirit when it comes to doctrinal disagreement between Christian brothers. Carson notes:
Doctrinal critics can be among the most offensive in this regard. The doctrinal critic may agree that another person is a brother in Christ, has been significantly used of the Lord, is thoughtful and sincere in his submission to Scripture; but because the critic focuses on the one area of doctrine in which the two disagree, this other brother may be painted publicly in hues of gray and black. That Christians are to demonstrate observable love (John 13:34f; 17:20-23) is lost to while the critic "defends the truth."

I am not minimizing the significance of truth, nor denying that there are limits to fellowship. I am saying two things.

First, genuine believers have more in common than they recognize when, with a sectarian mentality, they focus attention and energy on points of difference, largely to reinforce what they construe as their own raison d'etre ["reason for existence"]. If I wholeheartedly embrace only those fellow Christians who see things exactly the way I do, I will never embrace anyone, except, perhaps, a handful of weak-minded followers.

Second, we must never lose sight of the stress in Matthew 7:1-5 on attitudes. Christians will honestly disagree on doctrinal points, but to become very heated helps no one. There ought to be clear-headed discussion of the differences, with honest submission to the Word of God and a repudiation of arguments which consistently and without cause ascribe unworthy motives to the opposing brothers.
A few thoughts:
(1) My prayer is for grace from God to cultivate a catholicity ("universality") of spirit in my life, family, and ministry. I want to be eager to think the best of other Christians, to glory in the big, important things that we hold in common, and to endeavor not to be cynical or suspicious.
(3) It is important to have a way to think through the weightiness of a particular doctrinal position. Am I really "defending the truth" or am I making a secondary issue a primary issue? Am I really "defending the truth" or just my application of the truth? Am I really "defending the truth" or just a sub-cultural norm? Any life or ministry that is going to actually defend the (real) truth in a way that is full of grace, seasoned with salt; must have a way of ordering doctrines.


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