Dave Swavely, Who Are You to Judge? The Dangers of Judging and Legalism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2005), 1–3 (numbering added):
Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:5–6 . . . says that we should not judge one another, and that we should not “go beyond what is written” (NIV, ESV). . . . [I]t seems to me that the most committed Christians are actually more susceptible to this problem than those who are not as strong.
The sin of judging is a root cause in most of the interpersonal conflicts that arise in the lives of believers, and so learning to identify and avoid this sin will go a long way toward promoting peace and joy in the body of Christ. And legalism, which is the institutional form of judging, is a dangerous disease that plagues many of our Christian institutions, from churches to schools to families, sapping their spiritual strength and weakening the work of God in their midst.
Here are some examples of judgmental and legalistic statements that I have heard from Christians, all of which we will discuss at some point in this book:
- “I know what you’re thinking,” or “I know why you did that.”
- “There is no way someone can drive a car that expensive and be a godly man.”
- “Rock music is the devil’s music and is never appropriate for a Christian.”
- “A church that does not serve weekly communion is dishonoring the Lord.”
- “Any woman who works a full-time job is neglecting her children.”
- “R-rated movies are not an option for a believer.”
- “Modern alcoholic drinks are more potent than the wine of Jesus’ day, so we should not drink them.”
- “It is a sin to send your children to a public school.”
- “God is sickened by the singing of simplistic praise choruses that repeat the same words over and over.”
- “People who take Prozac and other psychiatric medications are not trusting God.”
- “It’s wrong to watch football on the Sabbath Day.”
- “Birth control robs God of His sovereignty and rebelliously refuses His blessings.”
- “Smoking is a sin, because it destroys the temple of God.”
- “The person who practices the discipline of fasting is more spiritual than the person who does not.”
- “If you feed your baby ‘on demand’ or let your child sleep in the bed with you, you are bad parents.”
- “She’s a member of our church, but I don’t think she’s a true Christian.”
- [“All forms of gambling are sinful” (pp. 59–62, 74–76).]
I have thought and said some of those statements myself at different times in my life, but I now believe that all of them are wrong in some way. The issues they address are important for Christians to carefully consider, but the problem is that all of those statements “go beyond what is written” by making spiritual judgments and creating moral standards outside of what God has revealed to us. A person who falls into that error is often failing to recognize the distinction between being “fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5) and being careful not to judge his brother (Rom. 14:13).
Related: Jerry Bridges on judgmentalism (see also the recommended resources at the bottom of that post)