Judgmentalism is a sinfully “critical spirit, a condemning attitude” (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World , p. 105). We can be judgmental about nearly anything.
The point of this post is not to debate disputed positions; it’s about our disposition. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong; it’s about applying the gospel to our sinfully critical spirits and condemning attitudes. We might think of judgmental people as those with “stricter” standards, but people with “looser” standards can be judgmental, too. Whatever our views may be on disputed issues like the ones below, we can be guilty of judgmentalism. Jesus died for that sin.
When my mind is fixed on the gospel, I have ample stimulation to show God’s love to other people. For I am always willing to show love to others when I am freshly mindful of the love that God has shown me. (Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer , p. 24)
Jerry Bridges (b. 1929) turned 82 last month. He’s a prolific author and a humble, gospel-centered man. You can get to know him a little better via C. J. Mahaney’s brief text and audio interviews. (See also his books and audio.)
Below I quote portions of his chapter on judgmentalism (pp. 141–48, headings added). This will likely whet your appetite to read the whole chapter, especially in light of chapters 1–6.
The sin of judgmentalism is one of the most subtle of our “respectable” sins because it is often practiced under the guise of being zealous for what is right. It’s obvious that within our conservative evangelical circles there are myriads of opinions on everything from theology to conduct to lifestyle and politics. Not only are there multiple opinions but we usually assume our opinion is correct. That’s where our trouble with judgmentalism begins. We equate our opinions with truth. (p. 141)
Example 1: Dress
I grew up in the mid-twentieth century, when people dressed up to go to church. Men wore jackets and ties (usually suits and ties) and women wore dresses. Sometime in the 1970s, men began to show up at church wearing casual pants and open-collar shirts. Many women began to wear pants. For several years, I was judgmental toward them. Didn’t they have any reverence for God? Would they dress so casually if they were going to an audience with the president? That sounded pretty convincing to me.
Only I was wrong. There is nothing in the Bible that tells us what we ought to wear to church. And as for dressing up to meet the president, that’s a cultural thing centered in Washington, DC. If you were invited to meet the president while he is vacationing at his ranch, you would probably show up in blue jeans. Reverence for God, I finally concluded, is not a matter of dress; it’s a matter of the heart. Jesus said that true worshipers are those who worship the Father in spirit and truth (see John 4:23). Now, it’s true that casual dress may reflect a casual attitude toward God, but I cannot discern that. Therefore, I should avoid ascribing an attitude of irreverence based purely on a person’s dress. (pp. 141–42)
Example 2: Music
I also grew up in the era of the grand old hymns sung to the accompaniment of piano and organ. It was majestic. To me, it was reverent worship of God. Today, in many churches, the grand old hymns have been replaced by contemporary music, and the piano and organ with guitars and drums. Again, I was judgmental. How could people worship God with those instruments? But the New Testament churches had neither pianos nor organs, yet they managed to worship God in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (see Colossians 3:16). I still have a preference for church music sung as we did when I was younger, but it’s just that—a preference—not a Bible-based conviction. It’s true that a lot of contemporary music is shallow and human-centered. But there is much that is as God-honoring and worshipful as our traditional hymns. So let’s avoid being judgmental. (p. 142)
Example 3: Alcohol
We have convictions that we elevate to biblical truth on a number of issues. I wrote somewhere that I had finally come to the conclusion that in most instances, the Bible teaches temperance not abstinence. I had to work through that issue also because again I found myself being judgmental when I would see Christians having a glass of wine at a restaurant. However, after I wrote what I did about temperance, I received a polite but firm letter from a dear lady who really took me to task. She was convinced I was selling out a foundation stone of Christian morals. I understand her concern, but she did not give me any evidence from Scripture. It was her personal conviction.
Please don’t get me wrong. I think because of the widespread abuse of alcohol in our society today there are some good reasons for practicing abstinence. And in another context I could make a strong argument for abstinence based on those concerns. But this chapter is about judgmentalism, and I’m just giving some first-person examples of how easy it is to become judgmental over issues the Bible does not address or address with the clarity we would like. (pp. 142—43)
Judgmentalism in Reverse
The apostle Paul faced this problem head-on in Romans 14. Apparently, there were two specific issues calculated to spawn judgmentalism in the church at Rome. One was vegetarianism versus an “eat whatever you want” mentality. The second issue was a matter of observing certain days as holy days. . . .
There are similar attitudes today. Contemporary music advocates may disdain those who prefer traditional music as simply old-fashioned and out of touch with the times. . . . They can be as judgmental in a reverse sort of way as those who hold out for the traditional hymns. The same is true with the issue of temperance versus abstinence. I have known of instances where those who regard the use of alcohol as a matter of Christian liberty, are contemptuous toward those who practice abstinence.
My point here is that it doesn’t matter which side of an issue we are on. It is easy to become judgmental toward anyone whose opinions are different from ours. And then we hide our judgmentalism under the cloak of Christian convictions.
Paul’s response to the situation in Rome was, “Stop judging one another regardless of which position you take.” . . .
What I’ve written to this point does not mean that we should never pass judgment on the practices and beliefs of others. When someone’s lifestyle or conduct is clearly out of line with the Scriptures, then we are right to say that the person is sinning. (pp. 144–46)
Holding Convictions with Humility
I suspect that some of my dearest friends may disagree with some things I’ve said in this chapter. Some do not see the manner of dress in church or the type of music we sing as matters of preference. For them, it is a conviction. I respect their thinking and wouldn’t want to change their convictions at all.
I’d like to be like Paul, who took a similar position regarding the divisive issues in Rome. He did not try to change anyone’s convictions regarding what they ate or the special days they observed. Instead, he said, “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Such a statement makes many of us uncomfortable. We don’t like ambiguity in issues of Christian practice. It’s difficult for us to accept that one person’s opinion can be different from ours and both of us be accepted by God. But that is what Paul says in Romans 14. And if we will take Paul seriously and hold our convictions with humility, it will help us avoid the sins of judgmentalism. (pp. 147–48)
- John MacArthur on How to Serve Christians Who Are Needlessly Restrictive
- Worship Traditions
- Review of C. J. Mahaney, ed., Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World
- Ken Sande, “Judging Others: The Danger of Playing God,” Parts 1 | 2 | 3. Why are we judgmental? Sande suggests several reasons: selfishness, pride, self-righteousness, insecurity, jealousy, self-pity, prejudice, unforgiveness and bitterness, and lack of love.
- Dave Swavely, Who Are You to Judge? The Dangers of Judging and Legalism (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2005).