Monday, November 10, 2008


My friend's blog has been bothering me lately. She keeps asking the question "what does Christian unity mean?" or, "is it alright to criticize other Christians?", or even to be angry at them? These questions have bothered me because I've rarely thought twice about criticizing Christians who I feel aren't getting it right or twisting beliefs I hold sacred. I've even pretty regularly read magazines dedicated to such criticism or listened to Christian music that often turns a satirical eye on its own community. But I guess deep down I believe that I'm both right and wrong in the way I do this and these questions about unity and criticism have forced me to realize I've never really set any boundaries in this area.

So I've done some thinking about what the Bible says on the topic. Jesus says judge not lest ye be judged. Jesus says take the plank out of your own eye before pointing out the speck in someone else's. Jesus spends a lot of time putting religious leaders in their place. Paul talks about being unified with other believers. Paul spends 1/2 of the New Testament telling other believers what they're doing wrong. This could be discouraging, but I actually find it encouraging.

What does it mean to judge? If I wanted to sound smart I'd dig into the Greek and all that, but I never took Greek, so I thought about the English meaning. A judgement is something final. It says "You are this" or "You are that" - you are guilty or you are innocent; you are going to jail or you are free. Jesus says that God is the only one who gets to make those kinds of judgements. Who we really are, in an absolute sense, is inside of us in a place only God knows. It is not for us to tell people "You are a bad person", "You are not loved by God", "You are not really a Christian", "You are going to hell", etc...

But at the same time as we're not supposed to pass grand judgements on people, I don't believe we're supposed to completely close our eyes and our mouths to things people do, just because they do it in the name of Christianity. Even when it's not some huge glaringly obvious wrong like killing or abusing people, I don't think we have to bottle our sensibilities in the name of unity. During my time in the retail world I got to take a short management class where I learned some basic skills for talking to unhappy, or soon to be unhappy, employees. The suggestions are really good for any interpersonal relationships and I think for how we deal with our fellow believers. The main guideline - use "I" statements: "When you do this, it makes me feel this way", "What you are doing does not fit in with my beliefs about Christianity", "When you handle snakes on Sunday morning, I fear for your life and wonder if we're reading the same Bible", "I read your Left Behind book and it doesn't fit in with my beliefs about good writing or good theology". You get the picture. These types of statements don't pass judgement on a person - who they are deep down, what their relationship with God is, or what their eternal destiny might be. When we keep the conversation focused on our feelings and our beliefs, it leaves room for both parties to dialogue, and learn about each other. I know there's a fine line between "I" statements and backhanded criticism (and one or two of my examples certainly walk that line), but this approach goes a lot farther than telling someone "I can't believe you would do that and call yourself a Christian", etc...

I certainly don't mean we have a free pass to express every feeling we have about anybody or anything the second we have it - we should be slow to speak about these things, looking for the planks in our own eyes on the matters, deciding whether dialogue on the issue is necessary or potentially fruitful. This is where I fail constantly. This is where I need boundaries. We are called to speak the truth in love, and I think the boundary I need to work on is not speaking if it's not in love, not out of real concern for a person or a situation. Not speaking when it's only to say "look at those idiots". I think the bottom line is that "unity in Christ" means the ability to love in spite of differences. Not the ability to put them all aside and pretend they're not there and never speak of them.

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