Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense~ Proverbs 10:13 NIV
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when Christians were governed by a lot of rules. Many of those rules were unwritten but very real and recognized by all members of polite Christian society.
The use of alcohol was strictly forbidden. Tobacco use was assumed to be a clear sign of obvious inner corruption. Tri-weekly church attendance was mandatory. Divorce was intolerable under any circumstances, even in situations where abuse was clearly evident. To be seen entering a movie theater resulted in a trip to the rumor mill. Only the vilest of heathens used salty language. Dress codes mattered; respectable men wore suits, hemlines were carefully monitored for modesty and women brazen enough to wear shorts were shunned.
Not all the rules were biblical.
Some were not even rational, a few were downright ridiculous. As a result the thing happened that always happens when individuals cease to be sensible and get carried away with rule making. For better or worse, the pendulum of popular opinion swung sharply in the opposite direction.
It is no longer odd for Christians to drink alcohol or for churches, even evangelical churches, to serve alcohol at outreach events. Tobacco use is still frowned upon, not because it’s considered sinful or wrong, but because it’s unhealthy.
Church attendance is no longer obligatory; in fact few Christians who identify themselves as committed believers even attend weekly services. Divorce for any and every reason is commonplace in the Church. Christians who choose NOT to attend even R-rated movies are sometimes considered a bit odd. In a few congregations, clothing is practically optional. And weirdest of all, it it is not unheard of for edgy young preachers to drop an F-bomb from the pulpit to make a point.
All the old rules have been replaced with one new rule: THOU SHALL NOT JUDGE. Admittedly this is rule came about as a result of mostly silly, sometimes heartless, legalistic nitpicking about topics that have for the most part, never had any real relevance to Christianity whatsoever. Only an idiot would yearn for a return to the bad old days of unhinged legalism.
Legalism is the brainchild of the devil, a perversion of the Christian concept of holiness. Legalism takes our eyes off of Jesus, and places our focus on the outward behavior of others, rather than our own behavior, attitudes and internal spiritual development. Legalism breeds unhealthy spiritual self-confidence and sometimes even becomes a substitute for salvation.
That said, not all judging is sinful. Some judging is beneficial and even biblical (1st Corinthians 5:12-13).
There are two types of judgment. The first is when one imperfect human judges another imperfect human worthy of heaven, hell or the right to be cared for and loved based on behavior or outward appearances that may or may not be based on biblical truth. This sort of judgment is wrong, leads to hypocrisy (Matthew 23:1-5) and sets us up to be judged by the same standards (but not necessarily for the same sins) we set for others. The Pharisees judged in in this way and Jesus sharply condemned them for it (Matthew 7:1).
Christians are clearly not called to judge those outside the Church (1st Corinthians 5:12-13). The behavior of non-Christians is troubling to us at times. It is also none of our concern. Our responsibility towards the unsaved is to pray, show them the kindness of God and to present biblical truth. What they choose to do with all that is between them and God. He is the final judge.
There is such a thing as healthy Christian judgment and it begins with regular and rigorous self-examination. We must be willing to look for sin in our own lives with the same zeal we normally reserve for others. But there is more to it than just that; we also have to keep ourselves open to the idea that we might be wrong about something we believe or do. Growing Christians are willing to entertain the notion that the thing or the attitude they have been holding onto as a “right” or as a “Christian freedom” might just be something that is holding back their growth and possibly leading others astray (1st Corinthians 10:23-33).
We forget that Christians are called to judge one another, not in a condemning way, but out of concern for one another (1st Corinthians 5:11). If the Church is ever going to get healthy again, the people in it have got to stop getting angry every time someone says something that challenges their point-of-view on an attitude or behavior. It’s time to stop shouting, “You can’t judge anyone ever!” and start thinking about why we fear being judged or hearing a view that differs from our own.