Shortly after I became a Christian, I invited a gay friend of mine to youth group.
To my surprise, he seemed interested. He asked about the location and starting time and I promised to meet him at the door when he arrived.
Then he asked an odd question, “Will they make me sit in the circle of judgment?”
I assumed he was kidding, so I laughed. But he didn’t laugh.
“Circle of judgment?” I asked as a follow up. “What’s the circle of judgment?”
“You know,” he explained, “when the kids gather around the new kid and tell him all the ways he’s disappointed God.”
I assured him there was not circle of judgment.
Nevertheless, he didn’t show up for youth group.
Guess he didn’t believe me.
The story is kind of funny, but we get the point: people think Christians are judgmental.
And they’re right. We are.
It’s a serious problem.
In simplifying a complex subject matter, I’d say the primary issue is that we often approach lost people with demands for moral perfection rather than a message of grace that leads to repentance.
When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church, he instructs them to remove one of their sinful members, a man who had committed an immoral act and had no remorse.
He had claimed to be a Christian brother, yet unapologetically continued in sin.
Paul told the church to turn the man over to Satan, with the hope that he’d come to his senses and be rescued from his sinful nature.
He told the members of the church to not even associate with such a person.
But Paul was careful to make this distinction:
“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13, ESV. Read the whole chapter for the best context.)
I don’t know how I can emphasize the importance of this truth.
The fact that there are lost people who believe their eternal verdict has already been cast and, because of that belief, are afraid to enter the very institution that carries the message of salvation…
Like I said, it’s a serious problem.
Many of the people I’ve met over the years – the poor and marginalized, the homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill – they apologize to me a lot.
They apologize for cursing in my presence. Or for smelling bad. Or for having alcohol on their breath. Or even for asking for prayer.
They’ve received a strong message that, until they get their lives together, they aren’t good enough to be in the church. So they play the part as best they can and apologize when they can’t measure up.
Do you understand?
The very people Jesus is looking to save are apologizing because they don’t think they’re worthy of their pastor’s company.
That should grieve us.
If it’s been communicated to you that you have to “get right” before you can get right with God, don’t believe it. And for God’s sake, don’t preach that message to others.
“And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance'” (Luke 5:31-32, ESV)
6 thoughts on “The Circle of Judgment – How the Church Keeps Outsiders Out”
Glad you wrote this. I read a criticism of Brennan Manning the other day and I have let it bounce around in my head. Manning in one of his latter writings addressed the same issue you have just described using the word “Bibleologist”, one of his own creation.
He was using it to express the same issue, people of the church expecting a changed person before they have even come to acceptance; the broken and poor in spirit staying away because they just don’t feel good enough. Whichever the direction it causes a rush to judgement.
In the same vain I have read and heard many negative reviews and opinions about the movie “The Shack”. The book/movie was a testimony of how the author related to theology and doctrine in a real way. All he did was share his spiritual journey. Does it matter that his descriptions were not perfectly aligned with prevailing doctrine? I think not, I think we should be willing and open to hear the honesty from others because God’s Will is truly bigger than any will written doctrine and become Bibleologists at best or a new kind of Pharisee at worst.
No one is ever fully healed or changed in their life, some with major wounds still love Jesus.
Peace to you,
I am grieving…
I am sorry, be in Jesus.
So how does one balance 1 Corinthians 5 with grace?
I don’t presume you were asking ME this question, but since you made it public…
You don’t. It’s not a balancing act. You gotta get a different paradigm.
I was just reading a fascinating lecture from N.T. Wright that he delivered in 2002 when he and the Anglicans wrestled with homosexuality in the church. The lecture/paper will not be a direct answer to your question (though I think you can piece it together there) nor exhaustive on the subject, but I sure found it very helpful and insightful.
Find it here:
Thanks for the reply…