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A Word about Judgment Based on Recent Posts

My recent post that simply linked to the Tampa Tribune story on the divorce announcement from Randy and Paula White generated a record number of people reading the post and responding. Based on a number of those responses, I thought I might point out another post I wrote in January on the issue of judging. I linked to the Randy and Paula story to start a discussion on its implications for the branding of their ministry and it’s impact on how the culture views the Christian faith in general. But my responses generated the entire gamut – from “theology cops” who are happy to point out their personal and scriptural failures, to remarkable naive folks willing to completely ignore the serious implications of the situation and go on at the church as if nothing has happened. But it was the judgement issue that
most people jumped on. That’s why I think it might be good to review part of my original post based on a magazine column I wrote in January:

The mistaken attitude that we have no business judging other believers is so pervasive – especially in the Charismatic and Pentecostal wing of the church – that I think it’s time to re-consider what it really means. The scripture from Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge” has been so misunderstood – particularly as it relates to Christians in the media, I think we need to re-examine it. Did Jesus really mean that we should never judge others?

It’s interesting that when you examine the scriptures related to judgment, it’s not just the act of judging that Jesus is talking about as much as our attitude while doing it. After all, common sense tells us that making judgments is an important part of life and we’re required to do it on a daily basis. Who we let our children play with, what church to attend, where we work, who we associate with, how we spend our time, are all judgments, and if we didn’t make them, the quality of our lives would be poor indeed.

In a fallen and sinful world, people must be held accountable. Today the culture tries to convince us that tolerance is the highest virtue. Who are you to judge? is the rallying cry of deviant behavior, heretical teaching, and immoral living. There’s nothing the enemy would love more than if we as believers gave up calling sinners to repentance, and what would our society become if we stopped evaluating student performance, calling failed leaders into account, or arresting criminals? Without proper criticism and judgment, living in real community would become impossible.

Not only do we have to judge, but we are called to judge, and in today’s society, we need to be more vigilant about judgment than ever. The question becomes, how do we judge like Jesus would, and how can we be sure that love, repentance, and restoration are the principles that we use in making our decisions?

First, anyone can have an opinion, but true judgment happens after serious examination, reflection, and consultation with the scripture. We can’t be frivolous, especially when dealing with an alleged sin of a pastor or Christian leader, but if we follow scripture and investigate properly, we can arrive at a proper decision. Paul’s writings to Timothy and also the church in Corinth are virtual manuals about judgment and correction within the context of the Church.

Second, lose the beam. When Jesus taught in Matthew 7:3-5, he was speaking in the context of a hypocritical religious system that said one thing and did another. The Pharisees couldn’t see clearly because of their own sin, and yet felt perfectly free to judge and condemn others. Nowhere in the Bible does it say we have to be absolutely perfect in word and deed before we can practice discernment, but if we point the finger at someone else, we need to be living right before God and have a clean conscience.

Third, judging actions and judging people are dramatically different issues. There’s never a place for gossip or personal attacks in the Church, but serious discernment on issues of doctrine, performance, quality, professionalism, stewardship, and skill are absolutely necessary. We can love a pastor or media leader, but when their lifestyle becomes abusive or their teaching aberrant, it’s critical for the life of the Church that they be held accountable. Likewise, when a Christian employee does a poor job at work, they need to be disciplined. It’s not about them personally, it’s about their performance and the impact it’s having on others.

This may be my single greatest issue with the hesitation to judge today. Evaluating a person is a grave and serious matter. However, it’s of utmost importance that we judge the quality of our work, whether it be our teaching ability, people skills, preaching, or whatever. If we’re ever going to raise the bar in the effectiveness of our ministries, we need the ability to evaluate the quality and worth of the work we do. When God spoke to Solomon to build his temple, he didn’t hire good-hearted losers. He hired the best craftsmen and artists in the land.

The gospel deserves no less than excellence. Just as Olympic judges determine the excellence of athletes, we need to call believers to excellence in the Christian community. A hopeful Christian movie producer may have all the right intentions and motives in producing a movie, but if his skill is lacking, and the film is poorly made, what does that say to the culture about our stewardship of finances, or the botched presentation of the gospel? Are we happy to sit back and watch other Christians damage our witness to the culture by producing lousy movies, or should we call them to a higher standard?

Recently, a major movie critic reviewed a new Christian film that he called, “…sadly and typically, another badly produced, over-acted, syrupy, spiritually themed movie.” The reviewer had no problem with the Christian content – just the execution. That’s the way the world looks at our work, because we’ve refused to hold Christian producers to a higher level of quality.

Recently, I spoke to a member of a mega-church in the South where the pastor had divorced his wife, but never missed a day in the pulpit. The church member defended the pastor comparing him to King David, who he pointed out had sinned, but God forgave him and didn’t require that he step down as King. I reminded him that David was the political leader of his time, not the spiritual leader. The pastor in this instance could be better compared to Samuel – Israel’s spiritual leader of the time, and the scriptures require that we hold spiritual leaders to even higher accountability and responsibility. (I also encouraged him to read a little further and see the staggering consequences of David’s sin.)

Remember that even after the salvation experience, we still are all fallen creatures, and without discipline and work, our natural tendency is often to take the easy way out. Today, there is gross negligence and incompetence in numerous churches and ministries, and regardless of the intentions of the leaders, it’s hurting our witness before the world, and damaging our credibility in the culture. As a church, we need to rise up, and stop our giving, write letters, and call these leaders into account.

The truth is, the Church today has it backwards. We spend too much time criticizing the outside culture, and not enough time criticizing the Church. Paul wrote in First Corinthians 5:13, “God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you.” And yet today, churches and ministries raise millions to boycott and protest network television, secular movies, and mainstream culture, and all the while, we’re dropping the ball when it comes to keeping our own house clean.

If we can’t have a conversation within the church about religious movies that fail, books that miss the mark, ministries that are ineffective, or pastors who fall short, then our future will be a long slide into oblivion. But if we can humble ourselves, pray that God gives us discernment, and always keep the goal of correction and restoration in mind, then we should feel free to seek the truth in all things.

It never hurts to keep in mind that our ability to judge is always limited, and one day, we’ll all stand on level ground before the ultimate Judge. But until that time, I hope we will stop being afraid, and continue calling each other to task for our many failures and shortcomings, so that we can, as Paul said, “…press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

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  1. Thank you so much for this recent post.  I have struggle with this issue greatly.  I have watched Paula's show for well over a year now.  Although recently have backed away due the same topic repeated over and over.  I guess my question is – WHY IS NO ONE SAYING ANYTHING OR GIVING SOME EXPLANATION?  I have checked Paula's and Without Wall's website and there are no comments at all.  

    I recall Pastor Ted Haggard's situation and do remember some leaders from his church and other organizations stepping up to the plate and investigating the wrong doing.  I have sat here all weekend wondering "Who is going to say this is unacceptable behavior?"  Will the major networks still keep her show? Will his or her spirtual father's say anything?  Did anyone see any of this coming?   Did any of the other leaders know about their questionable behavior before airing them on TV?  Should the Christian networks be somewhat responsible for airing people that they may know are having problems in their ministry.  I know it is my responsibility to find out who I watch but it takes some time for the public to get information. Is this a cover up?  Seems like I had to read this sad information from a secular newspaper to know what kind of people we may be dealing with.  

    I feel so silly for listening to her.  I watched a fund raising telethon on Daystar a couple of months back and pledged to give Daystar 54.00 a month in faith encouraged  by Paula's preaching on Isiah 54 .  Anyhow, I trusted Daystar and Paula.  Now I feel like an idiot.  I guess what I am asking are any our Christian leaders going to condone this behavior? Will anyone  check into what is really going on in this situation?   I honestly have enjoyed much of Paula's teaching, but now reading so much about their finacial dealings and the innapropriate behavior I just don't see how they can continue ministering to people.  

    I do believe in forgiveness but has anyone said they are sorry? 

  2. Great Observations Phil.

    Your comment "…but serious discernment on issues of doctrine, performance, quality, professionalism, stewardship, and skill are absolutely necessary." is a clarion call to believers everywhere. Get your head out of the paper bag.<p>

    This is a call to all believers to examine their attitude toward "judging".

    I trust that many in the "discernment" ministries AND their CRITICS take your comment "…if we can humble ourselves, pray that God gives us discernment, and always keep the goal of correction and restoration in mind, then we should feel free to seek the truth in all things." to heart.

    We need discernment with GRACE and HUMILITY that leads to correction and restoration.

    Your entry should be quoted and referred to by thinking bloggers everywhere.




  3. Dr. Cooke, this was an important and timely essay. I think the structures of many churches in the American Evangelical and P/C movements are flawed. Where is the accountability in independent non-denominational churches? Who can hold pastors accountable for their actions and teaching if they are aberrant? I love Paula and Randy White. I think they are good well meaning people. However I stopped watching Paula's television ministry due to her superfluous focus on prosperity (extracted from the context of Scriptural balance with social responsibility and humility). I pray that these to Christian leaders will remove themselves from their position and spend some time with the Lord to refocus on Him and His Kingdom no matter how long it takes. God Bless you.


  5. It is sad, once again, to see a slew of Christian leaders being destroyed before our eyes.  In fact, many will be hurt and some will leave the faith because of this.  I am not blaming anyone, but we must ask ourselves, when will the church grow up and be a bride that is spotless?  is the church today, the 5 virgins without oil?  When do we get back to the simple preaching of the gospel and turn away form media driven ministries?  When will the average Christian stop being sucked into the media ministries with the glitz and glamor with the promise of getting rich by giving to them? 

    The list of failed ministers and ministries goes on and on.  We as Christians must realize that God is more concerned about souls and His people.  So much on tv is about MONEY!  It must stop!!!!!!!  There is no real balance in the teachings on Christian tv as well as many of our churches.  The shallowness and lack of knowledge is killing us as well as this society. 

    I pray that the church finally wakes up and we become the body that we are meant to be.

  6. You are very wrong. Paula is a very busy woman and a woman of integrity. She keeps her focus on the gospel, Randy and others run the admin. Don't forget she is a woman and she keeps her place and not put her nose in everything. This is not to say Bishop Randy would do anything shady but it is very busy in ministry and you might not get evrything done exactly when you want it. The bigger the ministry the more to do .It takes only a minister to understand this. I am a Pastor and i know what i go through trying to keep up with everything. For those of you who criticise it's like watching a game from the outside it's so easy to play from the sidelines.Besides, what you read in the newspaper or even how a member perceives a situation is not always how it is and that is hard for men of God to explain in the media. The media is always about sensatyionalizing the story for their own gain so any wise man or woman of God would rather leave them to run their mouths and just let it pass. I hope the body of Christ would grow up.

  7. Lara, have you been there, in the inner circles?  I have.  Yes, she is busy, but she has her hands on the business on a daily basis.  Randy pops in often enough just to mess things up and make it more difficult for her to succeed.  The staff is filled with people who are well meaning but unskilled (except for a few).  This couple is highly damaged in their spirit, their emotion and of course their marriage.

    Big money will not allow them to stop and heal.  I feel sorry for them both.  I feel sorrier for those they are "ministering" to.  The blind can not lead the blind.

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