Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On So-Called False Christians, False Scotsmen and Judging Others

Some of the evangelical blogs I have been receiving notifications of have been speaking on a common theme lately.  This theme is the concept of who is a true Christian and who is a false Christian, and whether or not it is right to treat true Christians differently from false Christians.

I am inclined to think such a view, while perhaps well meaning, is contrary to the view of Christ.

For openers, we could look at Matthew 7:

1 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Judging whether one is a true Christian or not is a matter of judging of the person, not of the act.  It presumes to judge whether another has accepted Christ or not and fails to consider that the other person may be a Christian who fails at their commitment.

It also fails to consider whether the individual doing the judging could also be judged by another as not measuring up to his standards.

A person is a Christian by the virtue of Baptism (either explicit or through the Baptism of desire or of blood) [see 1 Pet 3:21-22].  A person will be a faithful or unfaithful Christian based on how they carry out their following of the faith.

It is unfortunate that in the Evangelical traditions, we have the notions of "accept the Lord as your personal salvation and you will be saved" because it leads to the fallacy of the No True Scotsman.  I've spoken on it before, but I'll recap briefly for those who haven't heard of it:

MacIntosh: No Scotsman puts Brown Sugar on his porridge

MacIver: What about Angus over there.  He puts brown sugar on his porridge

MacIntosh: He doesn't count.  No true Scotsman puts brown sugar on his porridge.

Under this reasoning, no counter-example by MacIver will be accepted, because the counter-example will be rejected as not being a "true" Scotsman.  However, MacIntosh's claim is based on his own definition, and makes him the judge and jury over who is a Scotsman.

Likewise the individual who seeks to decide who is or is not a true Christian is passing judgment over the other person's sincerity.

The problem is this can be cut any number of ways.  "Him?  He's a Papist!  He can't be a Christian!"  "Her?  She's got a drinking problem!  She can't be a Christian!"

God will judge the Christian who fails to live up to their calling of course.  But that does not mean we can pass this judgment on them as to whether or not they are seeking to follow Christ.  Christians can indeed be hypocritical (the common atheistic charge is that all of us Christians are hypocritical).  They can backslide.  However, this does not unmake their baptism.  It means they failed to live up to it, and if they do not repent they will be judged.

The second issue, of how we should treat others who are not "true Christians," must be measured before the requirement Jesus made of us in Matthew 5:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In other words, if we treat "true" Christians differently from "false" Christians, we disobey Christ.

Now, we can indeed excommunicate a public sinner from the communion of believers, as St. Paul described in 1 Cor. 5, but this is not intended to be a punishment of condemnation, but an ostracism to return the wayward Christian to his senses.

The difference between how we should treat Christians living according to their faith and the Christian fallen is that the former we should pray that they may be sustained, while the latter we should pray for them to return to the path they fell away from, even if we must rebuke them.

Rebuking may be necessary of course.  We must always reject sin and refuse to accept it in others with indifference.  However, we should not deem a person damned, or not a Christian because he stumbled on the path.

And we should remember that the measure we use against others will be the measure used against us by Christ.

So before determining that a person is a "false Christian," we need to ask ourselves on what basis we make this claim, and on which authority we have the right to make it.

We should remember the parable of Christ in Luke 18:

10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

God calls us to act like the tax collector before Him, and not like the Pharisee.

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