May We Judge as Jesus Judged?

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Jesus and PhariseesA few days ago, Matthew Morine published an article in the September issue of the Gospel Advocate about the role of women: “The Feminist Agenda Within the Churches of Christ.” Mike Cope has posted a response in Wineskins: “Judgment Free Disagreements: A Response to Matthew Morine.”

I appreciate Matthew’s and the Advocate‘s willingness to post Matthew’s article on the Internet so that anyone may read the article and consider Matthew’s article for himself. I encourage the reader to read both articles in full.

Now, I have a soft spot in my heart for Matthew, because he was among the earliest readers to regularly comment on my blog One In Jesus back when it was new, and I was just hoping that someone — anyone — would read my writings. I’ve enjoyed exchanging barbs with Matthew about SEC football. I’m an Alabama fan. Matthew pulls for the Volunteers of Tennessee (bless his heart). I actually know Matthew much better than I know Mike.

I’m also quite fond of Greg Tidwell, the editor of the Gospel Advocate. I’ve corresponded with him ever since we worked together on the GraceConversation dialogue. I believe he improved the quality of the Gospel Advocate in many ways.

Nonetheless, I believe Mike has correctly criticized the tone of Matthew’s article. And yet I’m sure many readers have wondered what’s so wrong with calling your opponents “hypocrites” or saying things such as —

– “Instead of following the plain teachings of the Word of God”

– “This disregard for the intent of the word of the Scriptures”

– “The feelings of those promoting women into leadership are fickle”

– “Hidden forces are at work seeking to corrupt your congregation and lead it into an unfaithful direction”

After all, a reader might wonder, Jesus said similarly harsh things about his opponents, and shouldn’t we follow his example? 

There are at least three  reasons that the answer is clearly “No.”

The scriptures say “no”

First, Christians are commanded —

(2 Tim 2:24–26 ESV) 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Even if I believe my opponent to have lost his senses and to be trapped in the devil’s snare, I’m require to speak to him gently, patiently, and kindly. I must not be quarrelsome. And none of this is optional.

I admit that I struggle to obey this command. I’ve stumbled over it more than once. It’s something I have to conscientiously work at. And yet it’s the Lord’s command.

But why can’t I dress down my opponents as Jesus did in his famous “whitewashed tombs” speech (Matt 23)? That would make blogging so much more fun!

Well, I’m not Jesus. Jesus is my example, but there are some ways in which I cannot follow him. For example, I cannot judge hearts as Jesus can. Only Jesus can always judge a heart correctly. And that puts me out of the heart-judging business when it comes to doctrinal discussions. — especially when it comes to judging people I barely know. I just don’t know the guy who disagrees with me well enough to judge him. I can only judge the substance of his arguments.

And so, I’m not allowed to judge the hearts of my opponents and announce that they are not only wrong but bad people. It’s not my place. As we lawyers say, I lack standing to make such an accusation. Only Jesus gets to do that.

Ad hominem attacks are irrelevant

Second, a personal attack on one’s opponent is known as an ad hominem argument. Attacking one’s opponent personally — such as by calling him a hypocrite — does not help prove his arguments wrong. My opponent may be a lying, freeloading, altogether-sorry excuse for a human being who happens to also be an Alabama fan, gun owner, and member of the Churches of Christ — and his sorriness hardly proves that he’s wrong to pull for Alabama, own a gun, or attend the Churches of Christ. It’s just irrelevant.

To a thoughtful reader, if I could win on the merits, why not be content with doing that? Why stoop to personal attacks — unless I judge my audience more likely swayed by insult than by reason? You see, such attacks actually speak ill of my opinion of my own readers.

We may not be divisive by using “fighting words”

There is a third reason, and this may be the most important one. People take offense at being called hypocrites and such like. That is, certain words tend to be divisive, when the same arguments could be made gently and kindly without being divisive at all.

(Matt 5:22 NIV11) But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

(Matt 5:22 ESV) 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

(Gal 5:19–21 ESV) 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

When I create division through personal attacks, when I could have built unity despite our disagreements, I violate this scripture. When I use words that reflect contempt or impute ill motives, I’m in violation of the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not that Jesus was banning two particularly vile words (“Fool” and “Raca“) but rather the use of any words that express contempt for people we’re supposed to love.

(Col 4:6 ESV) Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person..

(Eph 4:29 ESV) Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Notice the pattern. Paul instructs us to speak graciously — that is, generously, giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, rather than trying them and their motives in absentia.

Lenski’s comment on Col 4:6 is wise —

“Ever with grace” means with graciousness, in a kindly spirit. The addition “seasoned with salt” … conceives the discourse as food that is duly seasoned before it is served and is thus palatable when it is served. “Have salt in yourselves!” Mark 9:50. “Salt is good,” Luke 14:34. Salt is neither the wisdom nor the graciousness we are to use; it is the wholesomeness of what we say.

R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians, to the Thessalonians, to Timothy, to Titus and to Philemon, (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1937), 193–194.

I doubt seriously that Matthew was intending to sow seeds of division or to impugn the characters of good brothers and sisters in Christ he barely knows. Rather, I imagine he feels very strongly on the subject and wished to convey the strength of his feeling. I think he was upset to see women being increasingly allowed to preach to men in worship gatherings. But there are healthy, edifying ways to express disagreement. There are ways to engage in gracious dialogue that will build bonds of love — which will in turn open ears to what the other side is saying.

In fact, if Matthew wishes to be read by those in the Churches of Christ that he disagrees with, he needs only to ask Wineskins or me, and he’ll be allowed to post his views and his reasons at web sites read by his opponents. Matt Dabbs, who edits Wineskins, or I would be happy to publish any scriptural arguments Matthew wishes to publish regarding the doctrine of women. The truth has nothing to fear from dialogue conducted as the Bible teaches. And no one has any interest in any position or action being taken without thoroughly testing it against the scriptures.

In fact, Alexander Campbell routinely published materials he didn’t personally agree with — sometimes even without a response. After all, to dwell together in unity, we have to be able to express our disagreements in a forum where both sides may safely put their concerns on the table — as brothers who love each other, who will gladly listen to each other, and who will always give the other the benefit of the doubt.


Everything I just said cuts both ways. In law, we sometimes say that the other side “opened the door” to a certain kind of evidence by being the first to introduce evidence of that sort. That is, once one side has adopted a tactic, they can’t complain when the other side does the same. But among Christians, there is no equivalent rule. If one side breaks the rules, the other side can’t retaliate in kind. Christians don’t get a level playing field. If one side chooses to indulge in ad hominem attacks, the other side responds by refusing to do the same. It’s Jesus’ door. He closed it. And our job is to keep it closed, even if it means we don’t get to respond in kind.

Therefore, if you wish to say anything to Matthew, start with how much you love him and want to see him accomplish great things for the Lord. I do. Then speak your peace — but in strict obedience to the commands we just covered. There is no sin in telling him how his article made you feel or why you disagree.

(Gal. 6:1 ESV)  Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

[Lord willing, I will separately respond to the substance of Matthew’s arguments regarding what the Bible says regarding the role of women in a couple of future posts.]

[1] I sent this article in advance to Matthew Morine and to Gregory Alan Tidwell, the editor of the Gospel Advocate, offering both an opportunity to respond here at Wineskins as well as requesting any corrections they may wish to offer. I made revisions in response to Matthew’s comments. I greatly appreciate Matthew’s critique of my work.

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