In the American political scene today, many believe in the merits of various places being gun-free zones. Many others, however, hold opposing views.
Although sorting out the truth about that disputed topic is important, of far greater importance is the belief by many in the American religious scene today that churches should be virtually judgment-free zones. Is this view valid?
Key passages help us to answer this question definitively:
1. Believers in Churches Must Judge Themselves When Taking the Lord’s Supper
1Co 11:27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.
29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
31 For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.
32 But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.
Every believer must partake regularly of the Lord’s Supper. When doing so, he must judge himself thoroughly by repenting of, confessing, and forsaking his sins. If he fails to do so and yet takes the Lord’s Supper, God will judge him to chasten him until he repents.
2. Believers Are to Judge Themselves So That They Do Not Cause Others to Stumble
Rom 14:12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
Every believer is going to answer to Jesus Christ one day (Rom. 14:20). Because that will be the case, Paul commands us all to judge ourselves to be certain that we not cause others to stumble. This teaching must guide everything that we do in our churches.
Furthermore, Paul teaches that believers must not give offence either to believers or to unbelievers:
1Co 10:31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:
33 Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.
1Co 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
For an example that points to a serious way in which many believers in local churches may be failing in this aspect of judging themselves, see my previous post about the testimony of Meghan O’Gieblyn, Romans 14, and the CCM Debate.
3. Unbelievers or Unlearned People Who Enter Churches Are to Be Judged Through the Prophesying of the Entire Congregation
1Co 14:23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:
25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.
Through the corporate prophesying of the entire congregation, God intends that unbelievers and unlearned people who enter a church come under conviction for their sins and become convinced that they will be judged for their sins unless they repent. Being judged by the ministry of the entire congregation, they are to repent and worship God.
A proper church service thus is not supposed to make such people feel good about themselves—God wants them to be convicted of their sins. They are supposed to become burdened about the judgment that they are under for not repenting of their sins.
4. Believers Are to Judge Unrepentant People in the Church
1Co 5:9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:
10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.
11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?
13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.
Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians to instruct them not to associate with evil people in the church (1 Cor. 5:10). He reiterated that command to them (1 Cor. 5:11) and made clear that they were not even to eat with those who call themselves brothers but are unrepentant of serious sins in their lives.
In explaining his teaching, Paul used a rhetorical question that demands an affirmative answer (1 Cor. 5:12) to make clear that believers in churches must judge unrepentant people who are among them. Such people must be expelled from the church (1 Cor. 5:13) until they are genuinely repentant.
A Local Church Is Not to Be a Judgment-Free Zone
These passages show that we must allow Scripture to renew our minds about this vital aspect of life in our local churches. Contrary to the seemingly widespread perspective of many believers today, Scripture shows that God does not want churches to be judgment-free zones.
Rather, God intends that our churches be places where we judge ourselves, where unbelievers repent because they become burdened about the judgment they are under for their sins, and where unrepentant professing believers are judged and, if necessary, expelled from the church until they repent. A local church must not be a judgment-free zone.