Thursday, January 27, 2011

Judging and Biblical Ignorance

Recently at a blog entitled Pyromanics an article was posted concerning the issue of who and who is not a Christian and whether or not the bible provides sufficient information to make such a determination.  I was not surprised by some of the postured responses by a number of the Puritan ARCers (ARC meaning Augustinain/Reformed/Cavlinist) which argued:

Tom Chantry We can assert that the unrepentant philanderer, no matter what his verbal profession, is no Christian. The same may be asserted in regard to the unrepentant heretic.

Patience If a person is openly believing in a heresy, for example Modalism, then I will comfortably say that person is not saved. God may yet save them and it is up to Him.
If a person has repented and believed, apparently believes all the fundamentals and is living in a God-honouring way, it would be hypocritical for me to assume they are not saved.

But I was encouraged to read comments such as this person’s which reflects the essential soteriological distinctions in their practical and broad considerations:

Jim Pemberton  There are indeed those who intentionally try to empty the term "Christian" of meaning. Their subversive goal is to undermine the meaning of the atonement by focusing only on the evidential aspect of what it means to be a Christian. The meaning of "Christian" is rooted absolutely in the atonement, not subversively in the evidence.

However and ultimately, my purpose here is to address a theological refinement critical to the expeditious handling and subsequent expressions we, as believers, make as to who is or is not a Christian.  Unfortunately this is a biblical qualification that many of those in the comments section (and the blogger himself that moderated the comments) all the way through the body of Christ, often fail to be taught or grasp thereby injuring both themselves and God’s children with the ineptness of their pronouncements. And what accelerated my involvement and this eventual article was the presumption by one commenter who stated:

Tom Chantry  And I believe the same applies to two Christian men who make a verbal profession of faith, yet one has been faithful to his wife and the other is living in open, unrepentant adultery. I should be able to say that one is a Christian and the other not. 

To which I replied:

Alex Guggenheim So tell me again, if the unrepentant man you judged not to be a Christian does at some point repent, he suddenly is a Christian again? This is precisely why your fallibility does not permit you to make such judgments. What you are permitted to do, however, is judge with whom you will and will not fellowship.

This person was not satisfied with the obvious error of his earlier example which was pointed out in my response so he replied:

Tom Chantry  Alex, can anyone, ever, under any circumstances be called a Christian? And if so, can anyone, ever, under any circumstances be called a non-Christian? The insistence that our fallibility vis-a-vis the hearts of others forces us to avoid making judgments certainly appears to require a "no" answer - at least to the second of those questions. 

Ultimately this led us to Matt 18 which introduced the subject of divine adjudication and practical adjudication as reflected in my response:

Alex Guggenheim  We can if we maintain the distinction between our judgments and that of God. Clearly God’s judgment is judicial, ours is practical. That is, when we see certain kinds of behavior that are incongruous with Christianity we may say practically such a person is not a Christian but judicially it may be quite the opposite. This is reflected in Matt 18:17, “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”.

It does not say for us to attempt to determine the divine adjudication of the unrepentant but to practically treat them as though they are not. Nor is this imploring us to believe such treatment is an indication one way or the other of divine adjudication. Practically we are identifying them as an unbeliever without a claim toward their divine adjudication since we cannot know that. And the inverse of this is true in identifying fellow believers.

So if we imagine our practical judgments to be sufficient to function as revelations of divine adjudications or even implied adjudications, even in our own mind alone, we err. Therefore, in advising others on the use of language, because most people fail to attend to such distinctions and such questions often do not appreciatively maintain these kinds of critical nuances, I recommend avoid using phrases such as “judging who is and is not a believer”. 

Divine and Practical Adjudication

From above one can see the significant of Matthew 18 in distinguishing between divine adjudication and practical adjudication.  The judgment of one’s salvation occurs singularly, before God.  There is no one sufficient other than the Divine to make and know of such determinations.  And this is critical because this overriding principle is what disciplines us, as God’s children, in our language and concepts with regard to how we speak of others.

The bible permits us to make judgments, but not God’s judgments.  It only permits us to make practical judgments.  To fail to understand this distinction is to fail to appreciate the separateness of both functions, practical and divine judgments.  And such delinquency inevitably results in the kind of responses I quoted earlier, which is the erring expectation that that through practical judgments one can reflect the renderings of divine adjudication.

No matter the condition of a human being, no matter the claims out of their mouth, one is still left with the restrictions God has placed upon them and in this case the boundary of our expression is that of practical judgment.  We may not insist to know and announce divine renderings with one exception, unless those renderings have been revealed in Scripture.

When May We Announce Divine Adjudications?

In the Scriptures God has revealed the eternal destiny of a few people, but in reality just a few.  One group of  beings who have had a divine adjudication imposed and their eternal state disclosed to us are Satan and one third of the angels who rebelled with him.  In this case we may say, emphatically or with instruction of the divine judgment, that Satan and one third of the angels who rebelled with him are going to what is described as the Lake of Fire, separated from God forever without end.  This is an occasion where we may announce what the divine adjudication is because it has been given to us by means of scriptural revelation.

However, in the life of another human being we do not have such insight.  And this is precisely why we may not announce knowledge of their divine judgment as it pertains to salvation.  God has not revealed to me or any other believer on earth the personal divine adjudication of another.  Therefore we are prohibited from posturing our language as if we do know.

What about Atheists and Christ Deniers and So On?

Remember, when a prescriptive principle is rendered in God’s Word we must apply it in that manner.  Where divine adjudication is left for only the Divine, there are no exceptions.  Unless God has specifically revealed to us his personal adjudication for a specific person, we simply do not have enough information or capacity to claim knowledge of or insight into the divine rendering.

So in What Manner do we refer to Such Persons?

Glad you asked but by now I had hoped you knew the answer.  We speak about such persons in a practical manner that is without an emphatic posture.  In practical terms we speak as Matt 18 indicates, whether about an unrepentant member of the congregation or one that has never expressed faith, as an unbeliever.   We take them at their word that they do not believe and describe them as such without claim of knowledge of the divine adjudication.  Why?  Because even when, out of their own mouth they claim to reject Christ, the ruling principles stands, we may not presume to know what God has not revealed.

What we do know is that if they do not believe on Christ and die in that state they will be rejected by God.  And we do know that if their word be true, that they presently reject Christ, they are presently rejected by God.  But what we do not know are the two essentials which are all the matters of their heart and the divine rendering of the judgment of God with regard to whether or not they have believed at some point.

This is a hard thing for many of the Purtian ARCers and numerous other believers.  They have been taught, and particularly ARC factions but others as well, that they can know by means of practical adjudications the judgments of God.

What you are left with are two choices; either respect the prohibition of God in claiming knowledge of divine renderings that have not been revealed and engage fairly and rightly in practical adjudications which God permits or ignore the divine boundary and with your insouciance simply continue claiming to know the salvation of others.

Sadly here is a relevant portion of the last post by the blogger that reflects what I am saying about the inability to grasp the distinction between divine adjudication and practical adjudication:
Formally affirming those lines and then saying "God will judge" IN THIS CONTEXT is about 13% right and 87% harmful gasbaggery.

I can unambiguously affirm that someone who professes no faith in Christ gives me no reason to hope that he is saved.

I can unambiguously affirm that someone who professes some kind of faith in Christ, while denying cardinal Biblical doctrines, gives me no reason to hope that he is saved, and no excuse for affirming him as a Christian leader in good standing.

He calls the preservation of those elements assigned only to divine adjudication as “gasbaggery”.  It might be, in his defense, he is reacting to the misuse by some who, when we make legitimate practical judgments they assert that “we may not judge”.  But if he understood the demarcation as he should he would understand the seriousness of “God will judge” as not only an argument on the issue but the pivotal and most urgent of all points.

Secondly, no one is arguing whether we can express if there is hope or not or likelihood or not,  no one has argued such statements cannot validly be made. Those are not attempts to convey insight into divine adjudication since they are not emphatic.   In fact this was the position I and others took.  This is why it is clear in responding as such even a seasoned student of the word has been misguided on the subject and can be seen reacting with arguments no one has made simply in defense of a subject of which he has a poor grasp.  And this is not to point out just this person but he is indeed representative of many who have had formal training and act as teachers within the body of Christ who need remediation in this area of doctrine.

Here is a closing graphic of the difference between the two.

Divine Adjudication                                    Practical Adjudication
Determines who is saved                               Determines with whom to fellowship
Determines members of Christ’s Body           Determines local members
Determines divine discipline                           Determines church discipline    
Determined Satan’s judgment                        Determines Satan's influence


Anonymous said...

Hi Doll, I noticed nobody's reading your blog.

Are you one of them disoynment bloggis?

Alex Guggenheim said...

You're reading it but then since nobody is reading it I should consider you nobody, right?

As to your question, it need not be asked if you read at the bottom of the blog the focus of the blog. The question is answered there.