Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ, has brought Christians
around the world together in a offering of gratitude to God for
what Christ suffered on our behalf through his arrest, trial, and
crucifixion. But it has also caused conversation and debate over
the distinctions made between individuals and groups. The film itself
sparked controversy regarding alleged anti-Semitism due to a rancorous
portrayal of the Pharisees even though Jesus Himself was Jewish.
Some evangelicals oppose the film because of Gibson's choice to
include several non-biblical elements to the story taken from visions
of a Catholic mystic named Anne-Catherine Emmerich. Gibson himself
along with actor James Caviezel have frequently shared their personal
stories of God working in their lives during the making of the film.
So, how should we respond to claims of belief and authority? How
should we perceive the belief of an individual in light of the beliefs
of an organization or a denomination?
can state with absolute certainty that another individual is or
is not a true believer in Christ. The Lord, in His wisdom, has withheld
this knowledge from man. 2 Timothy 2:19 states that the Lord knows
those who belong to Him. The Lord alone possesses such knowledge.
No person can know perfectly the motives and attitudes of another
human being. The ability to discern heart motives requires infinite
and sinless knowledge. Jeremiah 17:10 states that "the Lord
searches the heart…"
judgment of an individual’s spiritual states lies outside
the knowledge of sinful human beings, the Lord commands us to use
what can be called "ministerial" judgment. Ministerial
judgment makes a decision based on evidence that can be seen. Ministerial
judgment analyzes the habitual conduct of a person. If an individual
conducts himself consistently in an upright manner, we say that
he is an honest person. If a person professes to be a Christian,
and his life demonstrates the character of that profession, we say
that he is a Christian. Although we cannot know perfectly the motives
of his heart, his behavior gives us confidence that our judgment
Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, "By their fruits you shall know
them." Where there is agreement between the profession and
conduct, we judge the person is what he claims to be. This is a
ministerial judgment, not an infallible judgment.
use of ministerial judgment is critical. People from all walks of
life profess to be Christians. Movie stars, sports figures and others
give credit to the Lord for what they claim He has enabled them
to accomplish. What is to be our judgment about these claims?
of faith, we have the liberty to determine if there is agreement
between their lifestyle and the life of the Christian as described
in God's Word. If the profession of Christianity and conduct of
the person's life do not agree, we have no biblical basis to believe
they are truly born again. We cannot state definitively that they
are not Christians; we merely state that their manner of life and
the plain statements of Scripture are not in agreement. In such
cases, we simply do not know if the persons are Christians or not.
To say that we do not know if they are Christians should not be
interpreted to mean that they are not Christians but merely states
the situation is different when we evaluate Christian organizations
or churches that have issued confessions of faith or doctrinal statements.
The purpose of a doctrinal statement is to declare what the church
believes about biblical teachings. In such cases we are to test
their doctrinal statements against the Scriptural standards. While
we are required to do this in a fair and objective manner, we are
responsible to determine whether their beliefs are true or not.
The standard must be the Word of God, and for us to do this properly,
we must know what God's Word teaches.
a close and impartial analysis, we determine that a confession of
faith or doctrinal statement is not in agreement with the teaching
of God's Word, we have the responsibility to state our opinion.
This is mandatory because we are required to warn people against
false teachers. Because it is a public document given for the purpose
of informing people what the organization believes, for one to give
their judgment is not an unfair attack against the organization.
Public documents are open to being analyzed and discussed.
practical lessons can be learned from these situations.
must learn to suspect our own hearts before we accuse others. The
primary question is not whether the other person is a Christian
but whether I am a Christian. Even true Christians are capable of
being deceived. The disciples, in the Upper Room, responded with
the question, "Lord, is it I?" when the Lord stated that
one of them was a traitor. Note carefully the apostles' words in
Matthew 26:22. A healthy self-distrust can be an effective antidote
we must recognize our limitations when we judge, even ministerially,
another person. How easy it is to convince ourselves that we know
the reason for another person's action. But in truth, we do not
know. Paul asked, "Who are we to judge the servants of another?"
The servant is required to give an account to his Master not to
us. Paul's teaching in Romans 14:4 is a sober reminder of our responsibility
not to go beyond biblical limits in judging others.
must know the doctrinal positions of groups with which we differ.
If we are convinced that a group does not teach the Word of God,
what is the basis of our confidence? Has the decision come from
a close study of their beliefs and a strict comparison of them with
the teaching of God's Word? Have we permitted our prejudices and
biases to influence our position?
a lack of discernment can be detrimental to effective Christian
witness. This also can occur when we claim that a person is a Christian
when the evidence is lacking. How many times have Christians declared
a person to be a Christian when subsequent events have proved otherwise?
An example of this takes place when one assumes a person is a Christian
because of his position on a particular issue. However, holding
a position that can be considered Christian does not make the person
must graciously, yet firmly, correct those who are Christians and
not give aid and comfort to the enemies of the Gospel. We must adopt
the attitude taught in Jude 22-23, "And have mercy on some,
who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and
on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by
the flesh." It is tragic that many Christians do not know what
the Scriptures teach. This doctrinal ignorance has resulted in grave
harm to the effectiveness of the Gospel.
If we are
to obey the commands of Jude, we are required to show the love of
Christ, and to know what and why we believe something. Even doing
this does not exhaust our responsibility. We must demonstrate by
our words and actions the truth of what we profess to believe.
of Jesus Christ needs a generation of Christians who have biblical
discernment. The Bible warns us against self-deception. May we all
be knowledgeable of God's Word, able to comfort the sorrowing but
able to convict the false professors of Christianity.