By Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Ph.D.
The gospel of tolerance is a worldly attempt to win souls and keep them in the church. Those who believe in this designer gospel maintain that more people will join the church and stay in it if, instead of â€œjudging people,â€ we simply â€œaccept them the way they are.â€ This gospel is preached loudest when an offending member comes up for church discipline.
The scriptural basis for this new gospel is Christâ€™s statement in His Sermon on the Mount, â€œJudge not, that ye be not judgedâ€ (Matt 7:1). Those who have embraced the gospel of tolerance insist that it is wrong for the church to discipline anyone. Since only an infallible God (or the Holy Spirit) can truly judge anyone, proponents of the new gospel maintain that those who insist on disciplining a fellow believer are hypocrites or â€œPharisees,â€ for they also are sinners just like the one they are judging.
Seventh-day Adventists who find this gospel of tolerance attractive dress it up in the words of Ellen G. White. They find support in Mrs. Whiteâ€™s commentary on the Sermon on the Mount: â€œChrist here gives no liberty for any man to pass judgment upon others. In the Sermon on the Mount He forbade this. It is the prerogative of Godâ€ (Gospel Workers, 502). They also quote Ellen Whiteâ€™s statement concerning Christâ€™s parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13): â€œNot judgment and condemnation of others, but humility and distrust of self, is the teaching of Christ’s parableâ€ (Christâ€™s Object Lessons, 74).
This article briefly examines the gospel of tolerance, arguing that the gospel is inconsistent, self-refuting and unbiblical. Furthermore, the article takes a closer look at Matthew 7:1 and the Ellen White statements that are often cited in support of this questionable doctrine.
THE GOSPEL OF TOLERANCE
The gospel of tolerance argues that many people have stopped coming to church mainly because members are too judgmental. To be redemptive, the church must be tolerant. Tolerance is equated with open-mindedness, and the person who stands up for biblical teaching and practices is seen as a bigot. So, even if a person is on the wrong road we should leave him alone. The church must not discipline him.
There is, indeed, some truth in the observation that church members are often hypocritical and too hasty in judging their fellow brothers and sisters when they sin. But advocates of this view seriously err when they maintain that it is wrong to judge people who are at fault. Those who propagate and believe this gospel of tolerance do so for two major reasons. First, they confuse it (their gospel of tolerance) with respect, civility and courtesy. Second, very few understand what true tolerance is.
1. Confusing Tolerance with Respect
My dictionary defines tolerance as a â€œfair and permissive attitude toward those whose race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from oneâ€™s own.â€ Genuine tolerance requires that we allow the person who espouses beliefs we consider wrong the right to do so. Accordingly, a tolerant person is one who is courteous and understanding. He is not prejudiced against other people or their creeds and beliefs. Neither does he intrude or impose his views upon others. Tolerance, in this context, means freedom from bigotry and an undogmatic viewpoint.
This meaning of tolerance (known as â€œcivic toleranceâ€) can be equated with respect. It is one of the virtues enshrined in the laws and constitutions of civilized and democratic societies. We respect people who hold beliefs different from our own. We treat them courteously and allow them to express their views in public discourse, even though we may strongly disagree with them and vigorously contend against their ideas in the public square.
But while people have a right to hold and express their views, respect or civility should not be confused with the gospel of tolerance. There is a huge difference. Whereas civic tolerance maintains that all persons should be respected and their views should get a courteous hearing, the gospel of tolerance goes further by arguing that all views and practices have equal worth, merit, or truth. Tolerating or respecting people (civic tolerance) is confused with tolerating their ideas and practices (gospel of tolerance). According to this gospel, no idea or behavior can be opposed, regardless of how graciously, without inviting the charge of being â€œjudgmental,â€ â€œintolerant,â€ â€œdisrespectful,â€ â€œbigoted,â€ â€œextremistâ€ or some other harsh accusation.
In other words, what is preached today by the gospel of tolerance is not tolerance at all but an ideology of pluralism in belief systems, relativism (anything goes) in ethics, and permissiveness in behavior. Many people do not realize that the notion that all viewpoints and practices have equal worth is not only false, but frankly nonsense.
Common sense tells us that some views are patently false and some practices are plainly wrong. No civil societyâ€”however open-minded it claims to beâ€”can tolerate all kinds of ideas and behaviors. If it did, there would be no need for law courts and the police to arbitrate among contending claims. There exist in every society some core beliefs and values that are non-negotiable. Anarchy results when a society cannot make judgments about right and wrong.
What is true of society also holds true in the church. No Christian church can legitimately allow permissiveness in its membersâ€™ behavior or pluralism in their beliefs. While the church must show respect to all persons, the church must also declare that there are some views that are erroneous and some practices that are not morally acceptable. Church discipline is the means the church employs to ensure that members cannot believe anything or do anything they want. Otherwise what would be the need for the church?
The gospel of tolerance is, therefore, misguided, if not heretical, when it preaches a gospel that confuses respect for people with tolerance of their ideas and behavior.
2. Misunderstanding the Meaning of Tolerance
The second major reason why the gospel of tolerance is very popular is that few understand the true nature of tolerance. Today, if we think someoneâ€™s beliefs or behavior are wrong, we are considered intolerant, bigoted, or narrow-minded. Contrary moral opinions are labeled as â€œimposing your views on others.â€ The problem is that many of those who throw around the charges of intolerance do not fully understand some important ideas that are inherent in the concept of tolerance.
According to Websterâ€™s New World Dictionary (2nd College Edition), tolerance means to allow or to permit, to recognize and respect othersâ€™ beliefs and practices without sharing them, to bear or put up with someone or something not necessarily liked. Note the following ideas that are implied in the meaning of tolerance.
1. Tolerance is not pluralism. The gospel of tolerance takes the clearly observable fact that there are a plurality of views, values, and practices in society and draws the illegitimate conclusion that all viewpoints should be accorded the same worth or that there is no justifiable way of choosing among them. In other words, it makes a leap in logic when it argues from what exists or what is (plurality of views) to what ought to be (pluralism in beliefs and ethics). On this mistaken view anyone who attempts to show that there is a right and a wrong way is considered “dogmatic” or “intolerant.”
But while genuine tolerance admits that there are many competing claims in belief and lifestyle, no one ever tolerates everything. (Observe the reaction of preachers of the gospel of tolerance when someone steals their most valuable objects!) We all make value judgments as to the rightness and wrongness of certain ideas and behaviorsâ€”whether they be stealing, killing (war, abortion, capital punishment), racism, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, pornography. Given that everyone maintains that some things should or should not be tolerated, the real issue is not whether one is tolerant, but rather what is included on one’s list and why.
2. Tolerance implies disagreement. Today all we have to do to be considered intolerant is to disagree with someone, especially on certain hot-button issues. When that happens, the gospel of tolerance labels the expression of contrary opinions as “imposing your views on others.” Those who differ in certain ways are deemed bigoted and narrow-minded.
The truth, however, is that we cannot tolerate others unless we disagree with them. We don’t “tolerate” people who share our views. We do not tolerate something we either accept or are indifferent to, because it requires nothing of us. Instead, tolerance is reserved for those we think are wrong.
Unfortunately, this essential element of toleranceâ€”disagreementâ€”is often lost in today’s discussion about tolerance. Most preachers of the “don’t judge me” gospel of tolerance, for instance, cannot rightfully be said to be tolerant regarding homosexual behavior since they have no objection to it. By definition, tolerance implies what you disagree with what you don’t like.
3. Tolerance implies intolerance. One often-overlooked paradox within the concept of tolerance is that at the core of tolerance is a kind of intolerance. Since tolerance requires a disagreement and an initial objection, it follows that the least tolerant person is the person who accepts everything, because such a person is not required to overcome any internal objections.
Consequently, we must not be intimidated by the label of “intolerant.” The most intolerant person is the one who has no, or very few, convictions on anything. In other words, the Bible-believing Christian (the one holding to “dogmatic” beliefs) may, ironically, be much more tolerant than her counterpart, because there are so many more things to which she objects.
4. Tolerance is not impotence or coercion. But while tolerance implies a certain kind of intolerance, it does not mean a lack of or the abuse of power. Let me briefly explain.
On one hand, if we would stop something if we could, but are powerless to do so, we are not tolerant, but merely impotent. Much of what masquerades as tolerance today is not genuine tolerance at all but actually cowardice—the fear to be unpopular in the eyes of our relativistic culture.
In the context of church discipline, many so-called tolerant churches which fail to discipline erring members betray their impotence or lack of backbone. Genuine tolerance always implies a restraint in the judicious exercise of legitimate power. For God has invested the church with power to discipline (Matthew 18:15-18). “On the church has been conferred the power to act in Christ’s stead. It is God’s instrumentality for the preservation of order and discipline among His people. To it the Lord has delegated the power to settle all questions respecting its prosperity, purity, and order. Upon it rests the responsibility of excluding from its fellowship those who are unworthy, who by their un-Christlike conduct would bring dishonor on the truth. Whatever the church does that is in accordance with the directions given in God’s word will be ratified in heaven” (Gospel Workers, p. 501).
Therefore, a genuinely tolerant church must not fail to exercise its divinely invested authority to discipline erring members. Such an exercise can have a healing or redemptive impact on the lives of those members. “The Lord desires His followers to exercise great care in dealing with one another. They are to lift up, to restore, to heal. But there is to be in the church no neglect of proper disciplineâ€ (Testimonies for the Church, 7:264).
But while tolerance is not impotence—the failure to judiciously exercise power—it is also not the abuse of power. If we exercise our power by imposing our views (whether right or wrong) upon others, it is not only intolerance, but coercion.
Ironically, impotent churchesâ€”those which tolerate all kinds of questionable beliefs and practicesâ€”also tend to be the most intolerant toward faithful members who seek to uphold biblical teachings and lifestyles. Though they claim to be open-minded, they do not always welcome opposing views that are biblical. Perhaps I should add parenthetically that this is why it has become risky these days for anyone to question the biblical legitimacy of the ideologies that are invading such churches (higher criticism, homosexuality, unbiblical divorce and remarriage, womenâ€™s ordination, rock music, questionable worship styles, etc.). Those who courageously stand up against these practices are often vilified, if not persecuted. And sometimes it is very difficult for loyal Adventists to be hired or retained, despite the fact that they may be the most qualified. The policy is usually unwritten, but those familiar with several situations can testify to the intolerant attitude toward those who uphold the longstanding biblical position on the ideological issues.
Genuine tolerance, in contrast to the gospel of tolerance, is neither impotent nor coercive. It always implies a restraint in the judicious exercise of legitimate power. In the church, genuine tolerance is manifested when it tolerates all persons in all circumstances by according them respect and courtesy. But it tolerates (allows) only beliefs and behaviors that are biblically acceptable.
5. Tolerance is not indifference or passivity. We must distinguish between genuine tolerance and the moral passivity or indifference that is inherent in the gospel of tolerance. Too much of what goes by the name tolerance is not the result of principled judgment; it is simple moral indifference. We simply don’t care about others—what they believe and how they behave.
But we must point out that any society or group that is indifferent to truth is morally bankrupt, for it is unwilling or incapable of discerning right from wrong. Any church that stoops to this level of indifference will inevitably invite God’s judgment upon its members: “God holds His people, as a body, responsible for the sins existing in individuals among them. If the leaders of the church neglect to diligently search out the sins which bring the displeasure of God upon the body, they become responsible for these sins” (Testimonies for the Church, 3:269).
This is why the Seventh-day Adventist church ought to take church discipline very seriously. Unfortunately, those who have embraced the gospel of tolerance do not believe in church discipline, nor the reasons for it.
REASONS FOR CHURCH DISCIPLINE
Let me quote from our Church Manual, page 184:
“Among the grievous sins for which members shall be subject to church discipline are the following:
1. Denial of faith in the fundamentals of the gospel and in the cardinal doctrines of the church or teaching doctrines contrary to the same.
2. Violation of the law of God, such as worship of idols, murder, stealing, profanity, gambling, Sabbathbreaking, and willful and habitual falsehood.
3. Violation of the seventh commandment of the law of God as it relates to the marriage institution, the Christian home, and biblical standards of moral conduct.
4. Such violations as fornication, promiscuity, incest, homosexual practice, sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults, and other sexual perversions, and the remarriage of a divorced person, except of the spouse who has remained faithful to the marriage vow in a divorce for adultery or for sexual perversions.
5. Physical violence, including violence within the family.
6. Fraud or willful misrepresentation in business.
7. Disorderly conduct which brings reproach upon the cause.
8. Adhering to or taking part in a divisive or disloyal movement or organization. (See p. 180.)
9. Persistent refusal to recognize properly constituted church authority or to submit to the order and discipline of the church.
10. The use, manufacture, or sale of alcoholic beverages.
11. The use, manufacture, or sale of tobacco in any of its forms for human consumption.
12. The misuse of, or trafficking in, narcotics or other drugs.
â€œThe Seventh-day Adventist Church recognizes the need of exercising great care to protect the highest spiritual interests of its members, to ensure fair treatment, and to safeguard the name of the church.
â€œIn a case of transgression of the commandments of God where there is deep repentance and full and free confession, giving evidence that genuine conversion has taken place, the church may administer discipline by placing the transgressor under censure for a stated period of time.
“However, in a case of flagrant violations of the law of God which have brought public reproach upon the cause, the church may deem it necessary, even though a sincere confession has been made, to remove an individual from church membership to protect its name and its Christian standards. Later, when it is evident that the individual’s life is consistent with church standards, the offender may be received back into the fold after rebaptism. The church cannot afford to deal lightly with such sins nor permit personal considerations to affect its actions. It must register its decisive and emphatic disapproval of the sins of fornication, adultery, all acts of moral indiscretion, and other grievous sins; at the same time it must do everything to restore and reclaim the erring ones. As the world continually grows more lax in moral matters, the church must not lower the standards set by God” (Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, p. 184).
Unfortunately, whenever the subject of church discipline comes up, believers of the gospel of tolerance bring up their doctrine of “don’t judge me.” As we shall attempt to show, if the gospel of tolerance is seriously flawed, the “don’t judge me” doctrine upon which it is based is equally questionable.
THE “DONâ€™T JUDGE ME” DOCTRINE
Christ’s Matthew 7:1 statement, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” is, perhaps, the second most popular verse in the Bible (next only to Christâ€™s command to â€œlove one anotherâ€). We have all had this “judge not” or “don’t judge me” line quoted to us at one time or another. Even those who do not go to church have memorized it, employing it to their service when they seek to turn the tables on Christians.
This proof-text of the “don’t judge me” doctrine is so powerful that even when we are compelled to speak words of rebuke or criticism, we preface our comments by saying, “Well, I know we’re not supposed to judge, but â€¦.” And when we insist on judging the views and behavior of others we are met with the comment, â€œWho are you to judge?â€
Few people are, however, aware that comments such as â€œDonâ€™t judge me,â€ or â€œWho are you to judge?â€ are rooted in an ethical system known as relativism. Relativism does not believe in objective, universal, moral absolutesâ€”there are no standards of right and wrong. According to this system, morality is subjective; it changes from person to person, place to place, and time to time. Since there are no moral standards, everyone must be left to live as they see fit. In the popular expression of today, we must â€œlive and let live.â€ We must be open to other beliefs, other moral convictions and different lifestyles.
Since relativism teaches that there are no moral absolutes, it argues that we cannot justifiably make moral judgments or evaluate actions and beliefs as morally right or wrong. On this view, anyone who attempts to show that there is a right and wrong way is considered “dogmatic” or “intolerant.” However, this relativistic doctrine of â€œdonâ€™t judge meâ€ is inconsistent, self-refuting, and unbiblical. It makes sense only if there are some objective moral absolutes.
1. Inconsistent and Self-Refuting
Let me illustrate the inconsistency and absurdity of the don’t judge me philosophy with a conversation I had with a friend Iâ€™ll call Mary. Mary prided herself as a progressive and tolerant Adventist scholar until we started discussing the question of homosexuality.
â€œI have no problem with you when you express and defend your view on homosexuality,â€ she said. â€œBut itâ€™s very wrong to be judgmental.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s wrong with that?â€ I asked this leading question in order to show the self-refuting nature of her relativistic ethic.
â€œItâ€™s not right to judge other people; only God can do that,â€ she said.
And I said, â€œIf itâ€™s wrong to judge people, Mary, why are you judging me? Are you God?â€
The question caught her totally off guard. It exposed the inconsistency in the â€œdonâ€™t judge meâ€ philosophy. On the one hand, it denies all moral absolutes; on the other hand it wants to proclaim its own absolutes and force them on me.
The statement â€œItâ€™s not right to judge other peopleâ€ is itself a moral judgmentâ€”the same kind of judgment that my friend was denying to me. My response halted her for a moment. When she regained her composure, she tried another approach.
â€œPerhaps I didnâ€™t express myself well enough,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s okay to judge peopleâ€”as long as you donâ€™t push your morality on them.â€
â€œIs that your morality, Mary?â€
â€œThen why are you forcing your morality on me?â€ I counted.
Once again, my friend found herself struggling with the inconsistency of her relativistic doctrine. In one last exasperated effort she said, â€œListen, Sam, I cannot express it well enough, but I’m sure you know what I mean.â€
â€œNo, Mary, I donâ€™t know what you mean. You cannot express it well because your relativistic ethic doesnâ€™t make sense. It is self-contradictory and self-defeating. You challenged the legitimacy of my making a moral judgment about homosexuality, but your attempt itself implies a moral judgmentâ€”the very thing you are fighting against. The truth is, there are moral absolutesâ€”universal principles of right and wrongâ€“by which we can make judgments. But you are a relativist, so you canâ€™t even say my judgments are wrong.â€
I cite this dialogue to show that the “don’t judge me” doctrine and the relativistic philosophy it is built on make no logical sense. When people say, “Don’t judge me,” ask them, “Why not?” You will discover that they cannot give a meaningful reason, because the doctrine is inconsistent and self-refuting. It is also unbiblical.
2. A Biblically Questionable Doctrine
Though Jesusâ€™ statement in Matthew 7:1 is the key proof text for the â€œdonâ€™t judge meâ€ gospel of tolerance, the passage does not teach that it is wrong to judge.
First of all, when Jesus said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” the original word which is here rendered “judge” is krin_. The word is used in a variety of senses in the New Testament. The word may mean:
(i) To weigh carefully and form an opinion or considerationâ€”as in “I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say” (1 Cor. 10:15), and in “judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?” (1 Cor. 11:13).
(ii) To infer or draw a conclusionâ€”such as in “thou [Simon, whom Christ asked, “Which of them will love Him most?”] hast rightly judged” (Luke 7:43).
(iii) To regard or account someone in a certain way; e.g., “If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord” (Acts 16:15), that is, “If you regard or account me so.”
(iv) To put on trial before a courtâ€”as in “Take ye Him and judge Him according to your law” (John 18:31).
(v) To condemnâ€”e.g., “Doth our law judge any man before it hear him?” (John 7:51).
(vi) To despise (cf. Romans 14:3, “Let not him that eateth despise him â€¦; let not him which eateth not judge himâ€).
The above examples show that the basic meaning of krin_ is to pass judgment. It is, however, the context of the wordâ€™s usage that determines its exact meaning and the rightness and wrongness of passing judgment. For example, when Jesus said in John 7:24 â€œJudge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment,â€ the context tells us how to judgeâ€”namely, not according to appearance, but righteously.
Also Paulâ€™s statement in Romans 14:3-4, (â€œLet not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?â€) suggests that he was condemning a presumptous kind of judging–passing judgment on the motives of another, which are open only to God.
So to determine what Jesus meant when he said in Matthew 7:1, â€œJudge not, that ye be not judged,â€ it is important to look at the context in which the passage is found. In this case, it is the following five verses:
Mat 7:1: Judge not, that ye be not judged.
Mat 7:2: For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
Mat 7:3: And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Mat 7:4: Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Mat 7:5: Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Observe that verse 1 is inseparably connected with the next four verses. In the first place, the opening word in verse 2 (â€œforâ€) indicates that the contents of verse 2 are a continuation of the theme of judging in verse 1, while the “and” at the beginning of verse 3 and the “or” at the beginning of verse 4 denote the same thing. Verse 5 is the Lordâ€™s application of the whole. Another link holding the five verses is the threefold mention of “thy brother” in verses 3, 4 and 5. Here the Lord describes the condition of â€œthy brotherâ€ and the state of the one who is trying to judge him (â€œthouâ€).
Matthew 7:1-5 reveals the following facts regarding the meaning of Christ’s “judge not” statement:
1. Jesus is not putting an end to the making of judgments; He is speaking against judging others hypocritically. The hyperbolic, but very humorous, word picture of a person with a beam in his eye trying to remove a speck from another personâ€™s eye, is intended to illustrate this point. Our Lord is teaching that when we have major problems in our own lives, we have no business arrogantly criticizing those whose problems are vastly less serious.
2. Jesus is not saying that we must never judge people; instead we must judge themâ€”after we have examined ourselves. Notice verse 5: â€œThou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.â€ In other words, once we have taken care of the plank in our own eyes, thenâ€“and only thenâ€“can we attend to the sawdust in someone elseâ€™s eye. This caution is intended to slow us in our haste to pass judgment. The accusers of the woman caught in adultery are a fitting illustration of this point (John 8:1-11).
3. Jesus is not saying we must not make judgments at all because we are sinners; rather we must do so especially when the condition of others is more serious than our own. Observe that Christ doesnâ€™t say if we have sawdust in our eyes we have no business helping the person with a plank in his eye. If our problem is only sawdust, by all means we must assist those whom we judge to have larger problems!
3. The True Meaning of â€œJudge Notâ€
As it turns out, Matthew 7:1, the key text for the â€œdonâ€™t judge meâ€ gospel of tolerance, does not say that all judging must cease. It does not saying that there should be no judgments within the church when matters come up for church discipline. We do, and should, judge when a brother or sister errs by embracing beliefs and lifestyle patterns that are incompatible with God’s kingdom. The thrust of the Matthew 7:1 passage is that when we make such judgments, we must be very careful how we do it.
In other words, Jesus indicates that we are to judge. Whether the problem is a plank or some sawdust, we must help our brothers and sisters in difficulties. But we must do so in a proper way. Our Lord is warning against our hypocrisy in quickly detecting the minor faults of others while unconcerned about our own graver sins. Christ is saying that if we judge others in this hypocritical manner we shall be judged by a God who sees what we do in secret.
The Paul made the same point when he wrote: â€œThou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (Rom. 2:1). The one who censures in others that which he allows in himself, is inexcusable and self-condemned. Nathan brought the same message to David in 2 Samuel 12:1-11.
In effect, Christâ€™s Sermon on the Mount teaches humility and forbearance in our relationship with all who err. He taught the same lesson in the parable of the wheat and tares.
FORBEARANCE, NOT THE GOSPEL OF TOLERANCE
Contrary to the claims of the gospel of tolerance, Christâ€™s parable in Matthew 13:24-30 cannot be used to justify the relativistic doctrine of â€œdonâ€™t judge me.â€ His statement in verse 30, â€œLet both [wheat and tares] grow together until the harvestâ€does not prop up the claim that the church has no right to judge anyone or to condemn their wrong beliefs and misconduct. Instead, the parable calls for extreme caution whenever we attempt to discipline peopleâ€”lest in our haste we make serious mistakes.
1. Donâ€™t judge motives. We must be careful not to judge the character and motives of people. We do well not to arrogate to ourselves what God alone can doâ€”reading the heart and motives of people. In Christâ€™s Object Lessons Ellen White cautions:
â€œChrist’s servants are grieved as they see true and false believers mingled in the church. They long to do something to cleanse the church. Like the servants of the householder, they are ready to uproot the tares. But Christ says to them, â€˜Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.â€™
â€œChrist has plainly taught that those who persist in open sin must be separated from the church, but He has not committed to us the work of judging character and motive. He knows our nature too well to entrust this work to us. Should we try to uproot from the church those whom we suppose to be spurious Christians, we should be sure to make mistakes. Often we regard as hopeless subjects the very ones whom Christ is drawing to Himself. Were we to deal with these souls according to our imperfect judgment, it would perhaps extinguish their last hope. Many who think themselves Christians will at last be found wanting. Many will be in heaven who their neighbors supposed would never enter there. Man judges from appearance, but God judges the heart. The tares and the wheat are to grow together until the harvest; and the harvest is the end of probationary timeâ€ (Christâ€™s Object Lessons, 71-72).
Observe that according to Mrs. White, â€œChrist has plainly taught that those who persist in open sin must be separated from the church.â€ In order to do so we need to know how to make sound judgments with spiritual discernment. The Scriptures repeatedly urge us to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14). Malachi 3:18 calls upon us to discern between the righteous and the wicked; between those who serve God and those who don’t. Ezekiel 44:23 tells us that we are to teach the people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. The apostle John calls upon us to discern between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error (l John 4:6). And Paul commands us to uphold the truth and reject lies (Romans 1:25), for no lie is of the truth (1 John 2:21).
But contrary to the overwhelming testimony of Scripture, the â€œdonâ€™t judge meâ€ gospel of tolerance teaches us not to draw lines between right and wrong ideas and practices. It bids us not to discriminate or attempt to evaluate the worth of different beliefs and lifestyles. Yet how can we be saved if we do not discern between good and evil, right and wrong? Failure to exercise this power of judgment may not only be spiritually fatal, we could cause others to be lost as well. This is why Scripture tells us to examine everything carefully and to hold fast that which is good, abstaining from every form of evil (1 Thess 5:21-22).
Thus, like Jesusâ€™ Matthew 7:1 statement in the Sermon on the Mount, this parable about the wheat and tares is not saying we must not judge at all; rather, we must exercise great care whenever we attempt to discipline people. The parable urges us to know the limits of our human abilities of discernment. We cannot know the heart and motives of others. These fall within Godâ€™s domain. God alone can judge character and motives. We must be careful.
2. Be Forbearing. Christâ€™s Object Lessons brings out another important lesson in this parableâ€”the lesson of forbearance or patience in dealing with erring ones: â€œThere is in the Saviour’s words another lesson, a lesson of wonderful forbearance and tender love. As the tares have their roots closely intertwined with those of the good grain, so false brethren in the church may be closely linked with true disciples. The real character of these pretended believers is not fully manifested. Were they to be separated from the church, others might be caused to stumble, who but for this would have remained steadfastâ€ (Christâ€™s Object Lessons, 72).
It is only in this context of forbearance that Mrs. White urges us not to condemn or judge others. â€œThe Redeemer does not want to lose one soul; His experience with Judas is recorded to show His long patience with perverse human nature; and He bids us bear with it as He has borne. He has said that false brethren will be found in the church till the close of time. Notwithstanding Christ’s warning, men have sought to uproot the tares. â€¦ Not judgment and condemnation of others, but humility and distrust of self, is the teaching of Christ’s parableâ€ (Ibid., 73-74).
We cannot claim to know the true motives and motivations of those who have embraced the gospel of tolerance and its relativistic doctrine of â€œdonâ€™t judge me.â€ But this much is certain: Both the Bible and Ellen White make it abundantly clear that the church has a duty to judge erroneous beliefs and practices. The issue is not about not judging anyone. It is about the extreme caution we must exercise when we judge or discipline erring ones. The following statement captures what our attitude must be when we are called upon to exercise this divine obligation:
In dealing with the erring, harsh measures should not be resorted to; milder means will effect far more. Make use of the milder means most perseveringly, and even if they do not succeed, wait patiently; never hurry the matter of cutting off a member from the church. Pray for him, and see if God will not move upon the heart of the erring. Discipline has been largely perverted. Those who have had very defective characters themselves have been very forward in disciplining others, and thus all discipline has been brought into contempt. Passion, prejudice, and partiality, I am sorry to say, have had abundant room for exhibition, and proper discipline has been strangely neglected. If those who deal with the erring had hearts full of the milk of human kindness, what a different spirit would prevail in our churches. May the Lord open the eyes and soften the hearts of those who have a harsh, unforgiving, unrelenting spirit toward those whom they think in error. Such men dishonor their office and dishonor God. They grieve the hearts of his children, and compel them to cry unto God in their distress. The Lord will surely hear their cry, and will judge for these thingsâ€ (Review and Herald, May 14, 1895).