Healthy Debate vs. Personal Attacks & Judgmentalism…what’s the difference?

Posted on January 6, 2011


We live in an impoverished society.  No, I’m not talking about money.  We are impoverished whenever we lack something that is essential to life.  I have discovered that there is a great poverty in our culture regarding how we relate to one another, the way we debate one another, and the way that we disagree with one another.  Knowing how to have a healthy debate of substance in our discourse is a great poverty in our culture indeed. 

Life is full of irony, and this article is no exception to that.  For quite a while now, I have been sensing the need to discuss this issue that touches all of our lives as we relate to one another in significant ways.  It truly is ironic that I would be discussing such an issue because, over the years, I have often been labeled as being a very judgmental person who engages in personal attacks. 

Like I mentioned in my previous article, while those accusations may or may not be true, I have made a personal commitment to not defend myself against those judgment calls as I am convinced there are more profound issues to discuss.  In light of that, I would ask you to hold off on any judgment and listen to what is on my heart as I believe it could greatly enrich your life and personal discourse with one another.

A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting in Washington D.C. with some folks that spent two days discussing issues of great importance to our society and how, as believers, we can bring Christ to areas of great need.  In light of the charged political environment, one of the issues that were discussed was having civility in our discourse regarding things of great importance. 

Normally, I would have been very skeptical of the aim of such a conversation, but it was very eye opening for me.  Since then, I have sensed the Lord opening my eyes to a verse from scripture that, to be honest, I never did fully grasp.  This verse is very controversial and has been debated, ignored, and twisted for a long time.  Here is the verse:

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

The simple mentioning of this verse can draw the ire of many, or the praise of many, depending on what issue is being discussed.  In my opinion, this truth from the mouth of Jesus is one of the most misunderstood verses in all of the scriptures.  This verse has been twisted to silence people from speaking out on truths of great importance.  As a result, many in the evangelical world have ignored this verse as a reaction to this error.  Many Christians will be quick to tell you what this verse doesn’t mean, but few will be able to tell you what it actually does mean.  Usually, a reaction to error can lead to more error as well.  There is one reason that I’m convinced Jesus gave us this command to not pass judgment. 

There are a few things that we simply have not been given authority to do because there are certain powers that God possesses that He has not passed down to man.  One quality that God possesses is omniscience (the ability to know all things), and He has not given mankind this quality because we are finite creatures.  When a judge makes a judgment, he must have all the facts present in order to make a judgment, and since we don’t have all the facts about certain things, we cannot pass judgment.

There will be a time for judgment for people, and that time is in the future.  God has that job already.  Since we are limited in our ability to know certain things, we are dependent upon God to reveal to us what is true and what is just.  What God has revealed to us, we can declare freely because they are based on truths that God has revealed to us in these last days through His Son (Hebrews 1:2) who is the Word of God. 

The things that God has declared, we can and should declare freely for the purpose of revealing the Son of God to the world, and for the edification and building up of the body of Christ.  If these truths come into conflict with things that are not true, we should not be afraid to let these truths confront and tear down structures and arguments that are based on untruths as 2 Cor. 10:5 suggests. 

This, however, is much different than making a judgment based on things that we do not know, however.  When we make a personal judgment regarding someone’s character or nature, we are acting as judge over them.  This is incorrect because we simply have not been given information by God to make such a judgment.  Truths and untruths can and must be vigorously debated, but personal judgments must be avoided at all costs no matter how much we think we may know about a person.

I know this may be confusing, so let me give you two examples.  First, let me give you an example of how failure to heed Matthew 7:1-2 can negatively affect your interactions with others.  Since I am a proponent of an ‘organic’ understanding of the church and I am an opponent of the institutional understanding of the church, I will give you a sample of the type of conversations that can occur in this arena.  Note, this is a fictitious conversation:

ME (negative example):

I am convinced that the institutional church is built upon unbiblical values and beliefs.  Many of the people who lead these institutions are nothing more than modern day Pharisees who love their own traditions over the truths contained in the scriptures.  They are evil people.  If they really valued the scriptures, they would never be a part of anything like that.

OTHER PERSON (negative example):

Jamal, I completely disagree. I know many good people who are leaders in the institutional church.  How can you say that all people who lead the institutional church are modern day Pharisees?  You know, you are such a negative person.  You are unloving, judgmental, and are full of pride.  You create such division. You are treating the church unfairly. You seem to follow after men who write books and not God.  Did you know that (enter Organic Church author’s name here) is an evil guy who associates with bad people?  How can you read books and associate with people like that?  You are a charlatan yourself who is misguided and misled, and you are only building your own ministry.

Ok, so I know that I have used some extreme examples, but you get the point.  This is truly a negative example of judgmental behavior at its worst.  Could there be institutions that are led by modern day Pharisees?  Certainly.  Could there be institutions led by leaders who love the Lord and value scripture? Certainly.  It is not, however, my place to decide which is which because I cannot see the heart and motivations of a man on a complete level the way God can.  God will be the one to decide that. 

Similarly, am I a judgmental, proud, unloving charlatan?  Are the other leaders in the Organic church world only out for their own names and reputations? Maybe, or maybe not.  That, however, is only God’s place to decide.  God will decide, and not any of us. 

Our job is to be professional lovers.  If we make a mistake, we should make the mistake of assuming the best in others.  That is the essence of love.  Consider this passage of scripture about love: “(Love)…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).  We should not start from a place of skepticism about one another.  We should see the Lord in our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We should believe the best about who they are (or will be) in Christ, and we should not lose patience with one another. 

We should endure in our high opinion of one another because we should see others through the eyes of Christ.  This will keep us from passing judgment on one another as we are forbidden from that kind of behavior.  I can tell you personally what is perceived as arrogant and prideful to one person, is seen as loving and gracious to another.  Who’s right?  Only God has the right and authority to decide.  We should pass up the opportunity to judge every time the enemy brings us this potential job description.  This will keep us from leveling general accusations against one another.  Only God sees the depths of a person and knows the motivations of one’s heart. 

Let me be clear, however.  I am not in any way suggesting that we do not have vigorous and spirited debate about issues and truth.  We have the right & duty to discuss things that are of vital importance.  God has revealed truth to us about many things.  He is the embodiment of truth.  The declaration of truth will affect the freedom of many, so we should not be hesitant to engage in discussion about issues in the appropriate settings. 

There are times for presenting Christ to one another for the purpose of building one another up (corporate church meetings), and then there are times to have discussion and debate as well.  These are usually different settings.  All should be done in respect and belief of the best in one another.  This will completely change the dynamics of how we debate and even disagree with one another.  Le me give you an example of a positive fictitious conversation that I might have:

ME (positive example):  

I am convinced that the institutional church is built upon unbiblical values and beliefs. One of the unbiblical values that the institutional church is built upon is the unbiblical belief of a selective priesthood that was introduced into the church several centuries after the time of Christ.  Scripture teaches that we are all priests. Hierarchical leadership is not taught in the New Testament.  This institutional value is a violation of what scripture teaches.

OTHER PERSON (positive example):

Jamal, I disagree with your assessment.  The church is a living organism and while the concept of leadership and the modern concept of clergy may have been introduced a few hundred years after the time of Christ, it was because a need for more hierarchical leadership arose. Hierarchical leadership is essential and is spoken about in the New Testament. There is no conflict of the modern office of Pastor and the Biblical value of the priesthood of all believers.

This is the beginning of a positive and healthy example of a debate because there were no judgments leveled at one another.  The issues presented both by me and the other person can be discussed intelligently and vigorously without any accusations being made.  Sometimes we’ll have to agree to disagree, but we can still value one another as vital members of the body of Christ. 

If an argument is rejected it should be rejected because it doesn’t correspond to something that is true, not because we are offended because of the way we judge the heart or character of the person to be.  If we believe the best about a person, we will find ourselves offended at one another much less.  We will be less defensive as well.  It will actually free us to see things much clearer. 

Trying to judge the heart of a person will cause you to become very suspicious.  It will cause you to perceive things that are not real.  You will have a hard time loving and serving the people you judge because resentment will rise up in you against that person.  I would like to leave you with a few guidelines to follow in life when dealing with other people.  This would include family members, fellow members of the body of Christ, public figures, and political leaders as well. 

  • Resist the temptation to demonize and judge the heart of another you are debating. Assume that the difference of opinion comes from a different view of an issue.  Assume that the disagreement comes from a lack of understanding, not a proud or arrogant heart. Even Jesus asked His Father to forgive those who were nailing Him to the cross because they did not understand what they were doing.  Even then He resisted the temptation to judge their hearts.


  • Resist the temptation to pass judgment on the way someone is doing something.  We all have different styles and different communication methods.  If someone is communicating in a way that you feel is not effective, learn from them what you should not do yourself. 


  • Keep your disagreements focused on the issues.  In the midst of the disagreement, remind yourself of who it is that you are disagreeing with and ask the Lord to show you how He sees the person you are disagreeing with.  This will give you a heart of compassion for the person you are in debate with.  If there is no compassion, there is no love and that is a sign that judgment could be occurring. Can you imagine how amazing it would be if our political leaders did this? This will revolutionize your entire life! 


  • Do not use specific situations to make generalizations about a person. If there has been a specific offense or crime committed, address the specific thing that happened.  Do not make general statements that characterize a person in general terms.  I heard a person say once that satan likes to speak in general terms like: “You’re a loser, you are arrogant and proud” etc…God, however deals with us in specifics the way a good Father does. For example: “Jonny, when you called your sister that bad name and said she caused nothing but problems, that action was not loving.”  God always deals in specifics. 


  • When someone judges you, do not respond in kind.  No one can cause us to act in a way that we shouldn’t.  Repay evil with good. Lavish praise when you are being judged.  Ask the Lord to give you His heart for the person who is attacking you.  Hurt people hurt others unintentionally.  Speak to that hurt if you are able.  Do not be afraid to speak truth over the person who is speaking judgment over you.  Let God defend you.  Do not defend yourself.   


  • Defend truth, but do not answer attacks on people.  Those who pass judgment will always try to attack the heart of a person.  We must not fight that battle.  Do not allow people to put you (or others) on trial. Only wear a shoe that fits you, so to speak.  You, or others, should not be the object of the conflict.  The truth that is causing the offense is the real issue that should be focused on. We should discuss and debate the truth because the freedom of many is at stake. 


  • To my brothers and sisters who are involved in the ‘Organic’ church, practice the principle of treasure hunting with our fellow brothers or sisters every time you meet together.  Look for Christ in everything they do or say.  If our default setting is seeing people’s flesh and faults, we will find those faults every time.  If our default settings are to see Christ in our brothers and sisters, we will find Him every time. This will transform the community entirely! 


I hope this advice has been practical and helpful.  This is not a time that we need to retreat from discussion and debate.  We are at a crossroads in our society, and truth must and should be vigorously shared and debated.  In doing so, however, we must never attempt to usurp the authority to judge that which exclusively belongs to God alone.  

Jamal Jivanjee