In the past, I have found the notion of people expressing doubt over whether a person was actually a Christian offensive. As a Mormon, I've had that leveled at me more than once and I always resented it. "Whether or not I'm a Christian is between me and Jesus Christ." I would say. (These days that doesn't bother me nearly as much as it used to. What do I care if people think I'm a Christian or not? Only one whose opinion on that matters to me is this certain carpenter from Nazareth...)
And I still believe that.
But the problem is more nuanced than that, isn't it. If a crazy cult leader, claiming to be a Christian, leads his people to murder, is it still wrong for us to say "Yeah... that dude... not a Christian?" That one's a relatively easy one... When somebody's basically doing the OPPOSITE of what Christianity is about, I think if ever there's a time when you can make that call...
But does it have to be so blatant? Can we still exercise discernment? I was riving to work the other day and took a route through downtown Baltimore and I saw a church with a gigantic rainbow flag hanging in the front of it. The message there is obvious: "Come worship here, we're totally cool with gay people being gay people." Maybe they even have a gay minister. Should I regard that as a Christian church on the same level as my own?
What about people who claim to be Christian but then support abortion, homosexual behavior or fornication? Is it okay to openly question their commitment or understanding of Christianity?
I think... maybe... the answer is in the Book of Matthew, chapter 7. I mean, at first, it seems pretty simple.
"Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."
But wait... is this really telling us not to judge at all? Those are the first two verses. Let's keep going.
"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 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? 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."
The next 3 verses are about hypocrisy. You don't get to call someone on their screwups when you're doing the same thing. Look carefully at the last part, though... Once the beam is out of your own eye, you are now in a position to call them out.
So what's that telling us? Well, my take on it is that if you're going to make a judgement like that, you're a hypocrite if you haven't got your own act together. A person can't preach about the evil of abortion then head on down to Planned Parenthood for an afternoon of baby slaughter.
Well that seems pretty simple and obvious... But what does it say about knowing who's a real Christian?
Jumping ahead to verses 13 and 14, we see a little commentary on what it means to follow the Lord.
"Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."
Note here that the gate is "strait" not "straight." In other words, the gate is not wide but narrow. What Jesus is telling us here is the path to follow Him is not wide, nor is the entrance to Heaven. We don't get to make up our own rules and decide what's "good enough" and still expect to find salvation.
Interesting, isn't it? So many people define Christianity as being very, very broad, simple, easily compatible with our modern world of shifting morality. But it's not. The gate is strait, the way is narrow.
Doesn't quite answer my question yet, but I think we're getting there.
Verses 15 - 20 talk about identifying false prophets.
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
How do you know a false prophet? Not by the doctrine he teaches, but by the fruits. Are his followers good examples of what disciples of Jesus Christ would look like? Would they accept the teachings of the Savior or would they turn away from them? Does this prophet encourage people to follow the Word of God, or to follow the morality of the world?
And also we're taught here that a good prophet will have good, Christian followers, and a bad one will NOT have good, Christian followers.
The last part of the chapter that I will quote from is verses 21 to 23.
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
What's this tell us? It tells us that SAYING you're a Christian doesn't make you one. Pretending to follow Christ won't get you saved, and claiming to do things Jesus' way doesn't mean you are.
Ok so what I learned from this is:
- There are times when it's acceptable to judge, but ONLY if we're not being hypocrites.
The path to follow Christ is NOT loose and easy, but narrow, and not flexible.
You can tell a true Christian leader by the example of those who follow him.
Claiming to be a Christian doesn't make you one, and Jesus isn't giving anybody a free pass.
So what is it that pleases God enough to make one a good Christian?
Maybe it's as simple as this:
"His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord."
This from a parable Jesus told. What pleases God is a good and faithful servant. Someone who is faithful to Him, someone who does good in His sight, and one who is obedient. Know what that adds up to? Humility. Submission to the Will of God.
So a good fruit is someone who is faithful to God's Will and doesn't put their own knowledge, desires and experience over God's commands.
So maybe it's that simple. Do you submit to Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, or don't you? Not just pay lips service, but REALLY submit. Really do what He says we must do whether it feels good or not, whether your neighbors like it or not, whether it's easy or not.
So maybe, if someone is obviously not doing so, putting their own desires ahead of God, or perhaps trusting in the preferences and "worldly wisdom" over God's Word, then maybe... just maybe... It's okay to say that person is no Christian. At the very least they're not an example to follow. perhaps it's best to leave it at that. Don't follow the example of someone who is clearly more interested in the world's morality than God's.