Moving away from a “behave, believe, belong” culture
By Chloe Hanan
(From the April - June 2019 issue of VOX)
Anthony Joshua is world heavyweight champion, holding three of the four major championships in boxing. I have recently discovered a love for watching men bate [beat] the heads off each other. Call it stress relief, but there is something about the sheer power those men have, the ability to raise a fist and thump another with a force that brings them to their knees, that flattens them out, sometimes unconscious and then the roar of the crowd as they lift their hands in victory.
Christian judgement is not dissimilar to a boxing match. Regardless of your ability to throw a punch literally, as a Christian you hold within your power a potential three-pronged punch to those in your community. Much like Anthony will go in with a right handed jab, a left counter punch with a looping hook, and finish off with that right uppercut that slams his opponent into a knockout, Christian judgement has its three-pronged attack.
1. You have done something wrong.
2. I am rejecting you - (I no longer accept you or will associate with you).
3. I am right to do this (generally because I have the moral high ground).
The knockout that comes from that sort of judgement is profound and long lasting. It brings people to their knees, often knocking them out entirely. I have been both the executor and the recipient of these knockouts. I have seized the moral high ground and presided over conquests of those beneath me and, as a woman, I have unique ways in which I can let that be known.
I have also been the recipient. When already on my knees in life, I’ve experienced the three-pronged attack of having my brokenness seen and rejected and watching the superior look in their eyes as they walked away from me. It knocked me out.
Risking that judgement is a profound fear I still live with. It keeps me silent about my brokenness with the people I share community with. To ask the already painful heart to endanger itself with more rejection is a last straw situation.
I’ve worked full time for the past 10 years with a student organisation, and part of my job is summed up by the word ‘discipleship.’ There are many definitions to that but mostly it is about sharing life with people, building community while investing in younger people’s lives and then calling them to missional opportunities with their friends.
Judgement is something that I often encounter. There is so much suffering in each of the varied experiences of judgement. And this is rife in the Christian community in Ireland. Community is fractured and broken because of a systemic problem with judgement. It is warping unity; it is causing the witness of believers to falter and be powerless.
Paul Reid was the first person I heard explain this (you may have heard it elsewhere). He described the “behave, believe, belong” culture Christianity has created. You have to behave this way, so we know you believe what we do, and then you can belong with us. However, a culture that demands authenticity calls “bullshit” on that. And rightly so. It is not what Jesus modelled to us.
He had a unique way of drawing people. He did not take offence at people’s brokenness. His identity was solid, so it did not seek definition in others. Instead He looked without judgement and perceived the heart. In Luke 2:35 the priest, Simeon tells Jesus’ mother, Mary, that because of Him “the thoughts and intentions of hearts may be revealed.”
You see it in how He deals with each person. Jesus draws them into a space where they belong in conversation with Him. He does not deal with behaviour first; He gets to the heart. His model was a belong, now believe, and leave the behaviour to the working out of this new found belief in the Son of God, rescuer, king, friend and Saviour, and to the in-working of the Holy Spirit.
In His teaching, Jesus turns the culture of judgement on its head.
The Sermon on the Mount
This is early on in Jesus’ teaching, so this is clearly establishing what is vital to Him. In Matthew’s Gospel there is an extensive account of His teaching on judgement. It doesn’t get clearer than this. This is not metaphorical - this is Ronseal: it does exactly what it says on the tin.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’ and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Matthew Henry’s commentary defines judgement as ‘the setting of someone to naught’. Reducing someone to zero. Deciding that person is zilch. Putting them so far down that they are not a person.
The instruction is as clear as day. Do not judge. Do not make the worst of people. Do not infer invidious things from their actions, or their words. Do not judge their state by a single act, or by who they have been to you. It is God’s prerogative to try the heart, the intentions and motivations - it is not for us to step onto His throne and judge.
Jesus lays out some serious consequences for those who do judge, ‘with what judgement you judge, you shall be judged’. What would become of us if God started judging us with the severity we execute over other people’s mistakes?
The rest of this teaching was familiar to me as a Sunday school kid, but the meaning was lost on me until I studied it. The art of reproving: speaking the truth in love to others is not for the fainthearted. And it is not for everyone. It is not for those who themselves are guilty of the faults of which they accuse others. I have done this. I have seen this; the use of an opportunity to assert superiority in order to secure one’s own position. Because if I am better, I am not the worst, and I can soothe my floundering identity with what I am not - easier than investigating with diligence what I really am.
Search me and know my thoughts.
The plank and the speck are a matter of perspective - our own state of sin, messiness, mistakes, and the mad beliefs we hold about ourselves that are like oil spills in our own lives - must appear greater to us than the same sins in the other. That which culture may teach us to call a splinter in our sister’s eye, true connection to the kingdom will teach us to call a plank in our own.
Jesus teaches us to deal with our own house first. It is not an exemption. Recognising our own sin doesn’t excuse us from addressing what we see with someone else. My offence cannot be my defense. We cannot sit back in apathy as someone walks towards a cliff edge. We need to qualify ourselves to know what it is to speak the truth in love.
The work of the Holy Spirit
Lastly, Jesus introduces the Holy Spirit’s work. I am going to zoom in on two of the points He made.
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.” John 15: 26 - 27
Note the order here. The Holy Spirit knocks on the door of hearts, then we push the doors. Sometimes, we give the impression we do all the work, and the Holy Spirit is dragged in retrospectively to do His job. Jesus explains that the Spirit is the main witness and we go after to see what He has done.
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.” John 16:8
He (not the Christians) will convict the world of sin.
Let that sink in! It’s His job not ours.
Chloe Hanan is a Dublin/Wicklow native who has worked in ministry from a young age and has served with Agapé Ireland since 2009.