Sunday, 28 October 2007

Being free NOT to judge; especially not to judge other Christians

What does it feel like to be apostate? Well the most wonderful part of it, ironically, is that I am now free to accept and care about anyone. I don't have to judge people, pigeonhole them, look down on them, want to change them, want to control what they think and exclude them if they won't change. Judging people is a terrible burden, which weighs you down and makes you feel dirty.

Judging other Christians

I think probably for anyone who became a Christian in the JA judging other Christians came quite easily, but I came to the JA as a Christian already, so having to judge other Christians I already knew to be good people was horrible. The JA got much of its distinctiveness from being not only better than the unsaved world but better than all other Christians, who we referred to as "the form without the power", "worldly", backslidden, compromising, nominal, etc. People who had only experienced Christianity in the JA more naturally and comfortably subscribed to the received view that we were in fact the only true Christians.

If we met Christians we would be polite but would probe them to find out if they were the right kind of Christian. If they didn't claim to have had a Damascus road experience, we would assert that they were not Spirit filled, and if God's Spirit was not in them, their conversion was not sure. But even charismatics didn't pass muster with us. What we would say of them between ourselves was considerably less flattering than anything we'd say to their faces. Noel gave us licence to not be up-front with other Christians by saying that the devil used them and that we should not cast pearls before swine, lest they turn and rend us. We felt ourselves to be persecuted by the churches as much as by the world.

The main truth which became clear to all those of us who joined was that anyone who had come into contact with the JA was called to join, including other Christians. And that anyone who did not join was judged by God as refusing His call. Any Christians who had refused the call, therefore, must be under God's judgement.


Everyone who joined was baptised, including previously baptised Christians. Noel would invite the latter to accept that their baptisms had perhaps been ones at which God had not been present. Baptism was important because it separated us not only from our worldly sin but also from our powerless pre-JA Christianity. And more importantly, it formed part of the covenant process which joined us irrevocably to the Kingdom of God (not the universal church on Earth, but distinctly the JA/ Jesus Fellowship Church).

If challenged, the JA would grudgingly admit that there must be Christians elsewhere but would argue that if they were blessed at all it was because God was pleased with us. Noel had explained that we were like a cup into which God was pouring his blessings and that it was inevitable that this abundance would overflow...and others would be caught in the shower!

Live with those you disagree with; don't separate off from them

It has stayed with me that the over-riding feeling on leaving was that now I was free to accept everyone as they were. It does have to be said that I felt this even more so when I realised five years later that I wasn't a believer anymore, so this can apply to Christians fairly generally. A Christian at the fellowship I was part of in Bristol after the JA asked of the JA, "Do they believe what we believe?" and that made me instantly ask, "How do you know that I believe what you believe?" and it was then that I realised that as Christians we all worried far too much about categorising people rather than just loving them.

Another turning point was when I was a raving leftie and my step-father was a raving Tory. We would have those flaming arguments where you end up feeling murderous and this pulled me up short. I realised that I loved someone I had diametrically opposed beliefs to....but more importantly that it was possible to live with and love someone I disagreed with...and that this was far more powerful than shunning him, cutting him off etc. Effectively, I was "in community" with people I profoundly disagreed with; entirely the opposite of my Jesus Fellowship experience.

Love people without having to make them acceptable first...and don't discard them if they won't change

And more importantly, I loved my step-father without having to change him. Shouldn't that be what love is? It strikes me that Christians are far more inclined than non-Christians to criticise and judge other people. They are intensely uncomfortable with people they disapprove of and need to change them so that they can accept them. But surely the true test of love is being able to love people without making them acceptable first?