Beware Blanket Judgments

Sometimes Christians condemn one another because they differ in an interpretation of scripture. Some accuse with mistaken facts. Sadly, accusations destroy the ability to nurture a relationship that could potentially win others to an important message, undermines credibility and destroys the respect which once lost is difficult to regain. Christians want those who teach them to behave in a Christ-like fashion.

The example Christ provided was of love, forgiveness and kindness. He did not judge and taught in parables so His message could be pondered without anyone feeling personally attacked. He prayed for those who would or did not understand His message rather than condemn them. He understood that if someone listened to His words, they might later also believe them. He did not alienate those He hoped would follow Him.

Scripture also teaches us to beware the pride and arrogance evidenced by the Pharisees who condemned others and were then found lacking themselves. It teaches that God will be gracious to whom He will be gracious and that man cannot make this determination. Thus, we need to continually examine our hearts, our actions, and our inevitable private or public judgments and ask if God would approve the thoughts we entertain, and the example we have left with those with whom we have interacted.

Most Christians seek the same path, but are perhaps at a different place along that path. They love God, are thankful for what Christ sacrificed on their behalf, and strive to be found worthy when Christ returns. Some know a great deal about scripture, some do not; some sin in ways that we wouldn’t and we may sin in a way that they wouldn’t; some give more of themselves to others than we do, some are more pure in heart than others, and all have secret sins. It is for God, not man to judge.

God loves us because of what He sees in our heart and not because of a Biblical interpretation that we may or may not understand properly. He knows He can teach us as we mature because when we truly love Him we are willing to change. Christian life is a learning process where we look for benchmarks which demonstrate a growth in faith, understanding, deed, thought, and ask God to open our understanding. This is a far cry from the Christian who may misinterpret a word, an action or even scripture, yet decry and condemn this in others.

As we review the march of Christianity, we can see that God moved His people as was needed for their growth. He began with the Jews, moved to the Apostles of Christ, to the birth of Catholicism, to the advent of Martin Luther and the Protestant movement, to the present day. This teaches us that our path needs to be adjusted on occasion and that the mysteries of scripture are always unfolding. What we may not believe or understand today may be opened to us tomorrow.

Scripture tells us that God wants all men to be saved, not just those with one idea or of one particular church, and also speaks about God’s continued love for the Jews. This lesson should be of great magnitude because it supports what scripture tells us about the pride and arrogance of those who condemn someone because they disagree on a particular point of doctrine. They may be correct in their interpretation but still do not have the right to judge.…just to teach and to love and to provide the right example. God will do the rest.

An example of contention between Christians is praying for those who have died. This is practiced by approximately two thirds of all Christians worldwide and approximately 8% of all Christians attribute demonic activity to this practice. Sadly these 8% do not know that there is a huge difference between how some pray for their dead. Thus to negate all who pray for the dead is a too strong and far reaching judgment and in part an erroneous assumption.

Scripture tells us that different realms and prisons exist in eternity. Some who pray for the dead pray that God will provide mercy to the souls who occupy many of these realms. They do not pray to these souls but for them. They pray only to God and pray only for the dead asking that He have mercy for these souls by allowing them to receive testimony in the realms in which they are held. This represents a huge difference in practice and doctrine than those who pray to the dead and clearly shows that condemning all prayer for the dead may be in error. It may indicate that those who condemn prayer for the dead are not aware of the difference between these two practices.

Scripture does not support talking to or praying to the dead or asking the dead to act as an intercessor. Scripture denounces the use of familiar spirits, necromancers, mediums, spiritists, and calling up the dead. The most notable passages are in Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, 2 Kings 21:3-6, 1 Chronicles 10:13 and Deuteronomy 18:9. When King Saul prayed to the dead prophet Samuel for help, scripture clearly indicates that he incurred God’s wrath and that God termed his action “abominable”. Scripture also denounces praying to or before or even erecting a graven image. Not only does God tell us in the Ten Commandments that He is a jealous God but also tells us to make no graven image. (See Exodus 20, Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 4&5, Judges 17&18, Isaiah 40, 44, 45, 48, Jeremiah 51, Nahum 1:14, and Habakkuk 2:18)

Scripture does however support praying for the dead. An overview of just some of the scripture that references the support of praying for the dead is very revealing. I Peter 4:6 states: “ . . . for this cause was the gospel preached also, to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” Note the word “also” meaning that both the living and dead received word about the Gospel of Christ, and note that the words “are dead” indicate the present tense.

The Apostles Creed tells us that Christ descended into hell after He died on the cross and remained there for three days. “He descended into Hell and on the third day He rose again from the dead.” This supports the premise that while there He gave testimony to those who had died in their sins. It does not follow that Christ entered hell because of His sin….He was perfect and without sin…. but that He entered hell because His sacrifice could forgive the sin of others. Thus, if everyone in hell were beyond help, Christ would have had no reason to enter hell and bring them the hope of heaven that He had recently provided through His sacrifice.

I Corinthians 15:17-18 supports the words of the Apostles Creed where it says, “And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” Ephesians 4:8-10 says: “Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)”

Scripture also describes Abraham’s reaction when Christ entered hell. Abraham, faithful to God, but not living when Christ brought His sacrifice for our sins, evidently knew what Christ had achieved. John 8:56 tells us, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.”

John 5:25 explains, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that shall hear shall live. The key words in this verse are “and now is” indicating that the time is here (after the sacrifice of Christ) and that the dead can hear the words of Christ. Further, the words “shall hear”, which mean “are willing to listen”, indicates that not all will listen, believe, and repent so they can be saved. Scripture clearly says that souls not worthy at the First Resurrection will not become the Bride, the Overcomers, or the Kings and Priests described as the Firstlings who Christ will take upon His return.

The words of Peter also indicate that Christ preached His gospel after His death. 1 Peter 3:19 says, “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” And 11 Maccabees 12:43-45 teaches,For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should have risen again, it had been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. And . . . Whereupon he made a reconciliation for the dead that they might be delivered from sin.” The words “made a reconciliation for the dead” clearly indicates that something occurred for those who had died that allowed them to be delivered from their past sins.

There are many areas of scripture that provide insight into this question. The parable of the rich man and the beggar who entered eternity on the same night provides clues about life after death. By depicting the beggar as resting in Abraham’s bosom, it tells us that Abraham comforted the beggar after he died at the gates of the rich man’s house. The rich man, who died at the same time, went to Hades (Hell) where he was tormented. This passage in the Gospel of Luke is one of the Bible’s most descriptive insights into death and clearly describes two places occupied by the dead, and the chasm between these two areas that could not, before the sacrifice of Christ, be bridged.

This parable, spoken to the Pharisees, illustrates the chasm in eternity between those who in life pursued God and those who did not. Under the laws of Moses, the rich man was condemned for all eternity. When Christ brought the sacrifice that bridged the gulf between the Law of Moses and the Law of Love, those who had been condemned but who would accept Christ, believe and repent, would be allowed to cross from Hades to the bosom of Abraham. (See Luke 16:19-31)

The Biblical argument about eating pork is an example that relates well to this discussion. Roman 14:9-10 sums up this concern by saying, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” The verses that follow tell us not to judge what one believes “unclean” and another doesn’t. Romans 14:18 says: “For he that in these things served Christ is acceptable to God….”

Because Christians differ in their interpretation of scripture, we must continually gauge our life of faith. Do we please Christ if we make harsh accusations against those who ask God to be merciful to those who have died? Is there scriptural “proof” that demonic activity is at work in such an action? Do Christians have the right to judge this action and if so by what authority? And remember, praying for the dead is very different than praying to the dead or conjuring up the dead which may be the unjustified leap that those who make such harsh judgments have taken. This raises the question about whether or not our personal salvation is in jeopardy when we demean and judge others when we do not have all the facts.

Scripture teaches us to test that our actions are acceptable before God by discerning the spirits and can accomplish this by comparing the result of an action to the fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23 which are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. Additionally, scripture tells us that God knows our hearts and therefore our prayers require a sincere heart. When praying in the light of the fruits of the Spirit and aware that God knows our heart when we ask Him to help those who were less fortunate than we and died before knowing Christ, our actions must include love, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, meekness….. and faith. Praying for the dead does fulfill this requirement while praying to the dead does not require a pure heart nor this bevy of fruits.

It is out of compassion and hope that people pray for those who appear to have had no connection to God while they lived, or children addicted to drugs who never gained the ability to understand God’s offer before they died, or young people who died in an automobile accident who had never been brought to church by their parents. It is out of love…. not because demons inspire them…. that they pray for these souls, and others in similar circumstances.

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