So if Paul really isn’t as judgmental as he is sometimes made out to be, if he is really so zealous about extending the tent pegs to include varied cultures under the banner of Christ, then why does he speak of believers needing to judge?
This comes, primarily, from a dialogue Paul has with the church in Corinth. Evidently, some gentleman (in its most liberal usage) in the Corinthian church has begun sleeping with his stepmother (1 Cor 5:1). Ew! Moreover, his brothers and sisters in Christ are really quite proud of him (1 Cor 5:2). Come on!
How does this happen in a Christian church? I suppose it could have happened a couple different ways. It could be that the church in Corinth took to heart the message of freedom from the law (We can do anything we want!) without heeding the idea that the Spirit they received was the Spirit of Christ (We are empowered to look and act like Jesus!).
Or I suppose they could have been boasting of their super gracious and accepting attitude toward anyone and everyone. Look at us, we accept everyone, no matter who they are or what they do! We’re so enlightened! This second alternative sounds familiar to me.
Anyway, Paul comes down hard on the Corinthians, advising them to pass judgment on the gross believer who’s sleeping with his stepmom and banish him from the community. This is so intolerant, we holler.
But think about it this way. If this “liberated” fellow claims to be a part of the body of Christ, if he has claimed to align himself with the spotless Lamb, then carries the responsibility to be actively moving toward Christlikeness. That is, once a person swears allegiance to Jesus, they have put on themselves the obligation to intentionally become the kind of person who resembles their Lord. This Corinthian Casanova is clearly making no effort in this regard.
The same goes for the entire community. They are, collectively, the body of Christ and they ought to look like it. That’s not to say that the church in Corinth must be perfect in every regard, but they ought to be deliberately moving toward Jesus. An outsider ought to be able to observe their community as a whole and remark to themselves, “You know, this gang actually acts like Jesus.” And Jesus didn’t cavort with his stepmother.
Now, this is different from suggesting that the Corinthian believers ought to also be judging every non-Christian they see on the street. Paul is not suggesting that they point fingers at the heathens outside the church. Not at all. Their obligation for judgment is among themselves alone because they have all voluntarily set for themselves the standard of Christ. They have that responsibility to each other.
To those outside the community, their responsibility is to resemble Jesus–to heal the sick, to cleanse the leprous outcasts, to raise the dead, and to proclaim the great work the Creator has done to redeem the creation.