Can Christians Judge the Actions of Non-Christians?

Christian often use 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 to defend the claim that Christians cannot and should not judge what non-Christians do. This means that if a homosexual asks for a cake or flowers for a same-sex wedding, the Christian baker and the Christian florist must comply based on the following:

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within [the church]? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES [1 Cor. 5-12-13; see Deut. 13:5; 17:7, 12; 21:21; 22:21].

What if someone wanted a cake for a KKK-themed wedding, a Nazi-themed wedding, or a cake celebrating witchcraft? Could a Christian make a moral judgment and refuse their business? Was it wrong to hide Jews from the Nazis? These are all “judging outsiders.” How Christians understand 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 is fundamental to how they will engage God’s creation and its worldview applications.

In addition, so the argument goes, Christians should not organize in the name of Christ to stop the legalization of same-sex marriage and abortion, to name two moral judgments, since it would mean judging those who are not in the church. Is this what Paul is arguing?

In terms of sanctions, if a Christian breaks God’s law and refuses to repent, that person should be removed from the church (1 Cor. 5:2) and “let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17). The Bible does not prohibit Christians from impacting their culture even though that culture is not fundamentally Christian. Paul is not arguing that Christians must go along with existing laws that are contrary to God’s law.

Let’s take the case of slavery. The church should have confronted church members who were involved in the slave trade since kidnapping (“manstealing”) is a violation of God’s law (Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7; 1 Tim. 1:10; Rev. 18:13 [“bodies” and “souls of men”]). At the same time, Christians should have worked in the political realm to make manstealing illegal otherwise the anti-slavery movement promoted by people like William Wilberforce was illegitimate because it took the biblical law against manstealing and applied it to a non-church setting. While a Christian politician who supported the slave trade could be disciplined by a church court and excommunicated, the church could not remove him from office.

Consider the vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act bill that failed to get the necessary 60 votes to pass a motion to proceed.

A priest with a popular blog has called upon the Church to excommunicate Catholic senators who voted against the late-term abortion ban bill…. Fr. Dwight Longenecker posted a recent entry to his website in which he demanded accountability for the 14 Catholic senators who voted against the motion.

“Today is the day for their bishops to issue a formal statement acknowledging that these men and women have publicly denied their Catholic faith, and if not formally, then have informally excommunicated themselves,” wrote Longenecker.

“Since their offense is public it should be acknowledged publicly and their pastors should publicly rebuke them and ask them not to receive the sacraments.”


Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City told The Catholic World Reporter in a December interview that he was concerned about when “we have Catholic politicians who flaunt their Catholicity but take positions that our inconsistent with our Catholic teaching.”

“[Former Gov. of Kansas Kathleen Sebelius] would talk about how Catholic she was but act totally contrary to Church teaching. It creates a problem for us as bishops when Catholic politicians do that. They teach our people that it is OK to be Catholic and support legalized abortion,” said Archbishop Naumann last year.

“Tim Kaine, a U.S. senator and former vice-presidential candidate, is another example of a politician who flaunted his Catholic background but spewed a lot of pro-choice rhetoric. When they do this, they’re taking on a teaching role and misleading our people.” (Christian Post)

The same is true for Nancy Pelosi, the Kennedys, and the Cuomo family.

The response by Fr. Longenecker and Archbishop Naumann is exactly what Paul is discussing in 1 Corinthians 5:12-13. He is not saying that Christians don’t have anything to do with the world and its laws. It’s a matter of the jurisdictional separation of church and state. Church courts can only deal with people and their behavior who are members of the church. Excommunication is its ultimate sanction while the State’s is the sword (Rom. 13:4).

No Bible verse stands in isolation from its immediate context and the rest of the Bible. This means that 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 must be interpreted in light of the story arc and other places in the Bible where similar issues are raised…


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