Thursday, June 17, 2010

Theology and "condemn the sin but not the sinner"

We seldom see local theologians to speak out against questionable deeds carried out by other Christians. The reason is that most theologians believe that we should not portray a chaotic picture of the Christian community to the public.

I am for ecumenical movement and the unity of the different churches. Yet I don't see that pointing out the severity of a misconduct is providing a disservice to the body of Christ as a whole.

Pronouncing a public judgment against a deed, even if the deed implicates a fellow Christian, is not in a symmetrical relation with being merciful, loving, forgiving and reconciliation. It is not symmetrical because evil is the privation in this contingent world, while virtue is not. The former is parasitic and contingent, while the latter is desirable and absolute.

It is only a tension or a problem if we peg them symmetrically. So we can affirm both without tension. And to work this out is to spread our arms open while pronouncing judgment and making discernment on evil. In any case, it is a way of reminding the church of its theological calling, that is to strive to be what it is meant to be, but has so far invisible of being, the people of God.

The old saying that goes "condemn the sin but not the sinner" sounds nice but theologically, politically, and morally unsound. To do that, one has to separate the person from the person's deeds. But if a person is separated from his deeds, then what is left of justice?

Can a court of law condemn the crime but not the criminal? If so, where is the place for retribution?

Let's turn this around. Can we praise the good deed without also acknowledging the person? If so, where is the place for gratitude?

Assuming that we can separate the person from the person's deeds is to make judgment/discernment impossible.

May be most of the current Christian communities have adopted the old nice saying "condemn the sin but not the sinner." Yet there is at least one (excluding me) who does not buy it.

"But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned." (Galatians 2.11)


clement said...


I think that you misunderstand the line "Condemn the sin, but not the sinner".

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Clement, I see.

ang said...

what is there to misunderstand?

"Condemn the rape, NOT the rapist!"
Make sense to you ?

Forgiveness & Redemption are separate issues.

Need to consider mitigating factors.

Anyway human beings like to sound good without thinking too hard.

Ian said...

case of context?

condemning the sin should result in the sinner having to face the temporal consequences of his/her sin.

not condemning the sinner should be not declaring eternal condemnation on an individual, i.e. no hope. there is always the hope of repentance and regeneration for that individual because of Christ.

in the original context of how that term was coined, i'm guessing the person was guarding against the extreme view of binding sin to the sinner and the total condemnation of certain individuals. But as Christ has died for us, there is always hope for them. (I'm sure Paul reconciled with Cephas afterwards; there was no complete condemnation of him)

in our current situation, perhaps that term is abused and used out of that context and as a result, has become an excuse for people to sin even more. it becomes as what joshua has pointed out, that sin for sinners has no consequence whatsoever, and that is lawlessness and denial of the moral law giver, our God and creator.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi ang,

I take it that you agree with what I wrote :-)

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Ian,

Yes, the term is being abused very frequently.

her royal highness said...

Oh then what about the story of Jesus and the adulteress? While the Jews were ready to throw stones, Jesus chose to forgive. After all, she DID sin. She DESERVED to be stoned. But Jesus didn't condemn.

King David commited terrible sins. Yet the Bible considers him a man after God's own heart.

Indeed the sins of these Bible characters were pointed out. Yet they were redeemed.

I think it is justified to point out someone else's error, but one must pay attention to his/her attitude in doing so. Many in their attempt to correct, end up sounding judgemental and condemning; the very attitudes the Bible speaks out against.

her royal highness said...

I am impressed with the flow of thought in this post.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi her royal highness,

You have a point there. Thank you for sharing :-)

luo said...

Dear Sze Zeng
On this issue “condemn the sin but not the sinner”, my starting premise for the sinner, the condemner and the defender is this, that the human heart is wicked and deceitful.
It is not wrong, not unloving and it is even biblical to call out sinners. Jesus never hesitates to expose sinners and when there is repentance, there is forgiveness. Jesus’ motive is always pure. Not so the Pharisees (past and present). Their intention is wicked and utterances deceitful. They are hypocrites.
Unrepentant sinners can expect to face the full wrath of God. Unrepentant sinners are condemned together with their sins.
Just as the accusers could be hypocrites, the defender of sinners could be hypocrites too. Sure, it sounds so magnanimous, so righteous and so Christian even to urge others not to judge the sinners but to leave the judgement to God. Leave the judgement to God? If one knows that a brother is sinning, is it loving to leave him be, unrepentant before God who is a righteous judge? What love is that?
Whether accuser or defender let us search our hearts. Are we deceitful? Any vested interest? Is our motive pure before God.?