Righteous Judgment

There is a much promoted misrepresentation from the teachings of Jesus that He taught we should never judge. This is an incongruous teaching. He did, in fact, teach His followers that they should be able to judge properly without being judgmental. He instructed them to first get the log out of their own eye so they could help their companion to get the speck from his eye. The idea was to judge properly and accurately, not critically or from a biased viewpoint.

This misrepresentation of Jesus’ teaching has been promoted so successfully that those who really are called to release proper judgment and discernment into the world from the church are generally not doing so, certainly not to the extent that is needed. Part of the problem is that people are not being taught how to judge properly or taught the extreme importance that those with sound minds should exercise sound judgment.

Jesus taught, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:2). Hence, Jesus was promoting sound and balanced judgment. When sound judgment is applied in a situation, the result is justice. This is so important because the opposite is also true—when sound judgment is absent from an issue or determination, then the result will be injustice, something we are experiencing too much of recently.

Once the children of Israel came into the Promised Land, they were given the opportunity to exercise righteous judgment by household and by tribe. The people did what was right in their own eyes and did not have a ruler controlling them.

When trouble would arise, God would raise up a judge or judges to restore order and blessings for the population. It is interesting that it was a judge that the Lord would use to restore order in society. Righteous judgment would be returned to the people, and righteous judgment would be exercised upon the issues and people troubling the nation.

In the course of time, the judges were replaced by kings. The main duty of the king was not to rule or reign or to extract taxes—it was to exercise righteous judgment. When David exercised righteous judgment, the people prospered. When he did not exercise righteous judgment, then trouble came upon the kingdom. Solomon’s first act—the one which set the pattern for his wisdom and justice—was an act of righteous judgment. When two women came before him both claiming to be the mother of one child, Solomon exercised supernatural wisdom which released righteous judgment. This is justice.

After the resurrection, the New Testament church also had a system of justice which was carried out by apostles and elders. What began as justice carried out by judges was transferred as a responsibility to the kings in the Old Testament. In the New Testament church, it has been transferred to the apostles and elders, and it is clear that the apostles expected the early church to be able to use judgment in matters concerning life and the welfare of their community.

The Apostle Paul chastened the Church in Corinth on this issue:

“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?
If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?
I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?
But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!” (I Corinthians 6:1-6)

I have often heard this section used as a church doctrine to never go to court with another Christian. It does not say this exactly—it says they should be able to judge “the smallest matters.” There are some large matters which might well require public magistrates. However, the context certainly is exhorting the church to learn to exercise righteous judgment as a means of bringing order, peace, and justice into situations. I believe this understanding was not lost upon our founding fathers who applied these principles to the foundations of our nation.

Before the founding of our great nation, there was a real awakening among the population—so great that it became known as The Great Awakening. So great was the effect upon the population that Benjamin Franklin wrote, “It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if the whole world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”

John Adams, called the Colossus of American Independence, considered the Great Awakening and the resultant changes to be the American Revolution, not the war for independence. “The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people . . . This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”

In constructing a revolutionary form of republican government on a large scale for the first time in history, the founding fathers felt that the people themselves were the best depository of the protection of their own liberty. James Madison, known as the father of the United States Constitution said, “The ultimate authority resides in the people alone.” Hence, when putting together the Bill of Rights for the Constitution, the English common law of a right to a trial by a jury was incorporated as a final peaceful safeguard for the rights and liberties of the people against an overbearing government.

Thomas Jefferson was wary of all governmental power becoming corrupt or overreaching, including and perhaps especially the judiciary. He said, “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”

Up until the middle of the nineteenth century, it was clearly taught and understood by American citizens that they were the ultimate and supreme judges of the laws in the nation, not any court—including the Supreme Court.

In the mid-1800s, America went through a Second Great Awakening. This Great Awakening was known also for the prayer and conviction which came upon whole populations. As with the First Great Awakening, this awakening was not limited to the churches but was felt throughout every level of society from the church.

One of the great ways in which this awakening was felt throughout society was through the exercising of righteous judgment from the citizens, especially the judgment exercised by juries.

One great example of how righteous judgment triumphed over unrighteousness was in light of the slavery issue. From before the founding of America, slavery was an issue and it became more of an issue as time went on. At the time of the Declaration of Independence, it was such a divisive issue that it had to be tabled until a later time in order to create a confederation of the thirteen colonies. At the time of the U.S. Constitutional Convention, it was once again brought front and center and again proved to be too divisive of an issue to settle for numerous states, so the final solution to ending slavery was once again postponed. But make no mistake—the U.S. Constitution was a very anti-slavery document. The Constitution makes the number of representatives for the House of Representatives based upon the census. As originally ratified, it clearly stated that every person would be counted—citizens would be counted as one for the purpose of representation, and non-citizens would be counted as three-fifths for the purpose of representation. Those states that held people in slavery had only to free them and make them citizens of their state to achieve full representation, but if they chose not to, they would be underrepresented. Some states did take the option and made citizenship for all regardless of race and hence were “rewarded” with full representation.

In the mid-1800s came a series of laws known as the fugitive slave laws. These laws were promoted through the Federal government in order to require non-slave states to assist slave states with certain issues of law enforcement such as returning runaway slaves to their former owners in other states. While this was the law of the land along with other Supreme Court decisions, none of these laws were ever upheld by a jury.

In the days of both the First and Second Great Awakenings, the pastors of the nation wielded great influence over the values exercised by the people in the civil areas of society. This included instructing the people on the exercise of their judgment in light of unrighteous laws.

As one example, the Reverend Luther Lee, pastor of the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Syracuse, New York, stated of the fugitive slave laws: “I never would obey it. I had assisted thirty slaves to escape to Canada during the last month. If the authorities wanted anything of me, my residence was at 39 Onondaga Street. I would admit that and they could take me and lock me up in the Penitentiary on the hill….”

Because of such strong instruction from the pulpits, the people had the will to respond. Each time a case came before a jury in a district requiring that a runaway slave be returned to his former slave master, or punishment of someone who assisted a slave to escape, the jury acquitted the individual despite the evidence to the contrary. What these “enlightened” jurors did was judge the law as unjust and thereby released the “law breaker” from any responsibility as they held to the higher law referred to in the Declaration of Independence and other places in our jurisprudence.

While jury nullification of laws was not new, it had never been accomplished on such a large scale as it was as the result of the Second Great Awakening in the United States. The principle of jury nullification compels citizen juries to rule on both the facts of a case, and the validity of the law being used in the case. The practice of jury nullification in judicial precedents comes through English common law dating back to the Magna Carta and before. It was widely understood that the power of citizen juries was to require the government to prove its case against a defendant, as well as the validity of the law in question. Without the leadership of the church and the enlightenment of the juries, this could not have had such effect.

“If a juror feels that the statute involved in any criminal offence is unfair, or that it infringes upon the defendant’s natural God-given unalienable or constitutional rights, then it is his duty to affirm that the offending statute is really no law at all and that the violation of it is no crime at all, for no one is bound to obey an unjust law.” U.S. Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone, 1941-46

“If the jury feels the law is unjust, we recognize the undisputed power of the jury to acquit, even if its verdict is contrary to the law as given by a judge, and contrary to the evidence.” 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, US v Moylan, 1969

“I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform them.” Thomas Jefferson

Jury nullification was a common practice in our nation from the ratification of the Constitution until 1895 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that juries were not to be informed of principle of nullification by defense attorneys, nor were judges required to tell them about it. While the right remains, it has almost been forgotten since that time.

It has been confirmed a number of times, and since that time it has become almost a safeguard that is hidden from the people. If a great treasure is hidden it cannot be used, but there seems to be a change in the wind.

Today, the constitutions of only two states, Maryland and Indiana, clearly declare the nullification right, and two others, Georgia and Oregon, refer to it obliquely. In June of 2012, the New Hampshire governor signed into law HB 146, a bill granting to juries in that state the right to judge the law as well as the case before them. The law states, “In all criminal proceedings the court shall permit the defense to inform the jury of its right to judge the facts and the application of the law in relation to the facts in controversy.”

In my home town of Missoula, MT, a case against a man had to be settled out of court because the prosecuting attorney could not seat a jury. This was because a jury could not be assembled since all the prospective jurors stated they felt the law was too harsh to be applied to the accused suspect. Perhaps these are more signs of society awakening?

In our time, most of our societal corruptions have come through the courts, not the people or their elected representatives. Prayer was removed from the public schools by the courts, not the legislatures or the people. Abortion was thrust upon the nation, not by the people or the legislature or the Constitution, but by unrighteous judges. Marriage is being redefined in our day, not by God who originally designed and defined it—not by elected legislatures—not by the people, but by judges. Infanticide, euthanasia, and geriacide are being thrust upon the population by courts against the written constitution. We are in a crisis of justice through a flood of unrighteous judgments.

Jesus gave a parable about an unjust judge as an example of the need for faithful prayer.

Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart,
saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.
Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’
And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”
Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said.
And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?” (Luke 18:1-7).

In this parable we see that final justice was not in the hand of the judge, but in the persistence of a faithful citizen and her God. In our day, final justice is certainly not in the hands of the unrighteous courts, but in the hands of the faithful citizens and our God. He is the righteous judge and works through His people.

We have come to a time of awakening. There have been plenty of alarms, yet many are still asleep. We are in desperate need of an awakening! It is possible, and even probable, as we have experienced great awakenings twice in the past in times of great need. But will we awake?

It occurs to me that judgment as well as justice must first come to the church of God before we can expect it to come to society as a whole. It is time that we follow the apostle’s advice:
The day is coming when the world is going to stand before a jury made up of Christians. If someday you are going to rule on the world’s fate, wouldn’t it be a good idea to practice on some of these smaller cases?
Why, we’re even going to judge angels! So why not these everyday affairs?
As these disagreements and wrongs surface, why would you ever entrust them to the judgment of people you don’t trust in any other way? (Corinthians 6:2-4, THE MESSAGE, The Bible in Contemporary Language © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson. All rights reserved.)

The Bible says “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God” (see I Peter 4:17). Perhaps that should be our prayer. “Lord, let righteous judgment return to the church and let us once again release Godly justice to our land.” Unless righteous judgment returns to the church, it can never be expected to return to our nation. If we allow the Lord, the Righteous Judge, to exercise judgment through us in the church, we have every reason to hope that justice can be restored to the land.

Lloyd C. Phillips, Ph.D.
Director, Fellow Laborers’ Intl. Network (FLInt Net)
P.O. Box 113 Missoula, MT 59806