Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Welcome to the carpet

Sometimes rebuking someone publicly is needed in the church today.  Sometimes we forget that we aren't the only generation to have to deal with a proliferation of false teachers.  Whenever and wherever the truth is spoken, purveyors of lies are sure to be found in spades.  Because of this the church, if she is going to maintain her purity as a bride without spot or wrinkle, will have to get use to the idea of the public rebuke.

Paul was no stranger to controversy.  In 1 Timothy 5:20 he writes to his young charge:

  As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. (ESV)

 There a few reasons to rebuke someone publicly.  Here we see that it is for the benefit of the congregation.  That they may stand in fear.  Why fear?  Because they will see that the man of God speaks with the authority from the Holy Spirit, backed by the written Word of God and that those things which are spoken in darkness will be exposed and laid bare in the light.

 Writing again to Timothy Paul instructs him to be ready to preach the word in any and every situation.  It is interesting to note why this is the case:

  I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  (2 Timothy 4:1-4 ESV)

We assume, erroneously, that everyone in our fellowship is a part of the church.  Not only has this never been true, but it will become even more prevalent in the last days that people will have a form of godliness and no true spiritual power.  Why?  Because they will be consumed with themselves wanting only to hear and do what makes them feel good.  Those speaking the truth will be of little interest to them. 

We are seeing this played out in our own times.  Book after book, movie after movie, video after video, all being vomited up from the very pits of hell, and even though these things clearly contradict or even add to scripture, gentle admonishments or loud peals of warning bells go unheeded by those calling themselves the church.

In Paul’s instructions to Titus concerning elders he writes the following.  Note the reason why he is to be a man of the Word:

  This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

(Titus 1:5-9 ESV)

 But he doesn't stop there.  Continue reading.  

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

(Titus 1:10-16 ESV)

 Paul actually helps to identify the type of people the elder is to rebuke by giving an real life object lesson.  Of these Paul instructs Titus (and by extension the elders) to “rebuke them sharply”.  Why?  “That they be sound in the faith”.   In fact, Paul seems overly harsh here and I believe many leaders would shy from such language.  But Paul has in mind the damage these people are causing and against what and whom they are fighting.  Perhaps we don’t have a true valuation of what is at stake and whose honor is being impinged upon?

 Some will argue that these people being rebuked are a part of these congregations and therefore under their authority.  However this is not necessarily the case.  First, the context does not have to lend itself to this interpretation.   But more importantly, even if this were true, in our highly mobile society where traveling to the latest conferences and retreats is the norm, not to mention the use of the internet, “local” is a highly subjective concept.   As leaders it is important we address issues that are local in the strict sense of the word, but also keeping in mind that when people bring teachings in the way of books, videos, etc., into the congregation and promote traveling to conferences where heretics, false teachers and false prophets (in short, wolves) will be attempting to indoctrinate our fellow brothers and sisters, suddenly “local” takes on a much broader sense and we must respond appropriately.   

 As I have noted above, the response may need to be public and in the presence of everyone.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, when leadership in a fellowship takes a public stance against a false teaching or teacher there is an air of authority to it.  It is here, I believe, that the presence of our Savior is in the midst of two or three.  It is here that what is loosed or bound on earth will be so in heaven (Matt. 18:18-20).   

 Second, one person confronted alone about their favorite false teach will tend to see the confrontation as an attack on their teacher, even when done in love. And even if the person, at first, seems agreeable they are likely to walk away and after further reflection reaffirm their original sentiments. The final result can be a hardening that will be even more difficult to address later.  Additionally the person will be more likely to go and talk to others about why they think their teacher is good.  They may something like, “You should listen to so-and-so.  Oh, there are others in this congregation who don’t like them, but you should listen and judge for yourself.  I think they are from God, etc.”.   If you have an intimate relationship with this person, then the results may be different, however typically leaders are unable to have this sort of relationship with a majority of the congregation and even when they can the final results may be the same.

 Speaking to the whole congregation may not mitigate the hardening (although, people typically respond in a group setting differently than they would privately.  Sometimes for the worse, sometimes for the better).  However, speaking to the whole will help stop the person from going around and talking to others because everyone will know where leadership stands.

 Finally,  in a large congregation it is quite impossible to get to everyone.  In fact, it is unfair to expect a limited number of those in leadership to connect with everyone about a particular issue.  By the time you managed to get to everyone there will have been several other issues that need dealing with.  You would be, as it were, attempting to bale out the sinking ship with a spoon!

 So what is to be done?  If this is only one person and they are coming to you for council, then clearly you don’t need to bring it before the congregation.  However, it might help to teach on the subject and clearly delineate God’s position on the issue.  In this case let the person who came to you know you are going to do this so they won’t be surprised.

 However, I’m thinking of cases where false teaching is being spread around the church via media.  In this case it would be appropriate for the pastor/teacher/prophet to preach on the subject. If you believe you can simply address the Bible’s position (and thus God’s) without addressing the false teachers by name, then good.  However, if this is a serious error and one in which people may be unaware of the the false teacher's position, it is perfectly appropriate to quote this teacher and name them.  This can be used to both make people aware of the false teachers position as well as offering an example of what the antithesis of the biblical position might look like.  


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