Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Confrontation in the Church

I'm not sure this is going to be pleasant, but it needs to be said, so I'm going to say some it.

There is a time and a place for private confrontation between Christians that have been sinned against by one or the other.

There is also a time and a place for public confrontation between Christians that have been sinned against by one or the other.

The guiding passages are these: Matthew 18:15-20; Luke 6:31; Galatians 2:11-21; Philippians 4:8; James 3 (really, the whole chapter).  Go, click, read, and then come back.  Or get your Bible to read these.  Now, this is not an exhaustive list.  This is a blog, not a book, so it's shorter and less comprehensive.

However, a few principles:

1.  Matthew records Jesus teaching his disciples about how to handle sins between each other.

2. Galatians records Paul's confrontation of Peter over Peter joining with the Judaizers. ("The Judaizers" is the term used to describe the people that taught in the early church that to be a good Christian, one had to be as perfectly Jewish as possible.  They were attaching the weight of legalism to the liberty of the Spirit.)

3.  Luke, Paul in Philippians, and James all have some things for us to keep in mind as we tackle this subject.

Here is what I want to put out there for you to consider:

1.  Sometimes, sin affects our fellowship only with 1 or 2 people.  When that happens, a private, calm discussion should be adequate.  It should be handled that way.  This is the principle of Matthew 18.

2.  However, when church leaders sin, it gets into a whole different ballgame.  The public sin of a church leader requires the public rebuke of that sin, as we see in Galatians with Peter and Paul.  Why is this necessary?  Because we have to consider the impact their leadership has on the people around them.  When it is possible by public rebuke to counter the harm of bad leadership, it is necessary that public rebuke happen.

Now, there are some caveats to this: the first is intention.  If you are reviewing my tax returns from last year, and discover that I took more of a housing allowance than I should have, you ought to ask me, privately, first if I was aware of the issue.  If I was, I did it anyway, and have no remorse for it, then I'm in violation of Scripture, and should repent and correct my behavior.  If I won't, then, when the church's next financial report is presented, the question of the pastor's housing allowance should be put to the treasurer. However, if it's an honest mistake, then it's not healthy to broadcast it to the world. 

Note the assumption: church staff who are paid should have their salaries disclosed to the church. It is their business to be responsible for whether or not the tithes entrusted to the church are being used responsibly.  If you, as a church leader, cannot handle that disclosure, are you in the right business? They should vote on your pay as part of the budget every year, just like everything else. If you can't be forthcoming with what's coming home with you, why would you expect the people to trust you with other money?

The second caveat is this: consequence to the innocent.  There are times that pastors, church leaders, are caught in sin.  This can be sexual, financial, or power issues, among many others.  When there are specific victims, the impact and consequence to the innocent should be considered.  If you will destroy the innocent with a public rebuke, think twice about it.  Try the private rebuke first.

The third caveat is this: consequence to the body: if there are no victims, only that the pastor has, by his behavior, disqualified himself from the role, will it strengthen the church to bring it up?  Are you bearing with your weaker brethren in the church, or are you going to put a stumbling block before them?  Note: crimes need evidence handed to prosecutors, victims need the ability to find closure, any action of the pastor that has those elements must be brought to light.  It's not helpful to sweep abuse or theft under the rug.  One victim leads to two, leads to three, and if you conceal it, you take responsibility for the next one that wouldn't have happened.

Notice: however you look at this, it is not a lightweight task to pick up, but sometimes it is necessary.  If at all possible, allow for the opportunity to privately repent of private sin before making it public.  And seek to be as pure of heart and motive as you can be when you do it.  In fact, it's not something that anyone should seek to be doing very often. It is not your spiritual gift nor your calling to always find fault in others.  It is our accountability to one another in the body of Christ that's involved here.

This is all related to dealing with sin.  Whether it's what we would call a minor sin, like an embellished resume, or a major sin, like a fabricated one, this has to do with issues that, apart from repentance, disqualify one from claiming any role as a church leader.  And malfeasance with church finances or violations of trust, especially to victimize people are automatic disqualifiers. The only thing left at that point is to help the innocent: the victims and the pastor's family, because their lives are pretty wrecked at that point too.


One last note: perfection isn't going to happen.  This is why pastors need accountability and humility, just like anyone else.  If your church leaders are striving to follow Christ, but can admit their mistakes, and those mistakes are along the lines of what any normal believer makes, these are not disqualifying.  Now, a continual attitude that their sin doesn't matter is disqualifying, but that your pastor or church leader loses his temper with a bad referee while watching football doesn't mean he's not fit for the pulpit come Sunday.  If he's never sorry, or if it reveals a deeper issue with anger, it might.  Go back to your Bibles, folks, and get the fullness of what you should do there.  Never trust a blog to be your infallible guide.  Not even mine.

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