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#68 - Response to report of a pastor publicly rebuking congregant
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
A couple of years ago a young girl (approx. 16) was baptized at our church. She comes from a disadvantage home with professing Christian parents. Last week our pastor came before the congregation and informed us that she is pregnant and living with a pagan. He said that he explained to her the consequences of not confessing her sin and of not asking forgiveness of the congregation. She said she would, but did not, so he publicly rebuked her and instructed the people not to socialize with her anymore. All of this, as I understand it, took place in a few weeks after the Pastor found out.
I have a problem with this, but will follow the Word of God regardless.
Our pastor, who is in his mid-thirties, has been a Christian all of his responsible life and has been sheltered by his parents, his father being a past Pastor himself. Educated in all Christian schools and kept in the suburbs where they all still live.
I feel that they, the pastor and his father (who is an elder with his brother), were hasty with their decision and lack understanding of the urban culture and Satan's powerful enticements, like Cocaine, Crack, Liquor, sex, etc. I am deeply disturbed that they lacked patience, understanding, comfort, and love to a child that I personally don't believe was saved in the first place. (No fruits of the Sprit, no change of life-style, etc.)...
I just don't understand it, I need help in understanding what Jesus would have done.
You have a good heart. You are merciful. Jesus said that the merciful are blessed -- and that they receive God's mercy. (Mat 5:7) Being merciful is what Jesus always is, and he teaches us to be merciful. (See Luk 6:36, Mat 23:23-24.) In Mat 9:10-13 we read:
And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" But when he heard this, he said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.
It is recorded that Jesus concluded the Sermon on the Mount by saying,
Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. (Mat 7:21)
Your being merciful is doing the will of your heavenly Father. Each act of mercy illustrates and celebrates that you are saved. If we refuse to be merciful, we are declaring with our lives that we do not understand what it means to be saved. Is being "saved" a one-time event or is it the fact - the reality - of being/living in union with Christ? Our daily thoughts and lives are what really attest to our being saved. Christ offers us salvation. Our daily lives attest to whether or not we accept that salvation.
Some church leaders and church laity try to be obedient to "the letter" of Mat 18:15-17, but they fail to comply with the spirit of those words. In the context of Jesus' other teachings, Mat 18:15-17 needs to be understood not only as an action plan for faithful Christians when confronted with the wrongs of others, but maybe more importantly, it is also as another Christian's protection against gossip and slander. If obeyed it gives the accused the opportunity first to be told privately of their alleged errors. That is a great protection against gossip. It often requires great love and courage for an accuser first to bring a complaint directly to the accused, but it is really the kindest and most faithful and most Christian way of handling problems.
(Obviously, if a genuine crime has been committed or is about to be committed, a just law regarding the reporting of such crimes also must be obeyed. There are certainly other cases at home and in the workplace where it is necessary discretely to warn others of an individual's careless, reckless, or dangerous behavior, but even in this circumstance, hopefully there is concern and genuine interest shown for the welfare of the troubled individual.)
Matthew 18:15-17 reads:
If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Some church leaders do take the first step and speak privately with outwardly immoral members of the congregation. Then some church leaders do take the second step and take several members of the church to talk with such erring members. When considering what the third step means, church leaders really need to ask themselves, "How did Jesus treat tax collectors and sinners?" We can get a pretty good idea from Mat 9:10-13, which was quoted above. He continued to associate and minister to them. Jesus made it very clear that we cannot experience our own forgiveness by God unless we ourselves forgive anything we have against anyone. It is a requirement of every prayer,
Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25)
What a wonderful gift we have in Jesus, not only in his words and in his saving mission, but in his example. Christ Jesus is our one and final example for life. You were right to be asking, "What Jesus would have done?"
It is most honest, most faithful, and most helpful to consider ALL of Jesus' words and ALL of Jesus' life when we look for instruction and guidance. There is no evidence that Jesus ever publicly rebuked the downtrodden or the privately immoral, even though he preached the evils of immorality. He seemed even more concerned with the immorality of the heart that may not be seen by outward actions. (See, for example, Mat 5:27-28.)
Even when Jesus was rebuking the self-righteous and hypocritical scribes and Pharisees, I'm convinced that he loved them. He loved them enough to rebuke them! That was part of Jesus' "tough love."
With my own four kids (ages 6 to 18) I conscientiously try never to "react" to their wrongs through anger or self-righteousness, but I try always to "respond" to their wrongs with love, courage, and self-discipline. When I'm confront by their wrongs that need to be corrected, I try to:
If given the opportunity, I try to follow the same basic principles when there is a need to privately rebuke a fellow Christian or even a non-Christian. In this case I may use the words, "I really do care about you" instead of "I love you," and I may use a gentle pat on the shoulder rather than a hug, but the message is the same.
In my home I also have an obligation to practice what I preach. If it later turns out that I was wrong about my rebuke of my kids, I seek their forgiveness. Also I invite them to rebuke me in the same manner and in the same spirit by which I rebuke them. I am held accountable to the same standards of behavior and speech that my kids are. If I don't practice what I preach, I am subject to the same consequences that they would face. (Yes, I, too, have been sent to the corner by my kids, to think about how I have erred!)
John 8:1-11 is a great example of how Jesus publicly rebuked public self-righteousness and hypocrisy and how he privately rebuked private immorality. In that account his concluding remarks to the woman were, "Go your way, and from now on do not sin again."
We all have much to learn from and with each other, but we all have even more to learn from Christ Jesus, who is our final authority.
You also spoke of your dear daughter. [In respect for the writer's privacy, that part of the email is not included as part of the above "Question."] Regardless of how the world or the church views her, just love her with the unconditional love that God loves her. "We love because God first loved us." (1 John 4:19) That love has no strings attached, no conditions. It is relentless, unselfish, uncondemning love. When we love in that way, we have all the healing, redeeming, saving power of Christ behind that love. We need to have enough faith and confidence in that Christ power to just keep loving, even if we don't see the results in this lifetime.
If we think the power and courage to love in this way is ours personally, then we are still not understanding the power of salvation and our complete dependence upon God for all good, all intelligence, all love, all life. Paul's words are very comforting,
Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation, because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose. (Philippians 2:12,13, TEV)
It is the Holy Spirit that continues to act as our conscience, our guide, our motivator, our on-the-job trainer (on the "job" of being a Christian), and our defender.
Always assure your daughter that you love her and that God loves her, even if she does not feel that she knows God or knows what God's love really means. Consistently, relentlessly love her and minister to her in loving and practical ways that she can understand. Your life itself is a parable will teach God's love to her far more than your words. As Paul's inspired description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (TEV) concludes:
Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail. Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary;… Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.
To further explore the topic of forgiveness, browse http://www.bibletexts.com/topics/forgiveness.htm.
To further explore the topic of Christian correction, browse http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/christiancorrection.htm.
Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer