Thursday, November 30, 2006

Dealing with a Brother

I am happy to say that the newspaper article I read depicting a theologian willingness to compromise was not the case at all. Apparently the author of the article has misrepresented the brother. I feel confident from his own statements that he would agree with what I have written in my last post.

I wrote an email to him and received a kind response, for which I am grateful. In the case of the newspaper or my brother, I believe my brother. If the only evidence we have is the newspaper article, it is not enough. Apparently, the author of the article took a sincere question as rhetorical, when it was not, and misunderstood the lecture.

I am glad I asked the brother some questions. In time past, I have been written up by slanderous men, who did not bother to ask questions. Below is an article I wrote on the occasion of a good man being "written up" by a zealot.

Dealing with a Brother
By Phil Sanders
Gospel Advocate 2002

It happened again. Some zealots have decided to label a brother a “false teacher.” The evidence was slimly built upon ignorance, assumptions and misinformation. The accusers did little to substantiate the facts but relied upon rumors and hearsay. Nor did the accusers feel any need to contact the brother to find out the whole truth. Lately it has been open season upon many a faithful brother in the Lord. I am reminded of Solomon’s proverbs,

“There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword” (Prov. 12:18).

“The first to plead his case seems just,
Until another comes and examines him” (Prov. 18:17)

“Do not go out hastily to argue your case; Otherwise, what will you do in the end, When your neighbor puts you to shame? Argue your case with your neighbor, And do not reveal the secret of another, Lest he who hears it reproach you, And the evil report about you not pass away” (Prov. 25:8-10).

The assumption is that since the offense was not personal, and since the brother spoke publicly, he is fair game for public accusation and perhaps slander. Such men who speak out thus feel protected by the fact that a brother cannot sue them. They feel free to bite and devour others on the narrowest of pretext. They do not seem to ask whether the charge is either true or kind.

The justification for such speaking out normally falls upon the need to protect the flock. Certainly faithful gospel preachers will speak out against evil. I wonder, however, if the protectors ever thought about the souls of the people they ridicule and condemn. Even a brother who is deceived has a soul.

Let every one know that false teachers should be marked and avoided (Rom. 16:17,18), that factious people should be rejected after a first and second admonition (Tit. 3:10-11), and that those who go beyond the teaching of Christ do not have God and must not be supported (2 John 9-11). But we should also realize that not every accused person is guilty.

I fear some of our brothers have been driven away from the Lord and the church by careless and hateful speaking. How tragic when hateful and crude speech drives away a brother who could be saved. A hateful representative of the truth has more than once driven a young man into the hands of a false but benevolent teacher. No one sleeps with a dog that bites.

To be sure, ravenous wolves must not fill any pulpit, classroom, or editor’s desk (Matt. 7:15-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). Yet there are some that are misunderstood or misquoted. There are others still who although good in heart are simply misinformed. Like Apollos they need an Aquila and Priscilla to take them aside and shown them the way of the Lord more perfectly (Acts 18:24-28). It never seems to occur to some brethren that a private discussion could help a brother. They have decided that “writing up” a brother is the best means of dealing with him.

The fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22,23). Those who practice writing up a brother upon rumor and faulty evidence fail to show these characteristics toward their brother. Where is love? Where is peace? Where is patience? Where is kindness? Where is gentleness? Being “sound” in doctrine does not ensure being healthy in heart or practice.

The golden rule should apply between brethren. “Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). I have often wondered how some sound brethren might feel if indeed a brother unjustly and publicly accused them of sin. I wonder how they might feel if they had been slandered in ignorance and judged without mercy.

Some have argued that there is no need to discuss a matter privately with a false teacher before “writing him up” publicly for all the church to know. I wonder how many “sound” brethren would like being treated that way. The Lord teaches us to treat others the way we wish to be treated. Writing up a brother before one clarifies an issue and before trying to make amends violates this principle. Paul commands, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning” (Tit. 3:10). In some cases, the “written-up” brother finds out about his admonition through a third party weeks later. Such behavior shows that the writer cares little about the soul of the one he has spoken against. Apparently the accusing writer feels exempt from the golden rule, since he has found an opportunity to accuse. Do we not owe it to our brother to talk to him before we talk about him?

The Pharisees sought to find fault and accuse Jesus with lies and half-truths. They likely felt victory in condemning righteous Jesus to a cross for blaspheming. They had no love for Jesus, though Jesus loved them. This, by the way, is one of the reasons the common people wanted to hear Jesus but cared nothing for the Pharisees (Luke 15:1,2; 18:9ff.). One unjust accuser who has labeled many brethren recently lamented that he had no friends. People don’t like to sleep with dogs that bite.

The Pharisees once accused Jesus of leading the people astray, but Nicodemus defended Him. The words of Nicodemus ought to sting the hearts of those who practice unfair accusation. “Our Law does not judge a man, unless it first hears from him and knows what he is doing, does it?” (John 7:51). Every brother, because he is a brother, ought to have the right to be heard before he is labeled and condemned. Would a sound brother faced with a false accusation not wish to be heard before sentence is passed? Why then should we not offer this right to any brother? Unwillingness to hear a brother often drives a wedge deeper than the initial offense.

James reminds us, “So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12,13).

There can be no doubt that there is a time to judge, but let our judgments be according to the teaching of Jesus. “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Find out the facts, let every word be established, and check with your brother to see if you have understood him correctly. You might be surprised that what you heard or assumed may not be completely right. A fact may be true but not the whole truth.

I fear that some have fallen into the trap of judging mercilessly on the basis of tradition rather than truth. Jesus taught against such. “Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:1-2). One is not a Calvinist for simply quoting from the New International Version.

What do we owe our brothers with whom we differ? We owe them love (Rom. 13:8). We owe them a hearing (John 7:51). We owe them concern for their souls (2 Thess. 3:15). We owe them the fairness and respect we desire when we are accused (Matt. 7:12).

Let us talk to each other with patience before we talk about each other.



Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this information, the newspaper article was quickly making it's way through the brotherhood. I have to admit, I did not doubt the article based on some of the things we are hearing from other brethern. God forgive us, and supply us with wisdom and brotherly love.
Trae Durden
Fayetteville, GA.

Anonymous said...

Good article, Phil! Your call for courtesy and patience is appreciated.