“In the Era of #MeToo, Our Burden Remains”
As the accusations and charges of secret misdeeds accumulate almost daily, God’s people are not without guidance. Scripture clearly outlines how followers of Christ are to respond to such cases within the Church. Whether those accused are public figures or less known individuals, each charge must be treated seriously but with a balance of disapproval and grace.
The headlines reveal how an unredeemed, secular society grapples with allegations of wrongdoing and sometimes criminal misconduct. The world is quick to condemn alleged offenders without evidence and unlikely to offer a path to redemption and restoration when guilt is proven. To be clear, suspicions of criminal acts must immediately be reported to the authorities. But when complaints are made within the community of faith and the charge is not criminal, believers in Christ are obliged to consult with His Word rather than conform to the demands of the scornful masses.
What does Scripture teach us about how to respond to accusations?
1. Complaints should be made privately and personally with the alleged offender before they are revealed publicly. (“go and show him his fault in private” Matt 18:15)
Christians can be guilty of talking to everyone but the offender about the offense. At times, the intent is to gain sympathy and/or to damage the alleged perpetrator. There is nothing Christian about blindsiding someone with a claim that leaves an assumption of guilt with no opportunity for a response or defense.
2. Facts must be checked and confirmed before allegations can be addressed as truthful.
(“by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact can be confirmed” Matt 18:16)
Every accusation should be taken seriously, but no one should be assumed as guilty without evidence or witnesses. Sadly, some true offenders will slip by, but no one deserves the damage to reputation or profession left by a false accusation.
3. God guides church leaders to make earthly decisions regarding discipline and restoration according to His judgement in heaven. (“whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven . . . For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Matt 18:18, 20)
When discipline is warranted, church leaders wisely decide the nature, extent, and duration of the discipline in a manner similar to loving parents who correct their children. The discipline protects a standard of behavior among the entire flock. As with parents, God has entrusted these decisions to the spiritual leaders of a church and steers them to make the right ones.
4. Churches and the Christian community must reject a charge against a church or ministry leader without corroborating witnesses. (“Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.” 1 Tim 5:19)
Flippant claims against leaders in the faith lead to incalculable setbacks in Christian lives and the cause of the gospel. When an offense is confirmed as legitimate, the offender should undergo just discipline, as should any member. But let’s not be fooled. The higher the office or influence, the greater the fallout.
5. Spiritual leaders must exercise church discipline with the aim of restoring the sinning believer as a functioning member of the Body of Christ. (“Brothers, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one” Gal 6:1)
6. Gentleness and humility are essential qualities to be demonstrated by church leaders who participate in the discipline and restoration of a fallen believer. (“in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourself so that you too will not be tempted” Gal 6:1)
7. A church and its leaders are responsible to God for the spiritual health of every member, including those who are subject to discipline and in need of restoration. (“Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ” Gal 6:2)
The expedient path may be to immediately disassociate from an alleged offender, but Scripture admonishes us to adopt a fellow believer’s problem as our own. Bearing his burden can often be uncomfortable, inconvenient, and unpopular. Carrying his load compels us to interview, investigate, prohibit, protect, censure, and restore. The “law of Christ,” love, insists on it. We have no justification for casting out as irredeemable those who confess their sins and repent of them. Heaven welcomes them. Whenever possible, the Church should as well.
Sam Waltman, D.Min, Executive Director of Missions, San Felipe Baptist Association, Rosenberg, Texas