July, 2011
REBUKE PUBLICLY or PRIVATELY? by Andrew Strom.

Some Christians claim that any correction or questioning of ministries should always be done PRIVATELY - and only to the leaders concerned - never in public. (It is important to note that many such approaches have indeed been made to Prophetic/ Apostolic leaders over the years. They have basically been ignored). But either way, I am afraid I cannot agree that public deception is only to be opposed behind closed doors. It seems to me that false teaching would thrive in such an environment. In Scripture we see clearly that there are occasions when private correction is appropriate, and other occasions when a more public airing is necessary. There is the quiet "Matthew 18" approach, and then there are others. After all, shouldn't we have the love and care of the precious sheep uppermost in our minds? Are we just supposed to say nothing and let the "leaven" spread and spread?

We must not forget that in the New Testament the elders were commanded to correct severely (Titus 1:13) and to rebuke for sin publicly (1 Tim 5:20), though in 2 Tim 2:24-26 they were instructed to correct with 'meekness'. Remember, the apostle Paul rebuked Peter publicly in Galatians 2 for his hypocrisy, Jesus rebuked Peter openly in Matthew, and He even whipped the sellers out of the temple publicly in Mark (for making God's house a 'den of thieves'). In extreme cases the apostle Paul actually wrote to everyone that he was turning people over to Satan for correction (see 1 Cor 5 and 1 Tim 1:20). The Bible is very clear that one of our major tasks is to "expose" the deeds of darkness (Eph 5:11). In 1 Cor 4:21 Paul asks the people, "Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love?" The same apostle used 'boldness' in 2 Cor 10:1 and said that he would not spare anyone in 2 Cor 13:1-2. 

Many Christians insist on applying Matt 18:15-17 to every situation. But what about false teachers?  The above passage in Matt 18 says that if my brother "sins against me" then I should go to him privately about it - then with one or two witnesses - and then to the whole church if he does not repent. This is a very important process for resolving issues where a brother has sinned against me personally. But what about FALSE TEACHING of a serious nature? What if it is spreading or starting to infect entire sections of the body of Christ? Is it still just a "private matter"?

My understanding is that in the New Testament we NEVER see Jesus or the apostles treating false teaching as a "Matt 18" scenario. We see them publicly rebuking and correcting - trying to arrest the 'cancer' before it spreads any further. This is an act of LOVE towards the body. It is trying to stop the damage before too many precious sheep are harmed. False teaching and false prophets are never treated "nicely" or "sweetly" in the New Testament! (By the way, I am not advocating today's "heresy hunters", whom I believe often go about things with entirely the wrong spirit. But I am just laying down a few biblical guidelines here).

This is certainly an important issue in these Last Days, when we are told that false prophets and false teachers will 'abound', and that the deception will become so great that "if possible it would deceive the very elect". It is vital that we get a grasp of what is at stake here. The false teachers and false prophets in Acts were rebuked very bluntly, and Paul even "named names" in some of his letters to the churches. So surely we cannot continue to claim that this is all a "Matt 18" situation? Surely it is more serious than that - and requires a more drastic response?

Of course, we must always be "speaking the truth in love" - and have the protection of Christ's precious sheep uppermost. But surely we must speak out if we see real danger to the Body?