Simple tests for Christian slander...

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He who conceals hatred has lying lips, and he who spreads slander is a fool. (Proverbs 10:18)

(Tim) This afternoon, I was talking with a man who was describing how a young couple had been alienated from their church, in large part because of a bad report they heard from a couple who had left that church to escape the discipline of its elders. And yesterday, I heard a similar report from a couple who had been subjected to their church leadership repeating evil and malicious words against another church, while every indication was that their leaders had never spoken personally to those they were attacking. "Lying lips" and "he who spreads slander" are constants in pastoral ministry, and always have been. Thus the Apostle Paul writes:

 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (Ephesians 4:31)

Man leaves church angry and bitter at church's leadership for their correction or rebuke of him. He's accepted into another neighboring church without question. Yet he's not content to have left his former church. From bitterness, he slanders it to anyone who will listen--starting with his new pastor, church board, and members.

But maybe it's not slander at all, right? Churches do abuse people and you can't be too careful guarding against church popes and dictators who oppress the souls under their care. So how do you know when you're listening to slander and when the bad report is actually true?

A few simple tests will make things clear.

First, ask the person badmouthing their former church whether he has been formally disciplined by that church...

If he has been formally disciplined by that church, ask him if he submitted to the discipline or rejected it? If he begins to hem and haw here, smell a rat. It's a straightforward question that souls welcoming discipline will not hesitate to answer. Note that you don't need to know anything about the sin he was disciplined for, nor the rebuke he received, to ask these questions and have them answered.

If he has been formally disciplined by the church or leadership he's badmouthing, that should be the end of the conversation. Unless, of course, you're the kind of parent who would have no scruples against listening to your son badmouth your husband to you right after your husband disciplined him. You know, "Daddy doesn't love me! Daddy isn't fair! All the other kids can do it--why can't I? I hate Daddy! Why can't Daddy be nice like you are, Mommy?"

Stuff like that.

Second, if he says he was never placed under formal discipline, or that he was placed under discipline and submitted to it, ask him if he's willing to go meet with the pastors and elders of his old church and tell them what he's told you so they can respond with him present, and maybe work the thing out? And while you're at it, ask him if his new pastor and elders offered to go with him to meet with the former church's pastors or elders, just as you're now offering to do?

Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:23, 24)

If he says anything other than "Yes, I'd be happy to do that! Will you set up the meeting for us?", you have your answer. You're dealing with a gossip and slanderer, as well as a rebel.

But now, you have a few more responsibilities before you're through. First, read your friend this from Hebrews:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.(Hebrews 13:17)

Next, warn your friend that he is rebelling against God's authority, and that it won't go well with him--particularly since he's adding lies to rebellion.

If he responds that the pastor of his new church or other men he looks up to have counseled him not to meet with the pastors and elders of his former church, and he's only doing what they've told him to do, then know that his new pastor and elders share in his guilt.

Scripture makes things amazingly simple and clear. Jesus commands us to start with a personal meeting with the one we offended or the one who offended us. If that doesn't work, we take someone with us. If that doesn't work, we tell it to the whole church.

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17)

We don't start with telling the whole church while refusing to meet privately with those we're badmouthing.

The man who, following discipline, badmouths a church or its leaders, yet is unwilling to go say those things to them personally, is a rebel and slanderer. And it's no surprise he's found a new church whose leaders encourage his rebellion and slander. Such conduct is at the heart of the business plan of churches across our nation, today.

All of us--particularly pastors--are tempted to believe evil reports about other churches, deacons, elders, and pastors. This is sin. We are to protect the reputation of other believers, and work hard at it. What a small thing it is to go with another believer and talk with the person or church board he's badmouthing.

But what a large step toward the healing of that man's soul (or the other church's leaders) such steps are! Calling a man to speak directly to those he slanders is the only biblically faithful way of handling such sin. In God's economy, your action holding him accountable to follow Scripture may be as significant in his turning to God in repentance as all the rejected efforts of his former church combined over many years.

One final step remains: Assuming the slanderer will not go with you to speak to the leaders of the church that placed him under discipline, our next step should be to meet with his new pastor from his new church to ask him whether he's heard his new member badmouthing his former church?

If he admits he has heard it (or repeats the criticisms himself, to you), ask him if he himself has offered to go with his new church member to meet with his former church's leaders or elders to speak to them directly about the accusations? If he says "no," ask him if you can set up such a meeting and count on him going with you?

If he's hesitant, give him some time to do the right thing. But if he refuses, no matter what justification he gives for that refusal, rebuke him and warn others away from his church.

Clearly, he's a tickler of ears rather than a true shepherd. He's willing to have other brothers in Christ slandered as the price for his own church growth.

In all this, do be careful, remembering that people can give very sophisticated justifications for why they don't have to obey Scripture. But if you hold tenaciously to the principle that men should always be willing to say directly to a brother in Christ evil reports they are speaking when he's not present, the truth will out.

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While comments are closed under this post, I'd be happy to have readers e-mail me with specific questions they may have.