Defend your shepherds from slander...

Sure I am, if it were well understood how much of the pastoral authority and work consisteth in church guidance, it would be also discerned, that to be against discipline, is near to being against the ministry; and to be against the ministry is near to being absolutely against the Church; and to be against the Church, is near to being absolutely against Christ. Blame not the harshness of the inference, till you can avoid it, and free yourselves from the charge of it before the Lord. - Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, (Banner of Truth, Carlisle PA: 1974) p. 111.

When a man rejects the exhortations and admonitions of his elders over a period of years, the time will come when he will turn his back on Christ's Church. If he refuses to repent and continues to give himself to sin, his sin will bear fruit and he will be separated from the Body of Christ. He may find another church that will allow him to hide in his sin; that church may marry and baptize and bury him and his family as churches have done across the centuries; but his repudiation of the discipline of Christ's Bride is his repudiation of Jesus Christ. The binding of earth and Heaven is no game of Angry Birds or Where's Waldo...

The Bible says a lot about the Church's work calling men and women to repentance:

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load. The one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. (Galatians 6:1-10)

It's noteworthy that the warning "the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption" is placed here in this tender section dealing with the restoration of sinners within the Church. There are many things to learn here, but did you see verses nine and ten?

We are not to "lose heart in doing good," we're not to "grow weary."

Why would those "who are spiritual"--your pastors and elders and Titus 2 women--grow weary and lose heart?

When men and women rebel against the Lord Jesus, His Word, and His Church, they don't tell their friends they've turned their back on Jesus. They don't say, "I refused to listen to the elders' wives and I'm in rebellion against God." They don't admit they've abandoned the Bride of Christ.

And often their sin is hidden from everyone but the elders and their wives, so it's easy to lie about things: "We just don't feel good about (Eleventh Presbyterian Church) any more. The elders told us to kill our grandmother with an ax and that didn't seem right to us, you know? So my husband and I prayed about it and God led us to another church where we feel like grandmothers are more valued. Now that God has led us there we have such a sense of peace! You wouldn't believe how much better our drive to church is each Sunday morning--we can't figure out why we waited so long!"

Of course no one has ever gone so far as to accuse their former elders or their wives of having ordered them to kill their grandmother with an ax. But the example isn't as far-fetched as it sounds. Listen to people who leave churches and listen to their self-justifications. If you know their former elders and their wives, ask yourself which is more likely: that the elders have done what they're being accused of or that the person accusing them is trying to justify himself by smearing those delegated the power of the keys by the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ?

Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst"  (Matthew 18:18-20).

In almost thirty years of ministry I can't remember a single case where an individual or couple repudiates the admonitions or rebukes of their elders or their wives, leaves the church, and tells the truth about why they left. It's in the nature of the work that church officers and their wives grow weary in well-doing because of the false accusations they suffer. They give their time and money and tears to heal and restore a marriage, but in a few months or years, those they've served so faithfully turn around and wickedly accuse them of the most evil things. Among unteachable believers, self-justification and slander are kissing-buddies.

They told me I had to grow a beard! They told me I was in sin because I pierced my nose! They told me I had to buy a Toyota! They told me I had to sell my house and buy a double-wide! They told me I should not submit to my husband--can you believe that! I just couldn't respect those men. And their wives--do you know what gossips they are? They're all self-righteous. And here I am--so very, very hurt. I trusted them and look what they did to me and my family. I don't know if I'll ever be able to trust a pastor or elder again. I lie awake at night moaning in pain over what my wife and I have suffered. You have no idea how much we've suffered.

If you hear a story about your elders or their wives that doesn't sound quite right to you, it's likely not.

Do them a favor, then: either rebuke their slanderer or offer to go with him to confront the elder with his sin--one or the other. And if it's the second, keep close track of how the slanderer's story changes once he's in the presence of the man he was slandering.

That's assuming he'll take you up on your offer--which is unlikely. "Oh no, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have mentioned it to you. I had determined not to talk to anyone about it. I'm not bitter. I just can't go there any more. It's too, too painful. But God has healed me and I am happy now..."

And so on. The world is filled with confessing Christians who refuse to have any direct communication and personal accountability to anyone else. And if someone tries to get them to talk directly to those they slander and hiss about, it's a hopeless work.

Almost nothing wearies elders as much as the false accusations they endure made by those who have refused correction and rebuke and are in bondage to sin.

There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

The lies of a false witness spread strife among brothers and it's the work of all of us to protect the purity and peace of the Church. Notice that simple declaration of obligation in the above Galatians text: "the one who is taught the word is to share all good things with the one who teaches him?"

The first "good thing" to give your elders, pastors, and their wives is submission when they correct you. That in place, the second good thing to give them is your defense of their good name when you hear them slandered by those who have refused their correction and have left the church. Church officers have needed such protection across all ages.

Back in the seventeenth century in his classic on pastoral care, The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter rebuked pastors and elders for refusing to practice church discipline. Note his explanation for that refusal:

It is a sad case, that good men should settle themselves so long in the constant neglect of so great a duty (church discipline). The common cry is, "Our people are not ready for it; they will not bear it." But is not the fact rather, that you will not bear the trouble and hatred which it will occasion?

So, dear brother and sister, share all good things with your elders, pastors, and their wives by silencing the slander of those with bad consciences who have turned their back on our precious Mother.

(TB)

Comments

I was reading Gregory of Nyssa the other day, and his defense of Basi, his father in the faith, stuck out to me...Perhaps some may think this is not precisely related, I would disagree.

"The reason why I hesitate (to write a response to the heretic Eunomius) is this. When our saintly Basil fell asleep, and I received the legacy of Eunomius’ controversy, when my heart was hot within me with bereavement, and, besides this deep sorrow for the common loss of the church, Eunomius had not confined himself to the various topics which might pass as a defence of his views, but had spent the chief part of his energy in laboriously-written abuse of our father in God. I was exasperated with this, and there were passages where the flame of my heart-felt indignation burst out against this writer. The public have pardoned us for much else, because we have been apt in showing patience in meeting lawless attacks, and as far as possible have practised that restraint in feeling which the saint has taught us; but I had fears lest from what we have now written against this opponent the reader should get the idea that we were very raw controversialists, who lost our temper directly at insolent abuse. Perhaps, however, this suspicion about us will be disarmed by remembering that this display of anger is not on our own behalf, but because of insults levelled against our father in God; and that it is a case in which mildness would be more unpardonable than anger." Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius

"If you hear a story about your elders or their wives that doesn't sound quite right to you, it's likely not.

Do them a favor, then: either rebuke their slanderer or offer to go with him to confront the elder with his sin--one or the other."

I like that. The second isn't psychologically hard to do, either. Just cite Matthew 18 and make the offer. When the slanderer backs off, tell him that if that elder is like he says, then the elder ought to get a taste of his own medicine, because that elder clearly believes in church medicine. When the slanderer continues to back off, gently (or sternly) tell him to keep quiet if he's not willing to actually confront the person.

Thank-you for that blog. I'm a pastor in with numerous people that have left for the greener pastures of an emerging church. The excusses have cut me to the core. "Your preaching beats me up. You won't hire a woman associate. You preach too long. Your sermons are too black and white. You preach obedience and that is legalism." The depression that I have faced has been overwhelming of late. Yet your blog spoke directly to my heart. Thank-you for your insight and good word.

I've got to confess that when I first read this, my first reaction was to contemplate whether leaving a church for doctrinal reasons--my family recently did so--falls into this category.

I am guessing that unless one keeps it very dry, one can easily wander into the land of slander. I shall be careful.

I have to admit, as I read this, the phrase "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" came to mind. If you're going to dish out discipline as a pastor- as you must and should- I think it's really important to be constantly checking yourselves. I think that some of us are guilty of almost fetishizing authority to the point that we don't stop to consider that we're not always right, and whenever we get into a dust-up the answer is for us to exert more authority. As Oliver Cromwell once said, "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."

Hey Roger, have you ever sat in a session meeting? They're filled with men second-guessing themselves who demonstrate their good wives have done an excellent job showing them their errors in leadership. Maybe you're Baptist and don't know the benefits of the plurality of the eldership, but the idea of authority being fetishized in a room with fifteen manly men arguing over the best way to care for one of their flock is almost hilarious.

As A. A. Hodge put it in his Manual of Forms, "It is proper that the government of the Church should be in the hands of several men of wisdom and piety, rather than in the hands of one, and especially that the pastor should be counseled and assisted by persons of reputation living permanently in the midst of the people, in perfect sympathy with them and enjoying their confidence. Thus in the presbyterian churches have the people secured control of their own church affairs, and prevented the growth of bigotry and tyranny on the part of their ministers."

Get elders, brother. They're the best!

Love,

Tim/ David, I can't say that I have. It's certainly something I should do. Not a Baptist, though, just a relatively wet behind the ears Presbyterian. We are blessed in my church with a group of elders that is truly Godly, and I think it's a good system- just an observation about the dangers of authority that was not as thought out as it should have been. Thanks for your response.

I came over from the OPC list. Thanks for this post.

I think it's possible for Presbyterian elders to go astray. If you have five men checking one another and they are all in a "good-old-boys, circle the wagons, it's us against them," state of mind, it can be disastrous. Elders are to lead, I've heard, not push. I'm in a church now where the elders lead us in repentance, in confession of sins, in prayer, in service...It's wonderful. But I've been some Presbyterian churches where this hasn't been the case. I've been in some churches where elders seem to believe they are sinless and they never apologize for anything, all the while they bludgeon the sheep. Pharisees can be found in all denominations.

However, God taught me to submit to the authority he has given to sinful men, and it was the best thing I ever learned. I cannot tell you what joy I have because I am able to obey sinful men. Not men who tell me to sin, but men who are sinners and who sin against me. I've had elders sin against me and I've had a husband sin against me and I find that obeying them has given me more joy than probably anything else ever has.

I completely agree with you about how people leave the church and find all sorts of excuses. I have seen too many leave, and with each church they leave the get farther and farther away from Christ and his body until they finally realize they will never find a church good enough with elders perfect enough, and they stop going altogether. It's a terrible thing to see.

But I'm wondering about your stressing that we are to be in submission to elder's wives. I think that younger women are to learn from older women and that we are all to be in submission to one another, but I have never heard anyone suggest that older women have authority over younger women that is akin to an elder's authority over the flock. Any chance you can write a little more about that? Or have you posted on it somewhere already? I'm wondering where you are getting this idea, because I have never heard it before. Or am I reading you wrong? Are you just talking about the authority we all, as sisters and brothers, have over one another, and the obligation we all have to submit to one another?

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