Doug Phillips, who was my elder for several years, taught me that God’s Word addresses every situation in life, but that rather than looking for a single verse to support our “beliefs,” we must look at the whole counsel of God to determine precisely what God wants us to do and how we are to live our daily lives. As we consider this situation with Ligonier, I want to stay focused on our responsibility as Christians in these types of circumstances. Sola Scriptura.
If we are to develop a biblical worldview in life, it must differ from the world’s ways; as Christians, we should stand head and shoulders above the world in the way we conduct ourselves. Let’s take a look at a few of the world’s ways and see how we are doing.
“The West Point Military Academy has a Cadet Honor Code which is defined as "A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do." West Point expects that all cadets will strive to live far above the minimum standard of behavior and develop a commitment to ethical principles guiding moral actions. An officer who is not trustworthy cannot be tolerated. USMA expects its graduates and cadets to commit to a lifetime of honorable living.
“A leader of character knows what is right, and possesses the moral courage to act on that knowledge. The principles of truthfulness, fairness, respect for others, and a personal commitment to maintaining values constitute that fundamental ideal known as the Spirit of the Code. A leader of character will apply the Spirit of the Code when making decisions involving ethical dilemmas.
“The Corps of Cadets bears the responsibility to resolve all possible violations of the Code through detailed, independent investigations and, when required, Honor Investigative Hearings. If a cadet (or anyone else) suspects that a violation occurred, then she or he is expected to approach the individual to clarify what happened (this step is optional). If that approach resolves the issue; i.e., the cadet making the allegation realizes no Honor violation occurred, then the issue will be dropped. However, if the person making the allegation still believes a violation may have occurred, she or he is obligated to inform a member of the Honor Committee within 24 hours. Failure to do so is considered "toleration," which is itself a violation of the Honor Code (the 24 hour rule is a guideline, cadets are not automatically in violation of the Code if they take more than 24 hours to report a violation). Once a suspected violation is reported to a member of the Honor Committee, it must be investigated.” This investigation then leads to several levels of hearings and judgments, similar to our judicial system.
The US Army drills and instills seven core values into all its soldiers:
These seven character traits are not only inculcated in and demanded of each soldier, but they are also a foundation for promotion. All officers and NCOs are rated annually on how they embody these seven character traits, which then forms a basis for potential promotion.
How are we as Christians doing so far? Are we standing head and shoulders above the world’s ways? Have we all demonstrated God’s ways in our handling of the Ligonier situation?
I was having a conversation with a friend once and she had asked me a question. She said, “I know you are just going to ask me, ‘What does the Bible say about it?’ but I don’t know what the Bible says about it!” Maybe that is where we need to start.
What does the Bible say about this situation with Ligonier? First, we need to understand that it is our responsibility as Christians to judge one another. This concept of judging others has been greatly taken out of context in our day. This Scripture is not referring to a pharisaical “holier-than-thou” type attitude where we either think we are better than others or we put it upon ourselves to tell other Christians all their sins. The Bible never tells us to do either of those. This type of judging regards things that pertain to this life, even the smallest matters, Scripture tells us; it is the settling of differences, as we clearly see the connection to the previous verse that tells us not to take matters to the world’s courts. Not only is this verse a clear prohibition of lawsuits, but it appears to ban all forms of using the world’s courts to settle matters between professing Christians, such as injunctions. So our first point is that Christians are to judge one another in ALL matters, big or small.
Next, we are told that we should have nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather to expose them. Since “deeds of darkness” is just another name for sin, we see that we are actually told to expose sin. There are certainly biblical times, ways, and means to do that, though, so we can’t put all our money on just this verse. But we do need to realize that there are definitely times to expose the evil “deeds of darkness.” We are having no problems following this Scripture lately!
Most people will probably think of Matthew 18 next, so let’s look briefly at its three steps.
First step: Go alone to the person who offended you.
Second step: Take one or two others with you. Notice that this verse does NOT say that the others must have witnessed the offense, but rather that they be witnesses to the conversation.
Third step: Tell it to the church. “Church” here does NOT necessarily mean the local body of believers you fellowship with. It MAY mean that, but it is not limited to that definition. The “church” here means to the extent that other believers are affected by this offense, or those who have a need to know.
Fourth step: Treat him like a heathen and a tax collector.
This situation with Ligonier and this verse reminds me of Martin Luther. Luther realized as he studied God’s Word for himself that he had a responsibility to judge what was going on in the church at that time. He realized that he had a responsibility to expose the “deeds of darkness” within the very church he loved. He also followed the steps of Matthew 18, but when he got to step number three, the “church” meant all the believers had a need to know. It is not easy to be the messenger and tell God’s own people to repent, and Martin Luther was not very well loved in his day. People today want to shoot the messengers that are exposing the “deeds of darkness” within Ligonier, but God clearly tells us in this Scripture to take it to the whole church, if necessary. To the extent that the sin is made public, exposure should be given to the same extent. I wonder where we would be if Luther didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to call the church to repentance.
Do we have an example in Scripture of exposing evil deeds to the whole church? This might seem like a really small matter, but it must have been important enough to not only confront the sinner, but also to take it to the whole church. Peter was eating with the Gentiles, as God had called him to do, but when James sent some visitors, Peter lost his first vision and withdrew from them and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. Paul says that he had to confront Peter to his face; but even that wasn’t enough. Paul then put it in writing for the whole church to see, for all time! Sometimes I’m glad I didn’t live in the Bible times, because I wouldn’t want my sin to go down in history for the whole world to continue to see for thousands of years! Anyway, Peter’s sin of fearing for his reputation doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to us, but Paul thought it serious enough to tell the whole church.
What is our attitude to be during all this exposure and confrontation? First, I think it’s important that we walk the very fine line of being as wise as serpents, yet as harmless as doves, since we are as sheep being sent out into the midst of wolves. I am not going to call anyone a wolf in this Ligonier situation, but let us say that God knows each of our hearts, and He knows His sheep, and He knows if there are any wolves. We do, however, bear a responsibility here to be wise in discerning when people are conducting themselves as Christians or not; the Bible says that we will know that they are Christians by their fruit, by the way they behave. While we are busy being wise, let us be just as busy being harmless. I fear there is much harm being done in this situation.
And not only are we to be harmless, but we are to restore those who are caught up in sin with a spirit of gentleness. You know, I think that old saying still rings true: You will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar! When we put others on the defensive, why are we surprised when they defend themselves? This is certainly one of the hardest areas for me, but I truly desire to have a gentle spirit so that I may help bring restoration where there is still sin.
Sometimes as Christians we are called to confront sin in other believers. The Bible tells us that Christians are to judge between Christians, in both small and large matters; that we are to expose the “deeds of darkness;” that we are to follow the three steps listed in Matthew 18, which include telling it to as many Christians as it pertains to; to be as wise as serpents in being alert for wolves in our midst, yet harmless as doves in dealing with them; and to restore sinning believers in a spirit of gentleness. For those who are doing the confronting, let us remember to do it God’s way.