Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Order of Godly Rebuke

One of the most often forgotten or ignored words of Jesus is His clear instruction on how to deal with a brother whom we believe to be in sin. The key phrase here is "whom we believe", because it is not always certain that what we perceive to be the case is actually the case. The care and love for the one who may be in sin seems to be the focus of the 4-Step way of dealing with such matters. In this, Christ has shown us how to avert misunderstanding and how to gently guide one who may be in sin. Any other method or order, other than that which Christ gave us, can cause harm, and, ironically, will cause the one who notices his brother's sinful action to commit a sin himself.

The Words of Christ:

Matt. 18: 15-17
"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won a brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or 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."


Step One: Go to the brother alone, just you and him.
1. It saves the brother from embarrassment and from feeling attacked. It is less threatening.
2. It allows communication on a private level, so if there was a misunderstanding and you have wrongly perceived the brother to be in sin, then the issue is cleared up and the matter is settled. In this privacy, only you and your brother are aware of the issue, so there are no others involved with which to communicate or clear your brother's name.
3. If your brother is in sin, either one of ignorance or intent, it is easier to repent when one concerned brother comes with the love of Christ.
4. Once the issue is dealt with on Step One, the issue is settled and there is no need to go to Step Two. Most of the time,  Step One resolves the issue.

If it is still believed that the brother is in sin and he either, does not see himself to be in sin, or refuses to repent from the sin of which he is aware, then, and only then, the concerned brother may go to Step Two.

Step Two: Go back to the brother and take two or three others with you.
1. Taking two or three others with you will act to show the brother that what you have presented was not just your opinion, but that of others. The impact of having several brothers telling the sinning brother the same thing may get his attention.
2. If the original concerned brother was erroneous in his assumption that his brother is in sin, then the accompanying brothers may see that more clearly. In this, the matter may be settled and cleared up.

If all the concerned brothers find that the brother is indeed in sin and either refuses to repent, or fails to see the sinfulness of his actions, then, and only then, does Christ say to go to Step Three.

Step Three: Tell it to the Church
1. On this Step, the elders of the church, meaning the priests and bishops are FIRST informed of the brother's condition and his unwillingness to repent. The Bishops are the church and have the ultimate determination in the matter.
2. If the sinning, unrepentant, brother is brought before the church, he may realize the seriousness of the matter in a way that a few of his brothers or even a single priest did not impact upon him. If he has stood in pride in his sin, the weight of being brought before the church may be enough to break that pride and to allow him to repent.

If the issue has arrived at Step Three, then there is a serious matter involved with the brother that may not be an easy fix. It is only for the salvation of his soul and for the purity of the church that Step Four should come into play.

Step Four: He is to be treated as a Gentile- He is no longer in the Church.
1. The unrepentant brother, left to his own sinful arrogance and disobedience, outside the safely of the church, will either fall deeper in sin or will feel the weight of a life without the church. and come back to her.
2. By not allowing the unrepentant brother to remain in the church, the church is kept pure and others who may want to remain in their sin, fear God at the seriousness repercussions of an unrepentant heart.

A Relevant Question:
Q : Is a priest bound to follow this order?
A: Yes. A priest is especially bound to follow the order that Christ has set up. He has the sacrament of confession and forgiveness and the responsibility for pastoral care of the brother. He should show great restraint in the sharing any information concerning one of his brother parishioners even with fellow priests.  This is especially true if the issue is still on Step One. The damage that can be done to a brother parishioner if his sin is immediately taken to Step Two, or worse, to Step Three, can be irreparable and the priest, in doing so, commits his own sin. Though it is wise and often necessary for a priest to seek council in some matter, he should use the abstract in discussing it with others, not using the name of the brother or any particular identifying circumstances.

Q: Is a Bishop bound to follow this order?
A: Yes. Even more so, a Bishop should follow the clear words of Christ.

Too often, people forgo the 4-Steps Christ set out to deal with a brother in sin. The most common reason is ignorance of Christ's command. Concerned brothers use the reason of "being concerned" as to why they talk to others about their fallen brother, before talking to the brother (Step One). The result of their misdirected concern is that they sin against their brother by means of gossip. There is no control to rumors and gossip and Saint James illustrates that such talk becomes a raging fire out of control. The brother in sin is ultimately hurt and not helped. He is especially hurt if he was innocent of a sin to begin with.

When I was a protestant pastor, I was surprised by being called before the entire church committee. I had no warning or knowledge of what the issue was. No one had ever come to me at all. The issue was that they didn't like how I was leading worship. Now, this was not a sin issue, but the same 4-Step principals of Christ should have applied. Since no one came to me privately, the issue had built into an insurmountable conflict in their minds. Since there were several people in the room, there must have been much prior conversation and gossip around the subject in which I was not included. By the time we met, they had decided to ask me to resign my pastorate. What a sad result which failure to follow the clear command of Christ brings. Not only did I resign, but the entire staff of the church resigned, leaving the committee to their own devises and the local church weakened. How much different would it have been if the originator of the complaint had asked to speak with me? The issue could have been settled without such division.

Since becoming Orthodox, I have discovered that the same propensity to ignore the 4-Steps of the Order of Godly Rebuke also exists. There is no doubt that I sin both knowingly and unknowingly. There is also no doubt that it is in my heart to be righteous even as He is righteousness. In some of my failings, along my Journey To Orthodoxy, I have discovered, however, that, rather than a concerned brother or priest coming to me privately, according to Step One, I have been immediately taken to Step Three, as other parishioners, priests and bishops are made aware of an issue that should easily have been resolved privately with Step One.

This has been extremely difficult at times for me and my family. Being the subject of such disorderly communication, leaves one feeling distrustful, and violated. How does one go to those who have been made privy of an issue that you yourself  have not first had the opportunity to reconcile? How do you know who already knows and what they must be thinking of you? In such a situation, the peace and fellowship that you once had is robbed and replaced with suspicion and insecurity, and if the original issue or accusation is not true to begin with, or is a simple misunderstanding, how can it be quietly resolved with so many involved? There will always be the possibility that someone did not "get the word." It is especially difficult to clean up such a mess once it has been made, and not uncommon to be accused of pride, self-preservation, or lack of humility when you attempt to do so. One who has been put in this position by someone's failure to follow Christ's Four Steps, can only trust God and pray for those who have wronged them in this way, be they layman, priest, or bishop.

Our Lord is perfect and His words are perfect. If we would follow His words in regard to dealing with issues such as this, there would be less strife in the body of Christ. Laymen, Deacons, Priests, Bishops: What part of HIS WORDS do we not understand?

Matt. 18: 15-17
"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won a brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or 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."

Praise be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who forgives all of our sins and bears all of our burdens!

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