Living the Christian life is often a balancing act. It is easy to get into unhelpful extremes, and seeking to find the biblical balance is often a difficult job. Take for example the issue of public censure. On the one hand, Christians are to strive for unity and edification. On the other hand, we are instructed to at times publically rebuke wayward brothers.
Getting the right mix here is not always easy. I have written before on these matters but there is need to write more. We should strive to love one another, encourage one another, build each other up, and show humility and respect, preferring one another in love. A truckload of texts can be adduced here on such themes.
But we are also told to not allow one another to get off the path. We are instructed to rebuke and correct when necessary, and commanded to uphold both sound teaching and right conduct. Sometimes when a brother does something or says something in public that is very much out of sync with the faith, there may be a need for a public reply, rebuff, correction or rebuke.
While we all know about and rightly affirm the first set of concerns, we tend to shy away from the second. But this is also a part of our calling. And there are plenty of examples and admonitions of this found in the Bible.
A classic case is Paul publically confronting Peter. In Galatians 2:11 Paul says this: “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” You can read the first two chapters to get the context of this rebuke, but suffice it to say that sometimes public words and actions need to be publically challenged.
Paul makes it clear that there is a place for public rebuke: “Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning” (1 Timothy 5:20). “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Indeed, this theme is found throughout Scripture. As we are told in the Psalms: “Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it. Yet my prayer is ever against the deeds of evildoers” (Psalm 141:5).
Or as we are instructed in Proverbs, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:5-6).
Two contemporary examples
I write all this because I have in my mind two recent episodes which bear on this very issue. One concerns some public comments by megachurch Pastor Rick Warren made on the Larry King show this past Monday. This is how one account records the interview:
“King asked Warren, ‘Do you therefore criticize or not comment on the Iowa court decision to permit gay marriage.’ Warren replied, ‘Yeah, I’m totally uh oblivious to, to what’s, that’s not even my agenda.’ He went on to say, ‘My agenda is two things’ and spoke of the 15th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide and what the recession is doing to the spiritual climate of the nation.”
“‘I am not an anti-gay or an anti-gay marriage activist. Never have been, never will be,’ Warren told King at the outset of the interview. ‘During the whole Proposition 8 thing, I never once went to a meeting, never once issued a statement, never once even gave an endorsement in the two years Prop 8 was going.’ Pressed by King on whether he told his congregation to support Prop 8, Warren conceded to having ‘just simply made a note in a newsletter’ about it. He also stated that he continues to believe that the definition of marriage should not be changed.”
“Nonetheless, he stated that his note to his congregation telling them to support Prop 8 was blown out of proportion. ‘I sent a note to my own members, and then all of a sudden out of it they made me something that I really wasn’t.’ He added: ‘I wrote to all my gay friends, the leaders that I knew and apologized to them.’”
Not only is this backtracking on homosexuality of real concern, but it seems he has been bending the truth a little as well. It was not just a note he wrote on proposition 8. He had “in fact videotaped a message of over 2 minutes length in support of Prop 8. That video was featured on the Prop 8 website and is still available on Warren’s own Saddleback Church website.”
So I guess the question is, Will the real Rick Warren please stand up? If he has in fact changed his views on the importance of marriage and family, then he should plainly say so. And he should do so without equivocation or misleading remarks, as he apparently has done on the King interview.
The second example has to do with what had been known as a strong Catholic university, Notre Dame in America, and its decision to have Barack Hussein Obama deliver the commencement address on May 17, and receive an honorary law degree.
Being the most pro-abortion President ever, outraged Catholics around America – and elsewhere – are demanding that Notre Dame back down and not go through with this act of villainy. To date, over 30 US Bishops have publically condemned the decision.
But the president of the university refuses to back down, despite the fact that in June 2004, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement declaring that Catholic colleges should not allow those who are pro-abortion to have a platform to speak to students or be honoured with special awards and degrees.
Many Catholic leaders have publically blasted the decision. For example Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, ND wrote, “Even though President Obama is not Catholic, he clearly rejects the truth about human dignity through his constant support of a so called ‘right’ to abortion. Inviting President Obama to award him a degree and to speak at a Catholic University implicitly extends legitimacy to his views on these issues in the minds of the average onlooker. Your actions and that of the Board of Trustees of Notre Dame do real harm to the mission of Catholic education in this country and further splinters Catholic witness in the public square.”
Catholic commentator Patrick Buchanan is so incensed he has asked if Notre Dame is still even a Catholic institution: “Is Notre Dame still a repository, teacher and exemplar of eternal truths about God and Man, right and wrong, whose mission is to convey and defend those truths in a hostile world? Or has Notre Dame joined the secularists in their endless scavenger hunt to seek and find truth in the marketplace of ideas?”
In both these cases, public words and actions by Christians have resulted in public rebuke. I think that in both cases this public rebuke has been warranted (no pun intended). Sometimes we must be willing to stand up for biblical truth, even if that means sharing our concerns in public, especially if what we are responding to was originally done publically.
At the end of the day we all need to pray for Rick Warren and the President of Notre Dame, the Rev. John Jenkins. As major Christian leaders they clearly need our prayer and support. But as major Christian leaders, they can have tremendous influence, for good or for ill. When they use their powerful positions of leadership to do and say things which are at the least, biblically questionable, and at the worst, quite damaging, then fellow believers have an obligation to lovingly yet firmly share their concerns.
So pray for these two men, that they will do that which is pleasing to God, and not just that which is pleasing to men.