Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Church's Unsung Heroes: Confrontation

This blog series is intended to speak to certain aspects of God's Church that are often suppressed, avoided, ignored, or rejected. The interesting thing about these topics is that they have a couple of twists: they're actually good things and doing away with them causes harm. I hope we all can take an honest look at the subjects presented and learn more about ourselves along with Christ's design for His people. 

 Ok, think about the last time you had a firsthand experience in one of these two scenarios:

1) A fellow Christian from your church upsets another believer by way of sin (pride, arrogance, lying, lusting, etc.). The offended party pulls the offensive party to the side to lay out the wrongdoings one-on-one. It's face-to-face, brutally honest, and 0% fun.  When the first Christian does not hear out the second Christian, other Christians are brought in. When he still resists the correction, the charges are brought in front of your whole church [insert crickets here].

2) A fellow Christian from your church comes across as very hypocritical and it's evident by the way the person lives (things kept in the house, things revealed on Facebook, the way he/she treats the clerk at Walmart, etc.). One day, in public, a Christian who has been seeing this hypocrisy confronts the person in public and everyone can hear. This is one believer calling out another believer in front of everyone [insert more crickets here].

My guess is that you haven't gone through one of these ordeals in some time-- if ever. Believe it or not, these are two appropriate forms of confrontation found in the Bible and a quick glance at American Christianity tells us that we should be seeing this far more often than we currently do.

In Matthew 18, Jesus speaks of church discipline and the way that we should interact with each other when we are sinned against. Notice His first word of direction:

"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone," (v. 15).

Go and tell him his fault. That kind of seems like a daunting task, doesn't it?

Say you show up to church one Sunday very bright and cheery (which may not be often for some of us) and you go up to one of your elders to strike up a conversation. The next thing you know, your smile fades because the man you were speaking to seemed really harsh and cold as he quickly dismissed you to get on his way and to leave you standing squarely in the dust. 

Did this brother sin against you? After all, he may have had a tough morning and his personality is never overly sweet anyhow. I can't say if this situation was sinful or not, but regardless of that, you were offended and hurt by the way you were treated. The guy acted like a jerk and that's no way to treat your Christian brother.

So what do you do?

I'll tell you what happens most of the time. You don't say a word. You think, "Well that was a little weird," and on the inside your feelings were hurt. You harbor ill thoughts toward this individual and those come to fruition via revenge in the form of gossip, slander, outright shunning, or mirroring the actions that got you upset in the first place. 

Ah, so this is church! 

Are you starting to see why Jesus' words about confrontation are so important now? What if, instead of bottling up these ideas and assumptions that push us to anger and hatred, we took the problem back to its root and worked it out with the instigator. Can you imagine what would happen if, after the service that day at church, you pulled the elder to the side and told him right there on the spot that what he had done hurt you? What if he would have given you a genuine apology and asked for forgiveness? Don't you think that experience would grow both of you in love and character?

Ah, so THAT is church!

What happens when we confront others in their sin is that it pushes both parties to godliness. The offended party embraces godliness by standing up for righteousness. The offensive party is pushed to godliness when he gives an admission of his sin and repents out of love for God and his brother. 

When dealing with weightier matters and/or stubborner (yes, it's a word) people, it will eventually push the entire church to godliness. 

If Jesus' words are followed as the offender refuses to hear rebuke, the whole church is brought into the confrontation, standing up for the person that was sinned against and for the Word of God. If that person still refuses, Jesus says "let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector [an unbeliever]," (Matt 18:17b). 

By this a church becomes more godly because ungodly people are treated as such. 

Less sin is covered up and more righteousness is brought to the light. 


Now take the other situation: confronting someone in public. 

In Galatians 2, Paul describes a situation when he had to oppose Peter to his face in public. 

Peter, like many of us, had fear-of-man issues. He understood God's grace and the purpose of the gospel to unite Jews and Gentiles together under the Lordship of Christ. For this reason he felt free to eat with the Gentiles (bacon was likely present) and rub shoulders with the people he considered unclean before Jesus came. That is, until other Jews showed up. 

"For before certain men came from James, [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy," (Gal 2:12-13). 

Peter, a Jewish man by ethnicity and a follower of Christ through salvation, was giving in to the Judaizers. These men added works to the gospel, saying that a man must still be circumcised in order to be saved. This was not the gospel at all and Paul despised that teaching so much that he said he wished that the men preaching it would cut themselves all the way off if that would supposedly make them closer to God.

So Peter, pressured by the other Jews and doing his best to keep a good report with them, detaches himself from the Gentiles. Seeing this, Paul "opposed him to his face" (v. 11) and confronted him "before them all" (v. 14). 

The result of this confrontation is not explained, but one has to imagine that it was incredibly awkward.

What was the big deal?

The big deal was that Peter, a disciple of Christ, was not matching his actions with his expressed faith. The old adage is that "Actions speak louder than words," and in this case it was certainly true. 

Think about the application for today. What do you do when a regular attender at your church, someone who has professed a belief in the gospel for years, starts talking to you at a potluck about how she just can't stop watching a new TV show that you know glorifies a sinful way of life? It would be so powerful, especially when others are listening in, to speak up and say that taking pleasure in such a thing is wrong. 

But what happens when a respected member of the church who is in the group discussion just smiles and nods the entire time while thinking "Yikes!"? I'll tell you what happens-- the other people in the group think, "I guess this kind of behavior is alright with God." 

Double "Yikes!". 

It's up to you in whatever situation you find yourself in to decide whether or not a public confrontation is necessary. It may be best just to talk to the person in private afterwards and then maybe say something to others that witnessed it. However, for Paul, it was best in that situation to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and publicly confront Peter. What a statement that was. 

This, too, pushes everyone toward godliness. All confrontation does. When forced to either (a) stand up for what's right or (b) give in to what's right, "what's right" will prevail. A person who resists confrontation will eventually leave the community (whether it's a church, friendship, or something else) because it will get old, frustrating, or just plain awkward. 

In so doing, once again, less sin is covered up and more righteousness is brought to the light.                    

This is why confrontation works and is necessary. We may not enjoy it, but it truly is an unsung hero in the Church.

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