Defend your shepherds from slander...

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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.