This question is perhaps among the most asked questions of preachers, teachers and elders. Usually, there is some “fill-in-the-blank” after. What should we do about ___________?
Today, we want to offer a rather general approach to answer the question:
What should we do when another congregation becomes wayward?
The scriptures teach that the Lord’s work, while universal, is accomplished only locally. There is no doubt about the truthfulness of the local congregations ability – and necessity – to behave as an autonomous body of Christ, all within the context of the church universal.
This simply means that each congregation stands on its own merits as a faithful congregation. If that congregation follows the scriptures in work and worship – that church is a sound church whether they’re aware of others like them or not. It also means that if a congregation steps off the path of truth and digresses away from the Bible pattern, then that congregation’s wayward behavior need not adversely affect other congregations. It’s the wisdom of God that each congregation has the ability – the choice, if you will – to obey or rebel. And if a wayward spirit begins to run through one congregation, it need not affect other congregations unless they allow it.
One congregation has no authority over another. God’s plan doesn’t call for some man or group of men to be in charge of multiple congregations. One congregation’s elders have no authority over another congregation. However, this doesn’t mean that nothing can or should be done.
Steps must be taken to protect the flock when false doctrine is being taught at one congregation that may influence our congregation. Congregations should be fully informed of the facts of the wayward behavior of others so they can be duly warned. This might be done publicly or privately, or both.
Elders and teachers of the congregation are admonished to use the scriptures to warn and rebuke, to admonish and encourage. This need not – and should not – be done with any ill will or harsh judgments. It should be done in truth – fully representing the error of the other congregation – and with strong concern for the souls of all involved (both the faithful congregation and the wayward congregation). The flock must know of the dangers. They need to be informed of the error and warned to be on guard.
Next, the error must be refuted with scripture. The faithful congregation must have scriptural objection to the behavior and practices of congregations that veer from the Truth. Those objections should be publicly and privately taught so the members can be more fully informed of God’s plan for the Church, and so each member can recognize their place in the Lord’s Church.
The local congregation has the full authority – indeed, the responsibility – to police itself. It must do so. It must be fully informed of the dangers that lurk in the surrounding shadows. It must have leadership that will take charge to make sure the souls of the congregation are protected. It must also have leadership that will be bold to declare and defend the Truth.
Too many leaders fail to work for the congregation where they work and worship. Rather, they are busy listening to brotherhood wide talk, opinions and tactics. Seeking wise counsel is one thing. Seeking to tell or listen of some new thing is far different.
Sometimes a document circulates that is signed by preachers who vouch for a preacher, a congregation or a situation. Regardless of how we may feel about the names of those preachers listed, leaders of every congregation have an obligation to protect the flock where they live. The names of a few preachers at the bottom of a page never justifies unscriptural practices. Nor does it condemn practices that may be perfectly sound. The responsibility is on each congregation to have wise leadership capable of helping the members reach heaven.
Should a wayward congregation, or an unscriptural practice be exposed across our brotherhood? Yes. It must. The question really isn’t whether it should be exposed, but how?
It should be done at the local level as we’ve described, but it may also be done in publications that are distributed throughout our brotherhood, or in websites (such as this one) – but why should that tactic be any different than the one imposed on the local church? It shouldn’t.
A publication can easily expose the error by finding out exactly what happened – rarely have we’ve seen an unscriptural practice stay under wraps where you can’t find out, with great certainty, what really happened. Usually, you can get brethren with direct involvement to readily admit the practice under question. So fact finding isn’t often difficult.
Upon getting those facts, they can and should be reported so others can be aware and take caution. In some cases, preachers are involved. Congregations may have called upon a preacher to come speak for them, yet they may be unaware that he engaged in an unscriptural practice elsewhere. They need to know. They owe it to their members to protect their own flock from his unscriptural behavior or practices.
The sinful practice should be soundly and convincingly rebuked with scripture. We should – we must – tell our members why the practice is sinful and why it must be condemned. That way, members learn more of the Truth. Hopefully, they’re able to stand on guard more vigilantly than before.
At all times, encouraging the wayward Christian to repent is the goal. This cannot happen if the Truth isn’t used to shine light on their sin. By exposing the sinful practices of one unsound congregation we shine light on the sin – exposing it not only to others, but exposing it (Lord willing) to those who have practiced it.
What should we do about another congregation that engages in unscriptural practices?
1. Discover the facts. Easily done, usually.
2. Report those facts to the membership at our local congregation.
3. Rebuke the practice with scripture warning our local congregation of the dangers.
What can the brotherhood do?
The exact same things. We can report the facts, rebuke the practices with scriptures and warn others to be on guard for these errors.