When Leaders Screw Up- A Biblical Look at Making Online Accusations Against Elders

April 14, 2009

Yesterday I posted on Rick Warren’s recent news controversy and offered a little more than candid take on how I feel about it.  Since then I have received a couple of comments concerning these views.  One of them came from my friend Jonathon who offered encouragement/instruction to make my frustrations known to Pastor Warren personally.  The other one came from someone who had read my comments online and who opined with the quip of “Who needs non-Christians to tear us apart? We seem to be doing a pretty good job of it ourselves.”  Viewing these two thoughts together, which if you can’t tell express opposing ideas on what was said, got me to thinking about what my role is, and really the role of all bloggers, in reporting on items such as this?  

The question really turns into an existential question for most bloggers who seem to fancy themselves the Mr. Fix-it writing theologians of the Christian community.  Now, I hope that doesn’t too much characterize myself, though I know that some times I do come off pretty strong in my opinions about certain issues.  The point is, it is very symptomatic of the Christian blogging community to serve as Monday morning ministers, correcting and criticizing the moves of the more visible and active servants of Christ among us.  Yet, the question must be raised, is there any biblical command that we are in violation by doing this?

I think particularly when it comes to an issue like Pastor Warren, the text we must turn to is located in 1 Timothy 5.  So, let’s do this and I will try and analyze my actions in light of that:

Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. (vv.19-21)

In this passage we see that Paul instructs the church “not to admit a charge against [a pastor] except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.”  The first question then is, should what I have done be considered a “charge against” Rick Warren?  This word is also translated as “an accusation,” and truthfully speaking I would say that, Yes, what I have made is an accusation against Pastor Warren.  Namely, I have accused him of delivering contradictory statements for the reason of political/personal expediency and then trying to fudge the details instead of admitting that he did so. 

Second, it must be asked I am even in a place where I could consider making this charge?  What I mean by that is that I know there are many people out there who will argue firmly that this passage is an instruction given to the local church for the discipline of their local leaders, and so since I do not belong to Rick Warren’s local church and he is not my pastor, then I do not have the standing to raise an issue with him.  This is a strong position, and I do not doubt that this may even be a death blow to my argument in some peoples eyes, however, I believe that the call to biblical accountability is universal across all believers, as demonstrated by such things as Paul’s rebuke of Peter in Galatians 2 or his words for the transgressor in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 5, and so any Christian should be accountable to any other Christian, regardless of local affiliation, just as long as the proper channels are maintained, such as those prescribed in 1 Timothy 5.  Therefore, Yes, I do believe that I have the standing as a fellow Christian to consider raising such a charge against Pastor Warren.

Then, we must ask, do I have the “two or three witnesses” necessary to substantiate my charge?  Well, this is tricky.  No, I do not have two or three people standing alongside me saying, “I concur that this is Pastor Warren’s transgression.”  However, I do have accessible video evidence to corroborate my charge, at least to the extent that his statements were contradictory.  Thus, I do believe that this would be satisfactory evidence to present before people in order to raise this charge, and so, all things considered, my charge against Rick Warren has meet all the necessary criteria to be admitted.

But then the question of manner and intent comes up.  Because, as I have demonstrated, I certainly have a charge against Rick Warren, and to my belief, I also have warrant for having that charge admitted, and thus it would seemingly be lawful for me to do.  However, is this really a charge against Rick Warren? i.e. Is this bringing a charge against Warren as Paul intended, or should I, as my buddy Jonathon suggested, take my charge personally to Pastor Warren?  What is the purpose of the charge in 1 Timothy 5?  It is to either “rebuke them in the presence of all” as described in v.20, or it is to allow them to repent and be forgiven, as is implied as the opposite to the conditional, “As for those who persist in sin.”  And since the passage closes with “I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality,” this means that we should make the charge with the intention of allowing repentance.  Therefore, this does seem to imply that any charge that is to be admitted against an elder (and thus be biblically grounded) is a charge that is brought personally to the elder being accused.

So, what does this mean to myself and my fellow bloggers?  At the bare minimum I am convinced this means that when a blogger raises a charge against an elder, and for that matter against any fellow Christian, they should not do so using the internet to mask their own accountability. Anonymous or pseudonymous posting of accusations should never take place.  But even beyond that, it does appear to be the best idea, and the most in keeping with biblical teaching, to make sure that any charge a blogger makes on his site or elsewhere online, he also presents to the person aginst whom the charge has been made.  Of course, based on my own conclusions, this means that I should get on sending an email to Pastor Warren right now.  

Be sure to leave a comment if you have further discussion/instruction/disagreement with the claims I have made, as I’m sure it will strike a chord with someone out there.