When Abuse Happens within the Church

Years ago a friend of mine wanted to know my take on the sex scandals that had rocked the Roman Catholic Church. He himself was a practicing Roman Catholic, and although I am not, I appreciated his invitation to share my thoughts.

First of all I assured him that the Roman Catholic Church was not the only church that struggled with sin – even sin of this nature, and that I understood the desire to want to cover-up one’s sin. Although it is not a Biblical pattern it is a natural one. Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden after sinning (Gen. 3:8). Although it increases the harm to others, and violates the Scriptures, it is in our nature to cover up sin.

However, I reminded him, because the Bible is such a practical book it does explain what should happen when the leadership sins within the church. In I Timothy 5:19 we read: Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.  Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.

We immediately notice something from this passage. It assumes sin will take place in the church (even among the leadership) Here is God’s plan for dealing with it.  (1) Make sure the report is true. The witnesses confirm the accusation. Many reputations have been destroyed by rumors. But once it’s verified we move to the next step.  (2) Call it sin. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t make excuses. Don’t explain it away. Such approaches stave off true repentance. We must call it sin if we are ever to understand our need for a Savior (Rom. 5:8). Finally, as difficult as the last step may seem:  (3) Make it public. The Scripture says of sinning leaders you are “to rebuke them in the presence of all.” Strong words? You bet. But they are God’s words. And such a statement reminds us that none of us are above the Scriptures . . . whether that’s a prophet, priest, or a king.

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