Slander, Libel, and Gossip, Oh My!

Slander, Libel, and Gossip, Oh My! 

Understanding the difference between Matthew 18:15 and Galatians 2

paul on mars hill

“Encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” Titus 1:9

In the past few weeks, I have repeatedly been reading online about gossip and slander. I would heartily agree that real slander, gossip, and libel against our neighbor is a violation of the 2nd great commandment. However, the implication has been that critiques, debates, and discussions, particularly of some well-known homeschooling “leaders” are really acts of slander, libel, and gossip, particularly when addressing patriocentricity. Several times I have been personally, and have seen others as well, admonished to go to those with whom I disagree and begin a Matthew 18 process with them. I have been asked numerous times if I did that with any of those whom I have critiqued and if I have discussed my differences with them, seeking reconciliation.

This has been a strange suggestion to me, since what I have always understood that passage of Scripture to mean is that when another brother or sister in Christ has sinned against you, you are to go to them and tell them how they did so, hoping that they will confess that sin and make it right with you. I have been on both ends of that experience and always thought I understood it well. But, wanting to maintain a teachable spirit, and being really confused when I heard these admonitions, I went to my husband who shared a passage of Scripture with me and suggested I research this topic. The fruits of that research were so good that I wanted to share them with you. I know this is long for a blog entry, but I believe it is so important that it must be said.

I began by looking at Matthew 18: 15-17, which is the passage in reference. It says:

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

If you read this passage and look at the end result for the one who is not repentant of the committed sin, it is damnation. So, you would need to be certain that the person you are confronting in a Matthew 18 process 1) is a believer 2) is in a relationship with you 3) has sinned against you in a personal way and 4) that you are willing to take the matter all the way through to the excommunication process, which also implies church courts, written documentation proving sin, etc. (the ramifications of this and the procedures themselves differ among various denominations).

This is a very serious matter and as such, the offense involved must also be serious as well. It must be named as an actual sin in Scripture and you must be able to open your Bible and show them a sin they have committed against you. Just because someone has offended you does not mean that that person has sinned against you, no matter how angry they have made you. It does not mean that you can read their hearts, their motives, or assign sin to them, allowing feelings about them as a person to override the truth of God’s Word. And the sin must be worthy of taking all the way to the end process if necessary.

So, after I confirmed what I had known about the Matthew 18 process, I listened as my husband read Galatians 2 to me and suddenly I understood the confusion and the problem. Here is what he read:

“Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. As for those who seemed to be important–whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance–those men added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews. For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. “If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

In this portion of Scripture, Paul approaches Peter and, in an act that would certainly be called slander and gossip and libel had he done so on a blog, opposed him in front of them all! And then, of course, he later told people all about it, in fact, the Holy Spirit continues to tell all believers everywhere that Paul did this, because it is written in the holy writ via a letter to the Galatians, God’s warning and an example to all of us!
You see, Peter was a public figure and one who had great influence. Paul knew that he had to make a public statement for three reasons: First, Peter, because of his influence, was leading many astray. Because Peter’s ministry was public, Paul’s rebuke also had to be public.

Secondly, Peter was teaching the gospel plus Jewish tradition. Rather than instructing the Jews that their personal system was of no value to them, Peter was teaching legalism, rendering the Gospel of grace ineffective.

Thirdly, Paul recognized that many people who desperately needed Jesus were seeing Peter’s hypocrisy. Peter was, in essence, saying “do as I say not as I do” and Paul called him on it. I think, on one level, Paul even had to have been terribly embarrassed for Peter.

And this brings us full circle to the reason why understanding the differences between applying Matthew 18 and Galatians 2 is so crucial within the homeschooling community. You see, those who are currently raising the subject of “online gossip and slander” of late are within the patriocentric camp. They know that they cannot win their debate in the arena of public discussion. They think if they can make a case for privately talking, one on one, where they can say anything they want, free from public accountability, they can continue to teach what they teach. Those of us who are challenging these teachings MUST keep the discussion within the sphere of public discourse, where each and every word can be seen and heard.

I believe this quote from Dr. Jay Adams, in his volume “Grist from Adams’s Mill”, addresses this illegitimate use of Matthew 18 in an attempt to censure public criticism:

“Any Christian who sets himself up as a teacher in the church of Christ and publicly teaches anything thereby opens himself up for criticism by others (cf. James 3:1). If they think what he is teaching is harmful to the church, they have an obligation to point it out just as widely as it was taught. Such public warning or debate on the topic should not be considered a personal attack at all. The teacher’s plea that a critic should first have come to him about his disagreement on the basis of Matthew 18:15 does not hold. This passage has to do with personal wrongs known only between the two, who should privately discuss the matter that separates them. What a critic of a public teaching does in pointing out his disagreement with that teaching has nothing to do with personal affronts or lack of reconciliation; he is simply disagreeing at the same public level as that on which the teaching was given in the first place.” (pg. 69)

I would encourage you to continue to hold fast to the truth of the Gospel message in this day when patriocentricity is worming its way into the church of Jesus Christ. Be a Berean and do not grow weary of well doing!

all content copyright Karen Campbell 2009