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Accusing an elder

In preparing for a study on gossip and slander, I was looking at 1 Timothy 5:19. I noticed a discrepancy in the translations.

KJV 1 Timothy 5:19 Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.

NASB 1 Timothy 5:19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.

ESV 1 Timothy 5:19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

NKJV 1 Timothy 5:19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.

The translation of the old King James is that accusations against elders must be done in a lawful way, in front of the courts of the church. Two or three witnesses hearkens back to Deuteronomy 17:6.

But the rest of the English translations listed show something else entirely. It teaches that you cannot even HEAR an accusation against an elder unless there are 2 or 3 witnesses to back it up.

What that effectively does is make it impossible to ever accuse an elder of much of anything.

The scandal of child sexual abuse among both Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy would be impossible to prosecute, for rarely does a predator prey in the presence of witnesses.

Abusers don’t abuse in front of eye-witnesses.

Is this really what this verse says? Which one is correct?

The preposition in question is Ἐπὶ with the genitive case. Prepositions are tricky things and take some care in translating. One has to know how language works. If it is to be interpreted “on the evidence of”, which three of the translations above have it, then it is the ONLY place in all of scripture where it has this meaning.

However, in Acts 25:10, Paul answers and says, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal…” using Ἐπὶ and the genitive case. It seems impossible in this legal context that he would mean “on the evidence of Caesar’s tribunal”.

“Before” – meaning, to be judged and found either guilty or innocent by Caesar seems to make perfect sense.

I would suggest that it has the same meaning in 1 Timothy 5:19.

Do not receive an accusation except in front of two or three witnesses that can do something about it.

My denomination has a book of church order, as do many others. (If your church does not, I would suggest finding another church). The form of complaint or charge against an elder or pastor is spelled out.

“Here is what he did. Here is what the scripture says. Here is how you go about it.”

Or, to put it in Paul’s terms in his day, “before two or three witnesses”. Get it before the proper council. And then (verse 20) if they are in sin rebuke them before all.

There are two deadly viruses that destroy a congregation of believers. First, when the leadership is made up of wolves preying upon the sheep. When the leadership devours and destroys, abuses their congregants, using the weaker ones to satisfy their own lusts. Ezekiel 34 and Jeremiah 23 both warn of this, as well as many, many other places.

And the other virus is when a wolf is a member of the congregation who spreads malicious slander against the leadership through twisting words, making up allegations, and whispering in the dark corners.

Paul, using the language of the Old Testament law, gives practical counsel for a real situation. Suppose that you – Walter Q. Churchmember – are having tea with Mr. and Mrs. Churchpeople. Mrs. Churchpeople starts to tell you about horrible things that one of the elders or the pastor has done.

The accusation could be something like “I heard Mrs. Jones say that her cousin had heard from a reliable source that Mrs. Wilson saw Pastor having lunch with a young woman…”

Or it could be more serious. “My daughter says he hurt her.”

There are many different things you could do.

The worst thing to do is simply talk about it, rejoice secretly in the “hidden knowledge” and go tell the next person, in confidence, of course – adding your own juicy tidbits to make it sound just a little better.

THAT is what Paul is forbidding. Don’t hear it, don’t receive it at all – unless it is for the purpose of lawfully dealing with it, exposing it and bringing redemption or justice.

So instead, do this:

If it is a crime, report it to the ones who have the tools to investigate it and the sword to prosecute it (This would be the proper authorities in the civil government).

If it is not a crime but a violation of a vow – teaching that which is contrary to the creeds, for example – encourage the one telling you about it to bring a charge or complaint to the proper church judicatory.

If it is not a crime, but a falling into sin of some sort – adultery, drunkenness, etc – encourage the one speaking to bring a charge or complaint to the proper church judicatory.

What this will do is give them hope and a direction to take if their intentions are honorable, and encourage them to quit spreading juicy rumors if their intentions are not. This is what Paul is speaking of.

Of course, you cannot deal with every single possible scenario with one Bible verse. That isn’t what the Bible is for. We have a letter from an apostle to a real pastor struggling with real issues. You can’t take one verse and try to make it fit every situation. Paul is dealing with one kind of scenario – very common in the church – where one or two people delight in whispering secrets in the dark. Don’t have any part of that.

 

In this day where we have tolerated false churches, wolves in sheep’s clothing, and abusive church courts far too long, there may also be a good reason for someone to flee the church that they are in.

If, for example, there is a history of protecting wolves and running out sheep. Or the theology is wrong. Or the sacraments are not being administered properly – perhaps Christians are being excommunicated while abusive and reviling men and women are tolerated.

Paul has lots of other counsel in those situations, and I might write on it in another post. Fleeing a false church filled with those who refuse to follow Jesus is a good option. But my point here is this:

If you are an elder or a pastor, or represent an elder or pastor on a church judicatory, do not refuse to give aid to the widow or the fatherless (that is, those without power) because they lack two or three eyewitnesses. That isn’t what this verse is about.

When they have come to you for justice, give them justice. Follow your rules of order. It is what they came to you for. When they came to you, they followed Paul’s command to bring the accusation before two or three witnesses.

Paul is forbidding empty gossip and spreading stories without taking any measures at all to bring peace.

But if it is true, lawfully shout it from the housetops. Don’t let evil fester in the dark. Bring a charge, bring a complaint, report to the police, help a child get the help they need.

But please, do not hide behind this verse to keep predators in places where they can get at the sheep.

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The Modesty Debate

From three years ago. Still relevant.

My Only Comfort

This is a post that I’ve been meaning to write for a while now. And since it keeps coming up, I figured that I wouldn’t procrastinate any longer, but just put up my thoughts and let them fall where they may.

I’m talking about the modesty debate. You have heard it in Christian circles. I’ve heard it. My daughters have heard it. You really can’t send you kids off to a Christian camp during the summer without it.

It’s this. “Girls, listen up! These guys are your Christian brothers! When you dress immodestly, you are putting stumbling blocks in their way to purity! They are always tempted to lust, and you girls have to understand that, and dress accordingly.”

This sounds good on the surface, and many don’t give it a second thought. Except, of course, for the girls.

The problem with it is this. It’s degrading to women. It’s…

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Parenting in the Pews

Here’s a great blog from Rachel.

A Daughter of the Reformation

I love seeing little kids at church. As a mother of not-quite-so-little ones, the smiles, the giggles, the sights and sounds of children fills my heart with joy. But parenting in the pews can be anything but joyful at times. Nothing tests the limits of parents’ patience quite like Sundays. From getting everyone dressed and fed and out the door on time to handling disruptions during worship and off-schedule naps and meals, Sunday is a uniquely challenging day for most of us. With all the busyness and struggle, it can be easy to forget why we bring our children to church with us.

For those of us who are Presbyterians, we believe our children are part of the covenant community. We promise to raise them in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). But how do we do that practically? How do we parent in the pews?

There…

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Our Desperate Need for Wisdom

From the archives…

My Only Comfort

King Solomon was famous over the world for his wisdom. The Bible gives us an account to show us how Solomon’s wisdom truly was divinely given.  I would like for you to read it carefully:

16 Then came there two women, that were harlots, unto the king, and stood before him.
17 And the one woman said, O my lord, I and this woman dwell in one house; and I was delivered of a child with her in the house.
18 And it came to pass the third day after that I was delivered, that this woman was delivered also: and we were together; there was no stranger with us in the house, save we two in the house.
19 And this woman’s child died in the night; because she overlaid it.
20 And she arose at midnight, and took my son from beside me, while thine handmaid slept, and…

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What is your name?

From last year, but very relevant. Did we get any better at listening?

My Only Comfort

Have you ever stopped to think about how tremendous words are? Words, more than anything else, display our creation in the image of God. God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1) and when he created, he gave names. He called the light, “Day”; and the darkness he called, “Night”. But when he created the animals, he didn’t name them. He created a man in his image and commanded him to name the animals. What a tremendous thought!

Our speech is the connection of our soul, our ideas, our bodies, with creation (the molecules of the air vibrate with our vocal cords shaped by our tongues and lips). The molecules vibrate from our mouths and cause the same vibrations in the membrane of the ear of another image bearer and our souls and ideas and bodies are connected in fellowship! What an astounding thought!

And God himself speaks to…

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A Greater King

From the archives

My Only Comfort

I’ve been thinking lately about a challenging passage in the Bible. I think that too often, we read the stories of the Old Testament as quaint fables of old, or stories of another people and another time and we wonder what it has to do with us today.

But those stories are written records of God’s redemptive history. The written accounts of the Old Testament are given to us by God to teach us how God has prepared the world for his Redeemer, who would save his people from their sins.

The disturbing account that I have been meditating on is found in 2 Samuel 24, and the parallel account is in 1 Chronicles 21.

If you haven’t read these accounts lately, or if you have never read these accounts, please do so before you read my comments. I’m just a guy trying to point you to Christ…

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Hope in the Dark

This is from my daughter about the journey my wife and I have gone through.

Cabbages & Kings

It’s been a year. A year since I left at ten o’clock at night to pick up my parents from the airport. It was a clear cool night. I wore a blue and green striped shirt. I dropped my suburban off at their house and took their sporty crossover. It had the things my mother needed to make simple car rides slightly less agonizing. A heating pad, extra pillows, room for her wheelchair in the back. When I’d spoken to her on the phone, she’d said she didn’t hurt, she was better. It still hadn’t sunk in.

They were returning from a trip to Italy. Business or pleasure? It was neither, really. It was a last resort. A trip planned on faint tendrils of hope. None of us dared hope too much, though, because the agony of this last resort failing would break us. It was too good to be…

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What to do When Hope Seems Non-Existent

Great Monday morning thoughts!

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The Humility of Caleb

My Only Comfort

“But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it. (Num 14:24 NKJ)

I’ve been thinking about Caleb lately. Caleb was a slave in Egypt and saw the plagues that God brought on them. He cheered when the Red Sea covered Pharaoh. He sang Miriam’s song of Redemption. He watched his nation under the watchful hand of God travel through the wilderness. How he longed to receive his inheritance!

When the congregation came to the border, ready to invade and take their inheritance, they rebelled. They were afraid of the giants in the land.

And Caleb’s hopes fell. His desire and expectation crushed. And then God spoke to Moses. “Caleb will enter. He was faithful.”

But he had to wait for 40 years. And the worst thing about…

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An Open Letter to Heath Lambert and Leadership of ACBC

An honest critique of nouthetic counseling. We can do better. Please consider what Marie has to say.

Marie_O'Toole.com

victimsToday Dr. Heath Lambert, Executive Director of ACBC (Association of Certified Biblical Counselors – formerly “NANC”, National Association of Nouthetic Counselors) sent out a Statement regarding their upcoming annual conference, which purports to support and minister to abuse victims. He seemed especially concerned about how their counsel will come across, in the wake of disgraced pastor Paige Patterson’s recent remarks regarding abused wives and the subsequent scandal (one of many involving the evangelical/Reformed Church and their cover-ups on abuse).

Having been both on the inside as a nouthetic counselor and subsequently re-victimized by an ACBC-affiliated group (one of whom graduated from the same seminary as Lambert), I wrote the following open letter to share some of my years of experience in counseling and talking to survivors of spiritual abuse:

“Dear Dr. Lambert, and Board of ACBC,

It is with great sadness and concern that I respond to your…

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