Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
Another Scripture being used out of context with devastating results is Matt. 18:15: ” Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”
This counsel is of great value in maintaining healthy relationships within the church. Gossip is a destructive force and the prescribed route of action of dealing directly with the brother and the offence is crucial in maintaining brotherhood. Yet this teaching, wrongly applied, can make the church a haven for predators. It has been the case across denominations with many recent examples to prove the point.
Before I realized how badly we had perverted this teaching I had to be thrown against the wall by those misapplying it. The awkward place in which I then found myself, made me aware of the misguided interpretation as well as the resulting damage. Consequently, I was highly motivated to do a prayerful search to understand and articulate the error. I now shake my head in disbelief at how the Mennonite mind (mis)understands this teaching of our Lord.
For my reader to understand what is taking place I need to describe a typical situation where the problem emerges. Something comes to light causing concern that someone is engaging in secret sin, damaging people’s lives. The height of folly is to apply Matt. 18:15. First, the person has not personally offended me. Rather, I am concerned about the safety and well being of another. Secondly, I am probably not dealing with a brother in Christ – rather with a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What wolf, when confronted about his strange behaviour, will not attempt to pull the wool of his disguise over his inquirer’s eyes? To expect an honest response from a deceiver is hopelessly naive! Inevitably, the person will tell a lie to extend the deception.
When Peter addressed Ananias and Sapphira he did not speak to them about the issue. Rather, acting upon previous knowledge (by Divine revelation), he asked them a question which gave them the opportunity to express the intent of their hearts. Unaware of Peter’s insight, their fateful reply instantly disclosed the secret.
Likewise, when deception is a possibility, a completely different route from Matt. 18:15 is warranted. Here the gifts of the Spirit come into play. The protection of His people is a matter close to the Heart of God. Some experiences of the past have taught me that God will alert someone of the danger. To demonstrate His glory, He may choose the most ordinary brother or sister in the church. What happens from there is determined by whether the brotherhood is sufficiently in tune with God to receive the message. If this is the case, those involved need to pursue further Divine direction.
A proper investigation needs to be done regarding the person under question. This will hasten the process of either vindicating him if he is innocent or convicting him if he is guilty. Done improperly, an investigation will only throw the matter into confusion, casting a shadow over an innocent party or failing to find the guilt of one at fault.
The number of people searching out the matter should be kept to the minimum needed to carry out the work. They need to work in harmony with one another, keeping constant communication. None should be closely related to the investigated one – family members, close associates etc., because of the possibility of bias. Their research must be kept in absolute confidentiality including with those who are interviewed. Leaking information will compromise the work and possibly bring harm to individuals. The wellbeing and safety of all those who are involved, including the investigated person must be strictly kept in mind. As believers, each step needs to be prayerfully taken with confidence in God’s faithfulness to direct the search.
A proper investigation ought to reveal whether there is substance behind the concern. If the concern was valid, one should begin to see a pattern in behaviour and gain a comprehensive understanding of what is taking place as leads are followed. Depending what is involved, the legal route is to inform the law. If this is not the case, confrontation of the person will need to take place once sufficient evidence is gathered to determine what is happening. Any short circuiting of the process will only confuse and delay things.
When the time comes for confrontation, the pattern which Peter used is often the wise route. Since the one under scrutiny ought to be unaware of the knowledge of the investigators, he should be questioned in such a way that a lie would be a convenient way of escape. If that is the route which he takes, his heart is revealed.
No situation is the same and exactly how to approach and handle it needs to be the result of fervent, believing prayer. Since God’s Name, as well as the welfare of His people, is at stake it is only reasonable to expect distinct answers and direction from Him. If we do not have that kind of faith we are disqualified for the work of His kingdom.
After repeatedly seeing situations where the church’s abuse of Scripture helps to make it a safe place for predators to operate and an unsafe place for the vulnerable, I was moved to write these blogs. The Spirit Who inspired the writing of the Word needs to be present to interpret the same – otherwise that which is intended to bring life becomes the instrument of death.
The wolves are hiding in the church. Where are the shepherds who ought to be driving them away?
David Jantzi Written: Oct. 29, 2020