Since my last blog, the UMJC joined with other international Messianic Jewish organizations to issue another statement on the controversial “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference. You can read it, and an article on the same topic by an Israeli colleague, under “Community News” at umjc.org.
For now I’ll just respond to one complaint raised by the conference sponsors when they received a copy of our first statement. Both statements are pretty critical, and the local coordinating committee of Christ at the Checkpoint took us to task for not going to them privately in accord with Matthew 18:15-20 “in order to resolve differences rather than send a public letter to appeal for dialogue through the internet.” I’ve heard this sort of appeal to Matthew 18 a few times in this sort of context, and it’s worthy of a response.
Moreover, if your brother commits a sin against you, go and show him his fault – but privately, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he doesn’t listen, take one or two others with you so that every accusation can be supported by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to hear them, tell the congregation; and if he refuses to listen even to the congregation, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax-collector.
Two aspects of this teaching don’t fit the circumstances of a public statement like the one we just made. First, we’re not saying that someone sinned against us, much less that “a brother” (individual) sinned against me (individually). Rather, we are confronting what we consider to be theological error that is being promoted widely by a group of individuals. This leads to the second point: in Matthew 18, Yeshua has in view private matters. If your brother sins against you, keep it private if you can, or at least seek to address it privately before going public. But when someone or some group posts public statements on their website and actively promotes a conference to the general public, it’s hardly something to keep private.
I’d say that there’s an ethical obligation to speak up within the same venue in which the false or misleading statement is made. We see Rav Shaul doing this very thing when Cephas (Peter) publicly acted in a misleading way.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal. 2:11-14)
Rav Shaul rebukes Cephas “before them all,” because they all saw his erroneous behavior, and to leave it unchallenged would create the impression that it was okay. Indeed, I’ve been in situations where something strange or misleading happened and people told me they thought it was all right because no one said anything. If you’re in a gathering where something wrong is said openly, you have to respond openly. So it was appropriate for us to post our response to “Christ at the Checkpoint” online – where the erroneous statements of that conference appear.
The holiness code of Leviticus 19 instructs us – just before the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” – “Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him” (Lev. 19:17). This may also be translated, ” “Reprove your kinsman and incur no guilt because of him.” The first reading implies that we should reprove in a way that doesn’t bring guilt upon us, which means keeping it private if we can, as in Matthew 18. The second reading implies that there are times when not to reprove would mean we share in the guilt. When false statements are made in public, as we believe they are in the “Christ at the Checkpoint” website, to remain silent in public is to incur guilt because of the other person.
As with many ethical issues, it takes discernment to know when to reprove in public and when in private, but I believe we have a clear responsibility to set the record straight when misleading public statements are made.