In the life of the local church, stuff happens. As you continue to follow Christ, you will be exposed to things that will frustrate you or even cause you to question how certain people got into Christian leadership in the first place. Some will tell you that you shouldn’t interfere with people who have spiritual headship over you. “Touch not the Lord’s anointed;” is the most commonly quoted verse. But others will tell you that sin is sin and needs to be so identified.
What will you do? Well, this blog is called Christianity 201 and not Christianity 101 for a reason: It’s about digging a little deeper into the Word, and that sometimes involves digging a little deeper into issues. So I decided to include this article by Steve Scott at the blog From The Pew. I always tell you to click through to read; I especially recommend doing so here because there is going to be at least one other part to this. (We’ll add the link as soon as it’s available.) Steve called this: Elders Behaving Badly: Speak Up or Hush Up? (1)
“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints;” Ephesians 5:3 NASV
“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful to even speak of the things which are done by them in secret.” Ephesians 5:11-12 NASV
In the debate that has taken place over the rise of so-called “spiritual abuse” or “survivor” websites and blogs, one argument that has been made is that such people ought not discuss any sins of spiritually abusive pastors due to the above verses. But before I go any further, I want to note that there has been more than one way that this passage is interpreted. And the interpretations I have come across can lead to opposing beliefs about speaking up. They are…
I have heard this interpretation my entire Christian life. People have been taught to interpret these verses so that we should be silent about sin. This is not a rare interpretation, and I think it has led to comments like this one. The commenter asserts that it is shameful to even talk about their misdeeds. Here’s the thinking behind the interpretation. “…for it is disgraceful to even speak of the things which are done by them in secret.” v12. One grammatical possibility for this verse (and there are more than one) is this. I emphasized the word “even” to show the point. Not only is it disgraceful to speak of the things done openly, it is even disgraceful to do so in secret. So we can’t discuss the sins in question among us, even in secret, for it is a disgrace. So, in this interpretation, the speaking about sin is what is in view and it is disgraceful.
The sin itself is not in view.
This is given support by the same type of interpretation of verse 3. The two interpretations go together. “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” This interpretation puts forth the idea that the names given to various sins should not be used in our conversation. The sins should not be named. And this is proper among saints.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, or a coincidence, that some of the people speaking out against the abuse blogs are people influenced by John MacArthur. I found a site that compares commentaries of scripture, and if you scroll down far enough here, you will see that he warns about describing sin in his Eph. 5:12 comments.
So what does this interpretation have to say about exposing sin, as in “but instead even expose them”? As the commenter said in my first link, we expose sin by the light of our proper living before God. The summary of this “hush up” view is, “we shouldn’t discuss or name the sin, but expose it by godly living.
A “speak up” interpretation might look something like the following. Contrary to the “hush up” view, the disgrace mentioned in verse 12 lies not in speaking about the sin, but in merely speaking about it in secret. Secrecy is not where the sin should be spoken about, but rather it should be exposed: “but instead even expose them.”
And the exhortation in v3 to not have immorality named among the saints does not mean that we should not name sin, but that none of us should commit those sins so that the name can be pinned on us.
This does appear to be a difficult passage to interpret and apply consistently. I will attempt to speak more to it in another post.