As far as I know, being rebuked is not something to which most Christians look forward, especially, being publicly rebuked. However, Scripture says it is good for rebuke (2 Tim. 3:16). Scripture even includes the well-known example of one Apostle publicly rebuking another Apostle (Gal. 2:11, 14).
Today, there is no shortage of Christians rebuking one another online. Though direct, public rebukes in person is not often carried out. Occasionally, one might hear a public rebuke about a particular person, but the more popular route is to address poor teaching in general leaving the teacher unnamed. In the past, I have argued whether or not the practice of general criticism aimed at the unnamed is a good biblical practice.1
Furthermore, public rebuke as carried out by Paul toward Peter in Galatians 2 is almost unheard of today. However, a recent situation come very close. Matt Chandler offered what appears to be a public rebuke in his recent sermon at Steven Furtick’s Code Orange Revival at Elevation Church. It seems Chandler’s message could be easily set against that of the other speakers at Code Orange. Elevation Church was actually accused of censoring Chandler’s sermon.2 Chris Rosebrough has further documentation and insights into the reasons why Chandler’s sermon was not replayed during the Code Orange re-broadcast.3
Chandler was certainly the odd man out at this conference. One may even argue biblically that he should have declined the offer to participate. However, his message and attendance were needed. He preached the gospel, did not boast in himself, and challenged those in attendance that God is about His glory. Chandler explained finding joy over happiness in the Christian life.
Chandler’s most direct rebuke is found in the following words.
I think God is for you, and I think God loves you and He delights in and He’s going to shepherd you, He’s going to lead you. But He’s going to do it all to make much of Himself and to point people towards Himself. So just be careful. Because with a little shift here and a little drift there, God’s name is still on it but you know, ‘That Pastor Steven, it was his vision’ and ‘We have the best worship in the world,’ and before long you can weave these things into your culture and into your ethos that are opposed to the things of God. So when I pray for this church and your pastor, I pray God will protect you.4
Chandler’s warning was clear, but the exact target subtle. He provided a good example of warning against a potential unbiblical practice in the church. He could have gone further though some may say that would have been in bad taste since he would have been clearly rebuking the church that invited him.
Would a clearer rebuke have been in bad taste?
I would like to use the example of Paul rebuking Peter to answer this question with a “no”. Before preceding, understand that I am not criticizing Matt Chandler by using his sermon as an example. I am thankful Chandler was courageous enough to say what he did. What I am saying is that Chandler could have gone further and it would have been biblically acceptable to do so.
In Galatians 2 beginning in verse 11, Paul writes about publicly rebuking Peter. A few verses earlier, however, Paul acknowledges that Peter was also entrusted with the gospel (v. 7) and viewed as a pillar of the faith (v. 9). Given Peter’s standing in the Christian community it would seem the Paul would be somewhat sensitive in his public correction of Peter. What Paul writes may lead one to think differently.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. (Galatians 2:11 ESV)
Paul uses strong, direct words. He continued.
But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all…(Galatians 2:14 ESV)
It is clear that the gospel is more important than the Apostle Peter. It is also clear that Paul is speaking publicly in his rebuke in which he directly corrects Peter’s errors.
Notice what Paul does not say and do. Paul does not excuse Peter because God used Peter’s gospel preaching at Pentecost to convert 5,000 people. Paul does not excuse Peter because of his Apostleship. Paul does not show signs of being judged as a hater as reason enough to cowardly back down and not publicly rebuke Peter while defending the gospel.
Rather, Paul shows what the two greatest commands given by Jesus look like in action. First, he loves God by defending His gospel. Second, flowing from Paul’s love for God, he expresses his love for others in caring for their souls by defending the gospel making sure God’s grace and Christ’s death are not made void (Gal. 2:21).
Finally, there is good reason, i.e. the sake of the gospel, for Christians to follow Paul’s biblical example of public rebuke just as they follow many of his other examples.
For what it’s worth…
P.s. I had other points to consider, but did not want to make the post too long. One of those points was about public rebuke being potentially more helpful if the person being rebuke is clearly stated. The reason may be shown in the example of Matt Chandler’s rebuke noted above. The careful listener, and even the person toward whom the rebuke was aimed, may have picked up on the theological issues Chandler was reproving. However, judging by the audience applause, it was not clear that they got it. Therefore, the way Paul pointedly addressed Peter along with Peter’s theological errors provides a further illustration of how a public rebuke may be carried out. If it is not clear which messenger and message is being reproved this may lead the audience to theological confusion or simply leave them embracing theological error.
- The Southern Baptist Phantom Menace ↩
- Brittany Smith. Elevation Church Accused of Censoring Reformed Pastor’s Sermon. The Christian Post. ↩
- Chris Rosebrough. BREAKING NEWS: Elevation Employee Reveals Reason For Chandler Sermon Censorship. Also, check out some of Rosebrough’s recent radio shows where he biblically critiques the teaching at Code Orange Revival. ↩
- Thanks to J.S. Park for the transcription. Matt Chandler Rebukes At The Code Orange Revival ↩