Hugh’s News & Views (Hanging Out Our Dirty Laundry . . .)


Without question, when Christians have personal disputes and differences with each other Jesus taught that those disagreements should be settled privately and brought to the attention of the church only when all one-on-one and other conciliatory efforts had failed (Matthew 18:15-18). Unfortunately, this divine counsel is not always followed, often to the embarrassment and detriment of the church of God.

But equally unfortunate is the fact that this divine counsel is frequently misapplied and used to criticize those who engage in the open rebuke of public sin and public false teaching. For example, a false teacher peddles his doctrine openly in the pulpit, the college classroom, a Bible lectureship, or a brotherhood journal, and his hand is called. Someone pipes up and asks, “Did you go to him privately and discuss what he taught with him?” No, and such is not necessary. His false teaching has been advanced openly, and the refutation of that false teaching must also be done openly. Matthew 18:15-18 is not addressing this kind of situation; it is dealing with personal differences between individual members of the church.

The approach that Aquila and Priscilla took with Apollos is very much in order under similar circumstances today (Acts 18:24-26). At the same time Paul was quite bold in publicly calling for the marking and avoidance of those who “taught contrary to the doctrine” of the Lord (Romans 16:17-18). He instructed Timothy with reference to sinning elders to “rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (I Timothy 5:20). The principle of public rebuke, of course, is applicable beyond that of sinning church elders.

Faithful men of God today who love the Lord and the church and who are courageous enough to do what the Bible teaches regarding the rebuke of public sin and false teaching are sometimes criticized for what they do. We are told that we ought not to “hang out our dirty laundry for all the world to see.” I both understand and appreciate that sentiment, and I regret that the Lord’s church has “dirty laundry,” but being composed, as it is, of human beings, “dirty laundry” is a reality and it is naïve to think otherwise. “Sweeping it under the rug” (to change the figure of speech) will not make it go away. It must be dealt with lovingly but forthrightly and without compromise of the truth. We are to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), and as someone has observed, that sets forth both the content (the truth) and the attitude (love) with which we are to do the work of the Lord. Jude 3 still makes it incumbent upon faithful servants of God to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”

To be critical of “hanging out our dirty laundry for all the world to see” is an indictment of the wisdom of God Himself. The Bible is God’s divinely inspired word (II Timothy 3:16-17). But it is a very public book and continues, year after year, to be the world’s “best seller.” It is read by both saints and sinners, though both parties fail (often miserably) to do what it says. But the point is that God, on the pages of His inspired word, “hung out the dirty laundry” of His people “for all the world to see”! Perhaps He should have been more discreet in this matter!

The Old Testament is filled with the “dirty laundry” of God’s people: Adam and Eve, Cain, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Nadab and Abihu, king David, Uzzah, et. al., as well as the entire nations of Israel and Judah. Through His faithful prophets, God had some exceedingly strong words for His people, often charging them with spiritual harlotry (the KJV uses the less polite term “whoredom”) (see Jeremiah 3:8-9; Ezekiel 16:17, 33; Hosea 1:2; Hosea 4:17; et al). And all of that is but the “hem of the garment” in so far as the sins of God’s Old Testament people are concerned! Yet God has preserved all of it in the Bible for the whole world to read and know about! How utterly unkind and unthoughtful of Him to do such a thing!

In the New Testament we have preserved “for all the world to see” the sins of Judas Iscariot, the apostle Peter, Ananias and Sapphira, the church at Corinth, the churches of Galatia, and the churches of Asia (Revelation 2-3). Paul publicly withstood Peter to his face because of the potential danger of Peter’s actions to the cause of Christ (Galatians 2:11-21). Paul “called out” Hymenaeus and Alexander because of their shipwrecked faith and the danger they posed to others (I Timothy 2:19-20). He “called out” Hymenaeus and Philetus because of their false teaching concerning the resurrection, resulting in the overthrow of the faith of others (II Timothy 2:17-18). He exposed Demas, formerly a faithful preacher, for his love for the present world (II Timothy 4:10). Paul was constantly warning of false teachers and of the danger of departing from the faith (Acts 20:28-32; I Corinthians 1:10; II Thessalonians 2:3-4; I Timothy 4:1-5; II Timothy 3:1-9; II Timothy 4:1-5). He instructed Titus, a preacher of the gospel, how to deal with those “whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain” (Titus 1:10-11). He told Titus to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13).

Some no doubt would say that Paul was a negative old sore-head who never saw anything good or positive in God’s people. But how wrong they would be in their evaluation of that noble first-century servant of Christ! And to think! God preserved all of this in the New Testament for the people of all ages (His people and the people of the world) to read and see! God, you should have destroyed all of those documents and not preserved them so that outsiders and unbelievers down the stream of time would not be able to see how bad your people behaved and therefore would want nothing to do with You and the church!

The truth is, God has never attempted to white-wash the sins of either the world or the sins of His people. He is completely honest, totally unbiased, absolutely holy, and ever ready to forgive those who will repent of their evil and turn to Him in humble, loving submission to His will. Let us love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-38). Let us love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39-40). Let us love our brothers and sisters Christ (John 13:35; I John 4:7-8). But let us never use “love” as an excuse to be so “positive” that we will not expose sin and error (both privately and publicly) when the situation demands such!

The church today has its false teachers, doctrinal apostates, and immoral reprobates in local congregations, in our colleges (administration and faculty), on brotherhood lectureship programs, in brotherhood papers, on brotherhood websites, and elsewhere. Concerning them, the Lord’s faithful people are admonished: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).

Precious Lord, have mercy on us and forgive us of our ignorance (even when we do not realize that we are ignorant), our presumption, our superior attitude, our sanctimonious spirit, and the substitution of our human wisdom for Your divine wisdom! Help us to be not wise in our own eyes. Help us to be kind and loving yet strong and brave against all who oppose You, whether in or out of the church (I Corinthians 16:13-14).

Hugh Fulford

March 12, 2019