A Second Opinion

Sharing Options

No situation is so clear cut that it cannot be “murkified” by those who have a motivation to do so. But motivation is not all that is needed. In order to get away with this kind of thing, there usually has to be some kind of support group, some kind of amen corner. This serves as a form of emotional reinforcement and is done in lieu of seeking out actual accountability. A man makes a series of charges which need to be proven, and if he doesn’t have proof, he has a problem. So instead of “hanging out there,” he has to seek out a group that will not require him to prove anything because what he has said is “obvious” to all of them. The thing that unites them is not a truth that has been established in accordance with Scripture; it is simply a grievance plank in their party platform.

Those who begin to operate this way have introduced raw partisanship into community, and they show that they do not know how to live in community. All communities have to deal with the reality of sin — and for churches this would include the sins that might occur anywhere, whether sin in the leadership, sin in the congregation, sin in the choir, or sin in the youth group. This would include sins of browbeating and tyranny from the leadership and backbiting and false accusation against the leadership. Things can go wrong anywhere. Because of this, Christian communities have been given the tools to deal with sin. When a body does not have the means of fighting off sin (moral infection) that particular body has AIDS. The immune system is shot. This was why discipline was so important to the Reformers.

But not only must a body fight off infection, it must fight off the right one. More than one ailment creates a situation in the body where the thing that feels like it must be done is the very thing that you must not do. You feel like itching, but you must not. You feel like you must drink water, but you must not. You feel like you are freezing, but you must not heap up the blankets. When it comes to diagnosis and treatment, feelings are not authoritative. In fact, feelings are frequently one hundred and eighty degrees out from authoritative.

But these feelings can still be insistent, imperious. A person feels that if he doesn’t act, then all is lost. But here is where God’s requirement of two or three witnesses comes in. This is not a blind bureaucratic process instituted by the Holy Spirit for inscrutable reasons. This is, to continue the medical metaphor, simply prudence. Before you amputate a leg, you must get a second opinion. And if there is any remaining doubt at all, you must get a third opinion. This is because cutting up the body, or chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, is a big deal, and you don’t just do it because somebody feels like it.

This is why the requirement of two and three witnesses is fundamental to the biblical concept of justice. This is the ancestor to our civil standard which says that before someone can be pronounced guilty, they must have been found guilty “beyond all reasonable doubt” by twelve people, selected at random, who have been required to hear both sides of the case in detail, with each side forced to submit to cross-examination from the other side. Our civil justice system has many problems that have crept into it, and corruptions that must be dealt with. But when it comes to adhering to the basic concepts of justice, most (vestigially biblically) civil courts have a far better grasp of justice than do vigilante accusers in the Church.

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