Complaints are a part of life in a fallen world. Add to that a culture of personal opinions and tastes, and complaint can become of increased importance. Complaints can be necessary. They also hold the power to utterly destroy people and congregations. The following is meant to help the church (congregations especially) start to grow away from a culture of complaint and more towards godly conversations and reconciliation among the baptized. It should be noted that public sin is not the issue in this posting.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
From this text it is very important to note the personal and private nature of complaints. Some complaints do not rise to the category of “sin” but some do. Matthew 18 forbids the anonymous complaint. Unless we are talking about legal matters (ex. Sexual Misconduct) the complaints of anyone ought to be such that the person’s name is to be used. Anonymous complaints are not of God.
Some fruit of anonymous complaints:
- No reconciliation (opportunity for apology/confession and absolution is lost) – This is by far the worst aspect of the anonymous complaint.
- Violation of Matthew 18
- Violation of the 8th Commandment (no defense or best construction)
- No accountability (not responsible for your words/accusations)
- No pastoral care allowed (complaints often are symptoms of greater spiritual problems)
- No opportunity for instruction in God’s Word (many complaints can be cleared up using God’s Word for instruction)
- No opportunity to clarify the nature of the complaint
- Culture of suspicion and distrust (pastor, people, boards)
- Unnecessary or frivolous complaints (again, no one responsible for their words increases the number of complaints and also decreases their value)
- Exaggeration (anonymity almost needs company in order to preserve anonymity; this is lying)
ACTION – If you are presented with a complaint about a person/practice under the authority of a person the following should be the course of action:
- ASK – Have you talked to this person/the person in authority over this about this?
- If they have, ASK about the response.
- If they have not, ENCOURAGE them to do so and do not address this until they have.
- If they do not wish to, then EXHORT them to forgive the other person and move on. Love covers a multitude of sins.
Remembering the 8th Commandment in your interactions with others.
The Eighth Commandment
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
When discussing anything with another person whose complaint is being raised against someone else, please remember that this commandment tells us to defend, speak well of, and explain everything in the kindest way (best construction). Again, the first thing in any complaint is to make sure that the complainer has already brought this to the proper person (complainee). If not, the effort to complain is nothing more than gossip and possibly much more (slander, betrayal).
Some other helpful passages of Scripture to help in this:
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
1 Cor 13:4-7
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
1 Peter 4:8-11
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.