Biblical Principles of Confrontation: Addressing Ethical and Moral Failures in Church Organizations
Incidents of Confrontation in the Bible
This section features incidents of confrontation found in the Bible. Each incident is presented according to the following format:
- Bible Verse
- The Situation
Adam, Eve, The Serpent
God confronted Adam, Eve, and the Serpent (or Satan - Rev. 12:9) after Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil which God had commanded them beforehand not to eat. The confrontation occurred amongst the four of them. It cannot be determined if this was a private or public confrontation because the Bible does not say if there were others around or how long after the creation humans the incident happened. When God confronted them called to them and drew out confessions from them what they did.
God confronted Cain twice - first, after God accepted the sacrifice of his younger brother Abel and, secondly, after Cain murdered his brother Abel. Although the passage does not explicitly say, one gets the sense that God confronted Cain privately. However, after Cain murdered Abel God gave him a very physical sign as a symbol of God's judgment on his life.
The People at Babel
God foiled the plans of the people in Babel, confused their language so they could not consort together, and scatterred them through the earth.
Pharoah of Egypt
Abram (later Abraham)
Pharoah of Egypt confronted Abram for lying about his relationship with Sarai. Pharoah summoned Abram to appear before him and rebuked him. It is not clear whether Pharoah rebuked him publicly or privately with only a few servants in their midst.
God confronted Abimelech for taking Abraham's wife Sarah as his own wife. God confronted him through a dream which indicates that the confrontation took place in private.
Abraham (earlier Abram)
Abimelech king of Gerar summoned Abraham and rebuked him for lying about his relationship with Sarah. From the passage, there is a sense that Abimelech rebuked Abraham before all his officials.
Abimelech king of Gerar summoned Issac and rebuked him for lying about his relationship with his wife Rebekah. The passage does not clearly indicate whether Abimelech rebuked Issac in public or private.
Laban rebuked Jacob in front of the whole assembly for leaving without warning.
Simeon and Levi
Jacob rebuked his sons Simeon and Levi for slaying the people of Shechem. It appear he did so in front of their other family members.
Exodus 3, 4
God confronted Moses after the later objected to God's call to return to Egypt to help rescue the Israelite people.
This is one of the only cross-cultural confrontations featured in the Scriptures. Moses confronted Pharoah numerous times to release the Israelite people from their bondage in Egypt.
Jethro confronted Moses about the practice of judging the disputes of the people by himself. From the account, one gets the impression that Jethro called Moses aside from the judgment seat.
Moses confronted Aaron in front of the whole assembly about making the golden calf.
Leviticus 10:1, 2
Nadab and Abihu
God sent fire and consumed Nadab and Abihu for offering unacceptable incense.
Miriam and Aaron
God rebuked Moses' brother Aaron and sister Miriam for their opposition to Moses. The reference only mentions God calling the three of them, but the presence of the glory of God in the cloud gives the sense that the discipline was done publicly.
Korah, Dathan, and Abiram
God called the whole Israelite assembly together to put a stop to a rebellion against Moses by three men named Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
Moses and Aaron
The Lord rebuked Moses and Aaron for not honoring the Lord as holy. The passage does not intimate clearly if the Lord confronted them in public or private.
Leaders of Israelite people
The Lord directed Moses to kill and expose in broad daylight all the leaders of the Israelite people who joined in sexual immorality and the worshipping of Baal.
The Lord confronted Joshua privately to stop wallowing in self-pity. The Lord had Joshua assemble the whole assembly to expose the sin of a man named Achan. Achan was asked to name his sin and then he and his family were stoned before the whole Israelite assembly.
1 Samuel 13:7-14
Samuel rebuked Saul for offering a burnt offering which is a job for priests only. The passage does not make it clear whether Samuel rebuked Saul publicly or privately. However, the passage does not say Samuel assembnled the whole army before speaking to King Saul. Samuel told King Saul that his kingdom would be given to another but God did not immediately remove him from the throne.
1 Samuel 15:12-33
Samuel condemned King Saul for not obeying the word of the Lord. Samuel repeated to King Saul that God had chosen someone besides his son to succeed him as king after he died, but the Lord did not immediately remove Saul from the throne.
2 Samuel 3:31-39
David rebuked Joab the commander of his army for murdering Abner. David rebuked Joab before all the people who were with him.
2 Samuel 12:1-25
The Lord sent Nathan the prophet to rebuke David for killing Uriah and taking his wife Bathsheba. Although the passage does not say, one gets the sense that Nathan rebuked David privately with only a few attending servants in their midsts.
2 Samuel 24:11-17
The Lord sent Gad the seer to confront David about taking a census of the fighting men.
1 Kings 12:1-24
Jeroboam comes out of exile and confronts King Rehoboam about lessening the burden of the Israelite workers. Rehoboam rejects the advise of his father's advisors and determines to make the labor even harder. Jeroboam and the ten northern tribes of Israel revolt and establish their own kingdom.
1 Kings 18:16-46
Ahab King of Israel and his wife Jezebel rejected God and led the Northern Kingdom of Israel to worship of false idols. Elijah confronts King Ahab and his prophets of Baal in front of the whole assembly. Queen Jezebel threatens to kill Elijah.
2 Kings 20:12-21
King Hezekiah of Judah welcomes envoys from Babylon and shows them everything in his storehouses. Isaiah confronts him privately and tells that all he showed the envoys will one day be carried away.
The People of Israel
The people of Israel began to intermarry with the foreign inhabitants around Jerusalem. Ezra did not say a word to the people, but fasted, prayed and wept bitterly before the Lord.
Esther 5:1-14; 7:1-10
Haman, the prime minister of Persia
Queen Esther of Persia learned of a plot masterminded by Haman the Prime Minister to wipe out all the Jews. Esther did not apeak personally to Haman but summoned the King of Persia and Haman to eat dinner in her chambers where she asks the King to stop Haman's plan.
Job 38:1 -42:6
God confronts Job concerning Job's misunderstanding about God and his nature. It appears it is done in private with not more than four others present.
The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah the priest to tell him about the coming birth of his son John the Baptist. When Zechariah did not believe Gabriel, the angel confronted him about it and made him mute for a time. The confrontation was made in private while Zechariah was still in the temple.
John the Baptist
Israelite Religious Leaders
Pharisees and Sadducees went out to see John the Baptist; when they arrived John the Baptist confronted them about their duplicity. The confrontation appears to have been in public.
John the Baptist
John the Baptist confronted King Herod Antipas about taking the wife of King's brother. John the Baptist was thrown in jail and eventually beheaded.
After Jesus foretold of his pending arrest and death, Simon Peter took him aside privately to rebuke him for saying such things. Jesus called Simon Peter Satan and cried out Simon Peter to get away from him because he did not have in mind the things of God. The use of the English exclamation may be an indication that Jesus rebuked Peter for all to hear.
Officials and merchants in the Temple
Jesus rebuked the temple officials and merchants for desecrating the temple by way of unethical business practices. Since Jesus overturned the merchant's tables, it is apparent that the confrontation was in public.
Jewish Religious Rulers
Jesus spoke out publicly against the hypocritical religious practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
After Jesus was arrested, Simon Peter denied knowing him three times. After his death and resurrection, Jesus confronted Simon Peter to reassure and restore him as an important part of his plan to teach and train disciples in the future. From the passage it appears that Jesus restored Simon Peter in front of some of the other disciples.
Ananias and Sapphira
Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold some land to help support the early church movement and conspired together to lie about the price. Simon Peter confronted them about it and the Lord took their lives. The other disciples heard about it and were filled with fear.
In front of the others in the room, the Apostle Paul confronted Simon Peter his hypocitical behavior towards the Gentiles.
Principles of Confrontation Gleaned from Incidents of Ethical and Moral Failure in the Bible
In all, 36 incidents of confrontation are identified from the Bible and delineated in the table. Of the 36 confrontations, 11 appeared to be made in private; 17 in public; and 8 could not be positively identified as either private or public. Of the 19 which were private or unidentifiable as public or private, nine of them had public results e.g. the mark placed on Cain and the death of the child conceived by Bathsheba after David’s adultery with her. Only four incidents appeared to have cross-cultural undertones including (a) Moses’ confrontation of the Pharaoh of Egypt; (b) Esther’s confrontation of Haman the Persian prime minister; (c) John the Baptist’s confrontation of Herod Antipas; and (d) Paul’s confrontation of Simon Peter for backing away from the Gentiles in Antioch (Blue Letter Bible, NASB). Of the incidents of confrontation, only twice in the Old Testament were the offenders called upon to confess their offense publicly (Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 and Achan in Joshua 7) while public confession is not mentioned in the New Testament.
Of the 26 situations that were handled in public or had public results, the majority were linked to three apparent problems:
1. The beginning stages of establishing the organization e.g. (a) Aaron and the golden calf incident in Exodus 32; (b) the fiery death’s of Aaron’s eldest sons for offering unacceptable incense in Leviticus 10; and (c) the Ananias and Sapphira situation in Acts 5.
2. To nip in the bud a serious challenge to God’s revealed will e.g. (a) Adam and Eve’s eating of the fruit of the knowledge and good and evil in Genesis 1; (b) the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis 11; (c) Korah’s rebellion against Moses in Numbers 16; (d) King Ahab’s introduction of Baal worship to Israel in 1 Kings 18; and (e) Simon Peter’s objection to Jesus’ words about his pending death in Matthew 16.
3. To expose blatant hypocritical actions by religious leaders e.g. (a) when John the Baptist challenges the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3, (b) Jesus challenges the practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 21 and 23; and (c) Paul challenges Simon Peter for his hypocritical attitude towards the Gentile believers in Antioch. (Blue Letter Bible, NASB).
In addition to the preliminary findings presented above, the following are other possible principles gleaned from Bible passages which might be relevant to the concepts of confrontation and confession:
1. God promises to forgive individuals and groups who confess their sins (1 John 1:9; Leviticus 26:40-42).
2. Confession can free the heart from unnecessary burdens (Psalms 32).
3. Correction is beneficial to help a person gain knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 9:9).
4. The Word of God is beneficial for correcting and rebuking and training people (including leaders) for God’s work (Psalm 119: 9, 11; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, and Hebrews 4:12).
5. When attempting to correct someone else, one should examine his own life first, and approach the person humbly and gently (Matthew 7:1-5; Galatians 6:1).
6. Before exposing a person’s shortcomings to the general public, one should attempt to solve the problem in private by approaching the person one-on-one and then if necessary with one or two witnesses (Matthew 18:15-17). (Blue Letter Bible.org, NASB).
Possible Application of Biblical Principles Gleaned from Preliminary Inquiry
So how do the insights found in this preliminary search of Christian Scriptures apply to what Dean called, “contextualization of leadership” i. e. how do the discovered Scriptures help us redeem two vastly different cultural approaches to life and leadership like the American and Khmer cultures? Furthermore, how do the insights help leaders of multinational church organizations address ethical and moral failure in their organizations? Three insights are highlighted below:
Public confrontation only in the gravest of situations. First, the Scriptures seem to indicate that public confrontation of ethical or moral failure is only to occur in the gravest of situations. This principle became apparent from incidents highlighted in Appendix one and echoed in the third step of Jesus model of confrontation in Matthew 18. Applied to a comparison of the divergent American and Khmer cultures, this means that for the most part the American way of publicly exposing ethical or moral shortcomings is not necessarily better than handling such a matter privately as in the Khmer culture.
Confession should be encouraged not forced. Secondly, the Scriptures seem to indicate that confession is an important step in the redemption process and that those who commit ethical or moral failure should be encouraged to tell their story of misbehavior to God and someone else (1 John 1:9; James 5:16). However, there are few indications that such confessions (when applied to single individuals and leaders) should be brought about by coercion or forced. (Perhaps, it is worthy to note that public confession of corporate sin by whole groups of people appeared to be encouraged in the Old Testament e.g. Leviticus 26:40-42; Nehemiah 9; and Ezra 9:1-10:6.)
One should be careful to examine his own self before condemning the actions of another. Thirdly, the Scriptures seem to indicate that a person or group should examine their own actions before condemning the behaviors and actions of another person or group (Matthew 7:1-5; Galatians 6:1). Christian anthropologists and missiologists like Dean (2009), Kraft (1996) and Slimbach (2000) highlighted that all societies are corrupted and in need of redemption. Therefore, before judging the Khmer way of doing things a person or team from another culture like the United States should seek to understand the shortcomings in their own culture before condemning and attempting to change the practices of the Khmer people. Furthermore, Kraft stated that, while cultural outsiders might help identify shortcomings in another culture, changes should only be made by members within that culture.
Dean, M. (2009). The Contextualization Debate: What About Leadership? Common Ground Journal, Apr2009, Vol. 6 Issue 2.
Kraft, C. H. (1997). Anthropology for Christian Witness. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.
Slimbach, R. (2000). Transcultural Journeys: Cultural Integration with a Culture Mentor.
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