When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.
- James 3:3
You sit and testify against your brother
and slander your own mother’s son.
- Psalm 50:20
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
- James 4:11-12
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
- Ephesians 4:29
“Are there any people who do not with instinctive assurance find the place where they can stand and defend themselves, but which they will never give up to another, for which they will fight with all the natural drive to self-assertion? All this can occur in the most respectable or even the most pious forms. But it is really important for a Christian community to know that somewhere in it there will certainly be an ‘argument among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.’ It is the struggle of natural human beings for self—justification. They find it only by comparing themselves with others, by condemning and judging others. Self—justification and judging belong together in the same way that justification by grace and serving belong together.
“Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be verbalized. It is certain that the spirit of self—justification can only be overcome by the spirit of grace; and it is just as certain that the individual judgmental thought can be limited and suppressed by never allowing it to be spoken except as a confession of sin, which we will talk about later. Those who keep their tongue in check control both spirit and body (James 3:3ff.). Thus it must be a decisive rule of all Christian community life that each individual is prohibited from talking about another Christian in secret. It is clear and will be shown in what follows that this prohibition does not include the word of admonition that is spoken personally to another. However, talking about others in secret is not allowed even under the pretense of help and goodwill. For it is precisely in this guise that the spirit of hatred between believers always creeps in, seeking to cause trouble. This is not the place to specify the limitations placed on such a rule in particular cases. They are subject to decisions made in each instance. However, the point is clear and biblical. ‘You sit and speak against your kin; you slander your own mother’s child … But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you’ (Ps. 50:20f.). ‘Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?’ (James 4:11-12). ‘Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear’ (Eph. 4:29).”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
I have been exposed to conflicting ideologies within a church. They go to the coffee area and gossip, but if you mention exactly what they have been talking about, then the same people say that you are passing judgment and you are not to judge.
Bonhoeffer would disagree with both ideologies. We are to discipline, but that is done with the individual needing discipline. Bonhoeffer does not discuss the exception to his rules about never discussing another believer’s behavior behind his back, but one of those exceptions must be a ruling body of the church carefully establishing a program of discipline for one that requires it, mostly for open unrepentance of obvious sin.
Yet, Bonhoeffer would vehemently disagree with the gossip. Yet, in the gossiper’s mind, they are establishing the basis for discipline while you’re tearing the person down. But if the gossip is juicy enough to be mentioned at the coffee klatch, you are standing in judgment with no intention of discipline or correction. The old expression of what is good for the goose is good for the gander applies here. If a charge for discipline emerges from church gossip, then who is disciplining the church gossip? If the sin is egregious enough to warrant discipline, then gossip will not be necessary to address the need for discipline to the ruling body.
I am part of a prayer team. We are sworn to keep everything on the prayer list confidential. I have mentioned how the system is set up in other posts, I have never mentioned a single prayer request, but I have seen members of the team bring up prayer requests at a meeting (a small group, Sunday school class, or mission team). Their thought is that they trust the people there and in telling them that allows even more people to be praying. But at some point, that becomes gossip. Since half this new group, or almost all of the group, never made a pledge to keep the information confidential, soon someone will tell a gossiper and then the entire church knows. What the person with loose lips said for “good” became a violation of a trust. It could cause people to change churches as a result. And the entire concept that Bonhoeffer is establishing in his book is that “community” is something that must be intimate (not sexually). We must have that trust. If not, then the community will crumble.
My wife and I have been in churches where we would never put a prayer request before the prayer team. There was no trust. Who knows? Maybe we were being prayed for by that church due to our lack of trust. But my wife and I trust God, and we know that “man” has a sin nature. Even the most confidential prayer teams will slip up.
The problem that I see with Bonhoeffer’s rule to not gossip is that most people gossip. And in the case of the prayer team member asking others to pray, some think they are doing good by “violating that trust.”
It is, therefore, a sticky problem. Maybe that is where a monk’s vow of silence comes in. Another old adage: If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.