Thoughts on When to Confront a Speaker

I was looking for something else and came across this post on the original version of this blog from back in June of 2009. It seemed worth bringing over to the new version for accessibility and for those who didn’t even know there was an old version. The backdrop is a sermon that was preached at a conference that generated a lot of online heat.

A couple of weeks ago, when the fur was really flying, I sat down after a Sunday evening service and outlined some thoughts about being in the uncomfortable position of moderating a meeting at which someone uses the pulpit improperly (whether intentionally or not). I am grateful that I’ve never faced a very bad situation, but it seems inevitable, if you have a lot of outside speakers, that someone will say something that presents a challenge to you. I had hoped to write it out in article form, but haven’t gotten around to doing it, so I decided to just add some more notes to the original outline.

The Context Affects the Decision

  • Is this something which can be dealt with at a later date as a part of normal shepherding and preaching?
  • Is this something which should be addressed now because this group doesn’t regularly assemble? E.g., a conference or seminar
  • Is this something which can or should be addressed immediately because the nature of the group permits or requires it? A group of pastors should be able to handle this better than most, and a group of students may need this more than most.
  • Is this something which seems to deliberately take a position with the intent of contradicting a well known and well established position of the host or some party involved in the meeting? IOW, if you perceive that someone has tried to settle a score or put a notch on his belt, that might warrant addressing it (even if it is just to ask for a clarification on that matter).

The Importance of the Doctrinal Issue Affects the Decision

  • Is this a matter of significant doctrinal consequence and ramification? If the gospel is at stake, I think something must be done immediately—whether that is a gentle clarification or an outright challenge (and I’ve had to do both).
  • Is this only a matter of differing interpretations or is it really a matter of rejecting biblical truth?

The Nature of the Communication Affects the Decision

  • Did the speaker clearly violate the biblical obligations to speak truthfully and for the edification of those who hear?
  • Did the speaker display a combative attitude or tone that indicates that he knows that what he is saying is controversial and against some of those who are present? If the speaker initiates the conflict, then don’t feel badly about stepping up to the challenge.

The primary factor is the doctrinal content and implications of what was said.

If heresy has been proclaimed, then it should almost always be addressed immediately. Differing interpretations can be allowed to stand in most cases, unless it is a crucial matter to a pastor and local assembly. Most often, though, it can probably be addressed in the course of normal shepherding and ministry of the Word.

The second factor is the nature of the communication, especially if joined to the significant doctrinal issues.

Anytime a speaker seems to pursue controversy deliberately and does so by unbiblical means, it warrants public correction (or at least voiced objection).

Most times when a speaker accuses others of false doctrine in a combative way and is clearly mistaken in his view, it warrants public address of some sort.

  • It may that a question of clarification would be the best way to approach it. Something like, “Brother, it sounds like you were saying X, but I wonder if that’s really what you meant or were trying to say because….” IOW, you seek clarification in case you’ve misunderstood or it was a simply misstatement on his part.
  • If there is little to no doubt about what has happened, then the proper response would be to either express disagreement with his view or if warranted, to challenge him about the nature of what he has done.

In those cases where a well-intentioned speaker has espoused a position which is contrary to the position of the host or others present, it is generally best to let it alone unless you feel it could cause a significant and unnecessary disruption.

  • The people most likely to be upset are the ones who are already most firmly convinced, so there is no fear of them being led astray. Those who are unaware of the issue will not even notice it.
  • If there is concern about the impact what was said might have on those who heard, then a decision needs to be made about the right context for addressing it and whether it needs to be addressed directly or not.
  • If it happens in the course of a church service, then you should have plenty of opportunity to address it down the road since you meet with these folks regularly.
  • If it happens in a conference or some other unique setting, then it really comes down to how important the issue is and how grievous the error was.

These are rough, unfinished thoughts, but hopefully will be of some value to those of us who, either now or in the future, have the responsibility for leadership when God’s people gather together. As I’ve said in other posts, God’s Word is the standard and authority, not the preacher, so I feel no obligation to let any man just say what he wants to say because he’s “God’s man.” Even the OT prophets were obligated to speak truthfully!

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