What should a wife do when her husband has conflicts with the church leaders?

Q. What do I do when my husband has called out a leader in sin (following Mt. 18); brought it to the church (1 Tim. 5:20); and the church is either in denial or is choosing to overlook it and now has attacked my husband (saying he’s in sin for publicly rebuking the leader)? They have unresolved issues with my husband but not one of them has made any attempts to seek resolution even though I have encouraged them to do so. Some of these people are my closest friends but they have wrongly attacked my husband and are protecting the leader. What does God’s Word say about what I should do as the wife? None of the leaders will have any communication with my husband but they are still willing to talk to me. My thought is that I should have nothing to do with them until they seek resolution with my husband (whom I am 100% behind for what he did). Is this biblical?

A. This is a series of questions so let’s break them out and see where God’s Word would lead us.

First, your first question should be restated as: “Was it biblically proper for my husband to publically confront and rebuke a church leader over his sin (I have to assume this was an ordained minister, elder, etc… someone in an official, visible position of authority in the church)? Rather than simply assuming that your husband acted properly let’s ask that question first. The verse that discusses most directly how to bring a charge of sin against an ordained leader is 1 Timothy 5:19, the verse right before the passage you mention as your husband’s basis for bringing a public rebuke (1 Timothy 5:20). First Timothy 5:19 says:

“Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.”  

This principle is one mentioned a number of times in Scripture (see Deuteronomy 19:15 and 2 Corinthians 13:1, for example), and is foundational to the question of whether your husband has acted biblically or not. Of course, you should not merely stand by your husband if he has acted in a manner that calls for his repentance (more on that later). The multiple witness principle applied in what seems to be your case would result in not just your husband confronting the leader but at least two or three others who agree with your husband that this ordained leader is caught in a sin and needs the church’s help so that he may see it and become freed. Matthew 18:16 calls for a process where two or three are to become involved so that “every matter may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.”

Further, an act of church discipline (such as a “public rebuke”) is to be brought by the church (usually the elders of the church depending on a church’s polity), and a “public rebuke” is to be an official act of the church and not one taken by any one person. By saying in your comments that “They have unresolved issues with my husband…” makes me wonder: What about the other agreeing witnesses? Do leaders have issues with them as well? If only your husband stands as the accuser he has not acted biblically and he should repent, ask forgiveness, and express his concerns about this apparently sin-caught leader in a different manner… not making just this his issue but following the pattern of the Scriptures.

Second, you state that none of the leaders (apparently both the leader who has been confronted and other church leaders) has made any attempts to seek resolution even though I have encouraged them to do so. My question would be: How have you encouraged your husband to seek resolution by humbly owning whatever he has done to contribute to this conflict?

Even though these leaders are your friends you probably have more credibility with your husband at present then you have with them. Will you counsel your husband to think about the manner in which he has brought this accusation as discussed in the first paragraph of this answer? Even if other witnesses who agree with your husband are involved, an accusation of sin against anyone is to be brought “gently” (Galatians 6:1) and not in a manner that will create conflict (it would seem your husband may have created this conflict by bringing a “public rebuke”).

Helping another person realize their sin and then helping them to become unstuck is a ministry for the benefit of the one caught and, according to Scripture, is to be done with great care and gentleness. It sounds that you have been quick to judge others (“they have wrongly attacked my husband and are protecting the leader”) and such judgment is inconsistent with caring ministry.

Third, you ask “What does God’s Word say about what I should do as the wife?” I would suggest a more appropriate way to ask that question would be this: What should I do as a Christian to help gently restore my brothers in Christ to fellowship with one another? While you have a special relationship with your husband as his wife you have even a higher calling as a sister in Christ to him and the others involved in this conflict. To be able to really ask of this whole scenario “Is this biblical?” you will first have to come to an eternal perspective that frees you to look without bias at the biblical principles of peacemaking when you see ones you love trapped in conflict.

When you do that you open yourself and others to all of God’s wisdom concerning his high priority for peace between his eternal children. Ephesians 4:2 and 3 says:

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

One way you can make that effort is to read more on this website from the various articles and links that Tara and I provide, especially on confrontation and conflicts involving leaders. Further, pray that God would give you an impartial passion to help your husband and all of these other fellow Christians to live at peace by trusting that God has given you and them this situation so that you might grow in your Christ-like character and closer to Him as you navigate this conflict for his glory.

Obviously, the implication here is that you should not cut off communications with anyone conditioned on what they may or may not do. You are not alone and I would encourage you to seek out wise and mature Christian friends who will walk with you through this peacemaking opportunity.

Dave Edling

About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
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