Does the Bible require making a private correction when you disagree with a published author?
When people first read the critique I've offered of Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God, I'm often asked if I have confronted Mr. Blackaby personally about my concerns. According to Jesus' directives in Matthew 18:15-17, this should have been done before going public with my analysis, they say.
I don't think my circumstance is what Jesus had in mind, though I have sent a copy of this critique to Mr. Blackaby.
Note the specific wording of the passage: "And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And 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-gatherer."
Three things are worthy of note here. First, the pattern of Matthew 18 is meant for a brother who is in sin (v. 15). Second, it initiates a process in the local congregation ("the church" v. 17) where individual discipline can be carried out. Third, if it runs its course, the correction results in excommunication from the local body (v. 17). To my mind, none of these apply to my critique of Mr. Blackaby's teaching.
As far as I can tell, Henry Blackaby is a gracious, godly man who is not living in any persistent, serious sin that calls for correction. I'm not challenging his virtue; I'm challenging his ideas. We are brothers in Christ who disagree about an issue of doctrine. Mr. Blackaby has registered his view publicly (in his book) and I am responding publicly (in my writings).
This is the pattern in the New Testament. Paul's own letters are, in many cases, public refutations of error being taught by others in the church. In some cases he even mentions the names of those who have faltered, either doctrinally or morally (1 Timothy 1:20; 2 Timothy 1:15, 4:10, 14). An especially noteworthy example is when Paul publicly corrects the apostle Peter while many others are present (Galatians 2:11, 14). This was no private confrontation about sin, but a public correction of wrong doctrine.
I've been told by a number of people who have met Mr. Blackaby that he is a wonderful, godly man, a fact I do not doubt. I've been told that if I met him and talked with him, I'd sense his heart for God and would retract my concerns.
Henry Blackaby's heart is not the issue, though. His doctrine on this one issue is. The proper way to judge doctrine is not to look at a teacher's heart, but at his teaching.
A simple question makes this obvious. If Mr. Blackaby and I met and he concluded that my heart was right with God that I had a deep love for Christ and was committed to serving Him would he be obliged to recant his own view in favor of mine and withdraw his book from circulation? Certainly not. Therefore, I should not withdraw my concerns for those same reasons.
Further, we are not in a local church together. Even if sin were the issue that it is not it would be the task of Blackaby's local community of faith to correct him because they would be the only ones in a position to do so. Do those who invoke Matthew 18 expect me to initiate excommunication proceedings against Mr. Blackaby? I hope not. Clearly Jesus' comments do not apply to our circumstances here.
One last thing. It's important not to get distracted by a misapplication of Matthew 18 and not address the biblical arguments I've raised. Where have I faltered in my critique? What of the misapplication of Scripture by Mr. Blackaby to support a doctrine that has been foreign to the church for nearly two millennium? Is the concept of hearing the "voice" of God to get "assignments" from Him concepts central to Mr. Blackaby's Experiencing God biblically sound as he claims, or are the proof-texts really teaching something else in context?
That is the important issue. It can only be answered by dealing directly with the verses themselves, not by challenging my motives, my heart, or my reading of Matthew 18.