This devotional is a little different. I write it full of humility, knowing there is nuance to each situation that I cannot cover in this piece. It is not meant to give clear, step-by-step instruction for any one particular situation, but rather give us an extra filter to sort things through. My hope is that it causes us to pause and think in situations where we may not have done so before.
I used to get agitated when I saw a group of people who I identify with in some way–whether that identification is by choice or not–publicly rebuked en masse.
A few examples:
“Christians are judgmental”
“Men are arrogant”
“White Evangelicals are racist”
Depending on how closely you associate yourself or feel you are associated with a group of people, you may react to certain broad statements differently. When I see statements like these and others, I want to add qualifying words such as “many, a lot, some, etc.” to be more accurate and also to be able to define myself as someone who is not, judgmental, arrogant, or racist.
While I think it can be helpful to add qualifiers in hopes of having a more productive conversation at times, there is also something to this idea of both corporate responsibility and corporate rebuke.
When you read the Old Testament prophets, they often address Israel as a whole. They rebuke the sins of the nation as a nation. We know that the Lord always reserved a remnant for himself–1 Kings 19 for example–so when He spoke through His prophets to Israel and addressed all of Israel, it is interesting to note the lack of “qualifying” words. There really are many, many scriptures to use to point this out, but here is just one,
“Hear the word of the Lord, you descendants of Jacob,
all you clans of Israel.
This is what the Lord says:” – Jeremiah 2:4-5
The Lord then goes on to rebuke Israel for their idolatry.
Yes, there are times God gets specific and there are also times He distinguishes between those who have strayed away and those who have remained faithful. I’m not saying He always throws everyone in the same bucket or that we should.
There are also many times God calls out the entire people for the sin of part of the people–whether that part is a minority, majority, or nearly all depends on the situation–but the truth stands.
This idea is not just in the Old Testament either. In the beginning of the book of Revelation, some of the churches get rebuked as a whole and some are rebuked with qualifiers (Revelation 2:1-3:22).
There is a sense of corporate responsibility, especially in the body of Christ. I personally may not struggle with alcoholism, but if people in the church struggle with it, then “we” struggle with it. We are supposed to be one right? (1 Corinthians 12:12-13:13)
Obviously we can take this too far or assume too much responsibility for the actions of others ourselves. We need the Holy Spirit to guide us.
But we need to be more open to accepting corporate rebuke, especially in situations when we don’t feel like we are an offending party. To the degree that we feel called by scripture and led by the Holy Spirit, we need to accept corporate responsibility for the purpose of working towards corporate repentance, restoration, and holiness.
When we encounter a general statement of rebuke, of course the first step is to honestly check our own hearts through prayer and scripture, but then, even if your conscience is clear, understand that there can still be Biblical basis for the rebuke to be directed at the entire group, even when it is not necessarily true of every person in that group. (As a side note: the vast majority of the time, the person making the rebuke knows that not every single person is individually guilty.)
I believe the more difficult aspect of this to work through is the decision when to address a group as a whole and when to add qualifying modifiers or statements. Personally, I default towards using words like “most, many, often some” instead of “all, never, always”. The danger in that is we will read a statement like “Many Christians are judgmental” and immediately put ourselves in the “good” part of that statement before really taking the time to consider the ways in which we might personally be judgmental. Much of the power of a rebuke can be taken away by this simple fact, I know I do it all the time. Even if there is a statistic like “85 percent of Christians (do something negative)”, I often immediately put myself in the good 15 percent without thinking about it twice.
As I mentioned above, I don’t have any definitive statements to make about when to apply what, but I think this is something we need to wrestle with more and work to understand better. Obviously, I am working through what it means and how it looks from both perspectives, giving and accepting rebuke, but it has been extremely helpful for me to keep in mind the Biblical examples of corporate responsibility and rebuke.
I ran across this verse today in Leviticus. I think it is interesting that in it, the Israelites are told to confess their own sins as well as the sins of their ancestors.
“But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors—their unfaithfulness and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.” – Leviticus 26:40-42