PARADOXICAL

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

 

Correction/admonition


One genuine sign of true friendship - or true love, for that matter - is gentle admonition. This is also called "correction." I have proven this for myself because I've seen first-hand how it is done; how it's a necessary, though not a necessarily nice thing; and how its absence can be very disappointing and can even be a serious ocassion for sin, a grave sin of omission.

Correcting an errant brother or sister (in a Christian family or community) is not a choice. It is a command from God, it is every Christian's duty. If the erring member listens, you win him back. If he does not, then you can sleep well. You will not be held accountable any longer for doing what you had to do.

Who can correct whom? An elder in faith often does the correcting, but I think anybody can, as long as the situation calls for it. Understandably, a member correcting a leader carries with it a greater burden of shame on the elder's part, but community members may also correct elders even though elders have the authority over members. Of course, this is ideally carried out with due respect and sobriety.

Correction, it seems, is best done sober. But then, read the Bible and see how St. Paul addressed his members with a furious, "You foolish Galatians!" The right reaction must really be calibrated according to the situation.

Correction is a bitter pill. It is unpleasant to both parties. But it is undeniably necessary. It is a way of showing to one and all that we care for one another in community, that Christians are accountable to one another.

Correction is not easy. It can be a fine art, as illustrated by the preceding. So how do we carry out correction the right way? How do we correct someone who directly assaulted us, for instance? How do you tell a brother he has hurt you and thus owes you an apology? Normally, you cannot, for if you did, you'd end up a murderer. One practical solution is to allow time for things to cool down, but the danger here is that the issues at hand might be clouded over by the delay. Another is to use a third uninvolved party.

But God's grace can work wonders if we but ask for it. These are moments that call for tough love, for strength under control - both of which are a grace, a gift. Besides, there's nothing like direct communication - no extra doors are opened for misinterpretation.

Yet if you must need a medium, then choose someone you can trust, someone who has no agenda, doesn't twist facts or withhold vital information.

Still, the key word to most corrections is "gentle". Correction should always be carried out in love. As much as possible, correcting a private sin should be made in private, and it need not be a straightforward one-on-one behind closed doors. One can correct in public if it's a public offense, though it would be prudent not to humiliate the person in the presence of everyone. One can issue a general statement in this regard.

I have observed closely how the leaders of one community execute this area of Christian life with expertise, especially during lighthearted moments when anyone among a huddle may slip without meaning to. I would always hear M., for instance, issue his correction in a very casual but unambiguous tone which the erring brother immediately recognizes and says sorry to or shuts up atoningly. These brothers never pass a chance at correcting someone if correction is indeed in order. But they don't overdo it by appearing like a policeman, constantly on the lookout for violations. Everybody knows they are just doing what they should as serious Christians, lest a greater Admonisher do the corrective action Himself - which is always a scarier prospect. They know that, after all, everyone without exception is accountable to the same God.

Correction does not end with the correction itself. The erring member must always ask for forgiveness. The offended party, in Christian magnanimity, should also assure that forgiveness is given.

Never take it lightly when someone admonishes you in the aforementioned manner. He is just being a true person. He is a true friend. And he is hard to find.

***

Now, what if someone corrects us out of spite or anger? We would feel very bad, indeed. But we still have a reason to take heart, though we are taught that this kind of correction has no place in Christian dealings. Nevertheless, this confrontation allows you to, you know it loud and clear if someone is angry at you, right? The "unkindest cut of all" (as Mark Anthony said in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar) is when somebody broadcasts your mistakes to everyone behind your back, then hugs you or kisses you on both cheeks like a long-lost friend upon seeing you.

8.2.2000


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