Is it better for us to correct people in public or in private if they have fallen into a doctrinal or theological error? And similarly, is it better for a punishment to be carried out in private or in public if someone has done something that requires pun
The sin that is done in public, punish in public. And the theological error which is broadcast openly in public, should be publicly refuted.
And conversely, those mistakes which are made in private, or theological errors which a person might fall into without anyone else knowing about it, can all be dealt with or punished in private, because they have not spread in society.
But what is the wisdom in all this? Why punish in public, and why correct in public?
This is because something that happens in public has an effect on others, or might cause them to stumble… So we must take those other people into account.
For punishment in public does not confine the wrong to the offender alone, but makes it go beyond him to have an effect on others, who might have imitated that person’s action, or who might not have regarded it as serious, or who might have treated it lightly, if it had been allowed to pass unpunished or uncensored. St. Paul said to his disciple Timothy the Bishop concerning this:
” Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” (1 Tim. 5:20).
If, for example, it happened that some people caused a disturbance or an outcry in church, they ought to be reprimanded in front of everyone, as the apostle says, because of the stumbling block it might present to others so that they might not be tempted to do likewise and so that the congregation should learn from it. This matter is different from the personal error which no-one knows about, which our Lord was referring to when He said:
” Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. ” (Matt. 18:15).
As far as a common error is concerned, by which I mean a fault that is widespread, that should also be punished before everybody. Many are the examples of this kind of public punishment with which God corrected His people, or which the prophets and apostles issued to offenders.
And according to the same logic, we can speak about wrong teaching, for to keep silent about teaching that is unorthodox, or inaccurate, especially if it spreads, may cause some people to believe it, since they have not found any way of refuting it.
It might also cause people to become confused with regard to the Church, and start wondering how it, the church, can be quiet about an incorrect teaching that is gaining ground, whether it is through books, magazines or newspapers!
They would then consider the Church has failed in performing its educational function. History presents us with an endless succession of images concerning the stand taken by the Church with regard to theological errors.
The Church used to set up local councils and ecumenical councils to combat theological errors, and this was done in public before everybody.
Whenever doctrinal and theological errors venture forth and take on an openly public form, without showing any consideration for any control or censorship from the Church, then they have to be refuted publicly, as a way of saving those who have become caught up in these ideas, and also to restrain on the originators of those thoughts, by preventing them from making further mistakes, which is what would happen if they found that the Church took no notice of, or was silent about, the errors that were being spread.
The Church also receives many complaints against any unorthodox or strange ideas that spread, and those making the complaints expect to receive an answer.
The Church ought not to remain silent while it sees the potential stumbling block there, in front of her, and ought not simply to take no notice when faced with the people’s complaints, especially if they happen again and again and increase in number. For the Church will then find itself facing a duty which it has to perform…
We, as individuals, may have to relinquish our personal right to retaliate or reply, if some people hurt us as individuals, but when it comes to performing our duty to teach, or to protect the faith, then we certainly cannot give in and let any abuse pass by unchallenged.
St. Paul publicly reprimanded St. Peter, when the latter was in the wrong, and what is more, he opposed him face to face (Gal. 2:11).
This was in spite of the fact that Peter, one of the pillars of the Church, who had been given the right hand of fellowship (Gal. 2:9), was a more senior apostle than Paul. And Peter was also one of those to whom Paul had presented his gospel (by which I mean the preaching which he delivered to the Gentiles) (Gal. 2:2). But when Paul saw Peter and those with him doing wrong, ” And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. ” (Gal. 2:13), Paul said: ” when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles,…”(Gal. 2:14-15).
In matters of belief, the Church does not turn the other cheek, as the Bible tells us to do, that is, it won’t sacrifice the correct teaching for the sake of being polite.
When it comes to things that happen in private, or out of the public eye, then the Church does not disclose these but lets them remain unpublished – and there are a good many of such cases.