Volume. XXXiii, No. 37
Sunday, 10 March 2019


Absolute Confidentiality? by Rev Mark Chen


Confidentiality Is Good and Right

How do Christians deal with issues of confidentiality in church?

We share many things with our friends, especially our personal struggles. We expect others to keep it confidential. This is especially the case in personal trials. I may have cancer and I ask for prayer from a close friend. If I ask him to keep it confidential, I expect him to honour it.  This is good and right.  To share it with another is to reveal a secret. “He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets…” (Prov 20:19).

Why is that? Because we are obligated to keep the secrets of others unless there are good reasons not to. Confidentiality is also expected in areas of sin. This was the case of Joseph and Mary. When he knew she was pregnant, he didn’t spread it around; but intended to break the betrothal quietly (Matthew 1:19). Love covers sins because it forgives (1 Peter 4:8, Proverbs 10:12).  And even when a brother sins against another, the offended party does not publish the sin immediately, but approaches the offending party privately (Matthew 18:15).

 

Confidentiality Is Not Absolute

However, confidentiality is not absolute.  At some point, it may be necessary to denounce sin publicly.  Paul advised Timothy to rebuke publicly those that sin, that others would fear (1 Timothy 5:20). But this rebuke was not the first course of action.  At times, breaking confidentiality must be the first course of action. In 1 Samuel 19, King Saul had it in for David. He plotted against him.

And the one to whom King Saul told all his evil plots was his son Jonathan. So what did Jonathan do? He warned David.  1 Samuel 19:2 - “But Jonathan Saul’s son delighted much in David: and Jonathan told David, saying, Saul my father seeketh to kill thee: now therefore, I pray thee, take heed to thyself until the morning, and abide in a secret place, and hide thyself.”

There are times, even in the church, when it is not right to hold confidences. If there is rape, incest, abuse, murder - not to report it is to abet the crime.  We are not Catholic priests!

This is also something that the world knows about.  While psychologists and counsellors are required to keep their clients’ secrets, they are obligated to break confidentiality in cases of crime, self-harm, and court subpoenas. Similarly, if what has been entrusted to us concerns sins that must be dealt with, to keep them confidential is to abet them.  There are times we are obliged to reveal sin (Leviticus 5:1, Deuteronomy 13:8) - like Peter did with Ananias and Sapphira.

Not to rebuke sin privately is to hate your brother who sins (Leviticus 19:17) and not to rebuke an unrepentant brother publicly is to deny him his prerogative as a child of God (Matthew 18:15-17). Not to do any of these would be against the justice of God (Isaiah 59:4).

Unfortunately, there is a cultural idea that has invaded the church and has become the norm.

It’s the idea that “whatever I tell you must always be kept confidential, even if it is scandalous.”

This can be damaging.  Why?

Because absolute confidentiality is a biblical anomaly.  The Bible knows nothing of it.  What then is the biblical norm?

Discipleship Is the Biblical Norm

Christians are expected to build each other up.  1 Thessalonians 5:11 - “…and edify one another, even as also ye do.”  Christians are also expected to grow in holiness. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 - “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification…”  And when Christians edify others by teaching, admonishing, rebuking, and comforting them for the purpose of their sanctification, this is called discipleship.  If this is the case, then confidentiality can severely affect discipleship.

 

Confidentiality and Gossip

What happens if you are the recipient of damaging gossip? What happens if you hear a person speaking ill of another? What happens if you have heard of allegations of sins and crimes? And what happens if you are called upon to keep all of this confidential?  There is a need to rebuke the indiscretion.

In the guise of deep concern, Christians can transgress clear biblical guidelines. And by securing confidentiality, Christians will freely run their tongues.  We forget that the Bible forbids indiscreet use of words, slander, and gossip. It also forbids us from aggravating smaller faults, unnecessary discovering of infirmities, raising false rumours, receiving and repeating evil reports, and evil suspicion (WLC 145 - Westminster Larger Catechism).

And there is also a need to effect communication.  God is a speaking God. He commands us to speak in certain ways. He spoke to us to effect reconciliation. And he did that by means of the gospel. Under the gospel, we can confront each other, rebuke, admonish, and confess. Only when there is communication can there be forgiveness and seeking of forgiveness.

Jesus is mediator between God and man. He effects communication. That’s why he is called the Word.  Between Christians who have been redeemed, the middle wall of partition has been erased. In Christ there is light and no darkness. Confidentiality, the reluctance to talk biblically, and the desire to hide sin are refusals to walk in that light.  The Bible should not accommodate cultural expectations of confidentiality because it has something better.

It has biblical communication. When there are sinful offenses, our call to action should be redemption, not reticence. When we are reticent, then sin, like leaven, will continue to spread until more are affected (1 Corinthians 5:6).

Conclusion

Confidentiality is important.  But it is not absolute.  It is certainly not a means by which to hide sin.  Yes, confidentiality is easy because sin does not need to be addressed. It can be tolerated.  But discipleship - edification and sanctification - is paramount.  That cannot be done when confidentiality is absolute.  If your motive is loving God and others, then cultural norms of confidentiality will give way to biblical speech.

 

References:

https://rickthomas.net/when-confidentiality-is-smuggled-into-christianity/

https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-confidentiality.html


More Lively Hope

 

Announcements

  • Condolences to the family of late Dr S H Tow on his homegoing on Fri, 8 Mar in Singapore; and Sis Gabrielle Niemann & family on the homegoing of her late brother on Fri, 1 Mar.
  • Candidates for infant baptism- Faith Ng; Adult baptism – Bro Warren & Sis Amanda Khoo; Membership Transfer- Sis Isabelle Chen.
  • Special thanks to YAF & VFG for organising Welcome Night & to all who contributed.
  • Child Protection Seminar, Sat, 6 Apr. All people in ministries involving children need to attend. Please see Dn John Wong for more details.
  • Easter Family Bible Camp registration forms available at the foyer. Please submit forms to Sisters Natalie Ki or Purdee Yeo.
  • Helpers are required for Sunday School children during the Camp. Please see Sis Natalie Ki for more details.
  • Integrated Fellowship is organising a Games Day for the church. Please register your participation at the entrance of the Fellowship Hall.
  • Lunch Duty: This week: AFG. Next week: YAF.

 

Praise & Thanksgiving

  • Missions Team to Batam & Cambodia.
  • YAF/VFG Welcome Night.
  • Journey mercies: Dn Kevin Low (Adl); & others who have travelled.

 

Prayer

  • Special prayer for healing for those suffering from serious affliction.  
  • God’s comfort in grief: family of the late Dr S H Tow (S’pore).
  • Elder David Yeo’s ministry at Ebenezer BPC.
  • Missions: Rev Stephen & Sis Lydia Choi (PhnomPenh).
  • Journey mercies: Those who are travelling.

 

 

 

 

© Hope Bible-Presbyterian Church
PO Box 398, Fullarton, Adelaide, South Australia 5063