Isn't it disheartening, when you hear of someone guilty of a crime, but they get off on a technicality? There may have been all kinds of evidence, but a misstep was made here, or someone did something out of order there, and the perpetrator just goes free. In the rare cases like this, it appears that process has become more important than right and wrong.
In John chapter 2, we have an account of Jesus cleansing the Temple, and the resulting interrogation from the Temple authorities. In verse 18, they challenge Jesus, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" (NIV) You'll remember, Jesus had just rolled in to the Temple, whip and all, overturning tables, scattering coins, and driving out both the livestock, and those hoping to make a buck selling them. Jesus complained that they were treating His Father's house as a common market! But the temple leaders ignored the question of right and wrong, and defaulted to a question of authority.
Certainly, such trade and commerce were never sanctioned by God. There was no instructions for Temple approved sellers or money changers, any where in the Old Testament. But some commentators believe that the high priest of the day, may have been selling franchises, as it were, to allow approved people to corner this prime market. To this desecration of the Temple, Jesus responds in righteous anger, violently expelling them from the premises.
But in the leaders response in verse 18, we do not see any signs of humility or self examination. They do not receive Jesus' Biblical corrective, but rather wish to examine by what process, what precedent, what authority Jesus had to behave in this way. Those expelled had checked the right boxes, maybe even bribing the right people, to have the official sales permit from the High Priest himself. Had Jesus followed the proper process to air his grievance, and challenge this established practice?
In Reformed and Presbyterian circles, we are often known for our adherence to proper process, structure, and order. We have certain steps, and a proper chain that our disagreements are to be settled through. In many ways, this is an incredible blessing, and a good safety net to have in place, much like those in our criminal justice system ought to be. Our disagreements are to be handled thoughtfully and thoroughly. Nobody is expelled because of a witch hunt, or other forms of rushing to judgment. But we must also be careful, that we do not fall into the trap of the Temple leaders, and elevate process and authority, over God's Word.
In the Belgic Confession, Article 29, we confess that “church discipline” being exercised, is one of the three critical marks, that separates a Biblical church from every false form thereof. Yes, this means that church discipline must take place in our local congregations. But, as we have covenanted together as a denomination, this also applies to how we hold one another accountable, as fellow office bearers. No one can teach against what we've agreed to, and not be held accountable, due to getting off on a technicality.No one can act in a manner contrary to Scripture, and we just let it slide.
Yes, process and order are good, but they are not more important than right and wrong. What authority or process matters, but only if it is helpful in discerning what has happened or been taught, and if that is in violation with Scripture, or how it is summarized in our confessions. Process is good, but it is a sin to elevate it above dealing honestly with one another, and God's Word.