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Jumping the Chain

by Tim O'Hearn

Early in military training they teach about the chain of command. One of the things emphasized is that the chain goes up as well as down. That is, just as the captain of this ship doesnít give orders directly to the lowest seaman recruit, neither does that seaman go waltzing into the captainís cabin when he has a problem. He has to take it up the chain of command. One of the biggest sins of military life is "jumping the chain." Few things cause more resentment than to be skipped over when you are next in the chain. Perhaps that is why I notice when others jump Godís chain.

God does have a chain of command. When one person has a problem with another, the chain upward is spelled out in Matt 18:15-17. The proper chain is "offender alone, offender with witnesses, the church." In each case, the offended personally confronts the offender.

Unfortunately, many people jump the chain. When they are offended, they go to the elders and ask them to deal with the offender. This has the advantage, to them, of anonymity. It also appears to be letting the elders do their work of leading the church. Regrettably, it is also wrong. Jesus said the first link in the chain is to talk privately with the offending person. It may be that will be sufficient to resolve the problem. If it does, then it is frankly not the business of the elders or anyone else to know about the problem. If that step does not work, then take witnesses, not necessarily the elders, to establish that the offender will not listen.

One of the wrongs committed when jumping the chain is that we give information to those who have no need to know. Sometimes we rightly call it gossip, the truth of the matter notwithstanding. Few people can so separate themselves from the situation that they can have knowledge about a person and not let that affect their relationships. The hint of impropriety is sometimes as bad, sometimes worse, than the actual situation itself. Perhaps that is one reason Jesus said the first step in the chain was to go to the individual in private. If resolution can be made in private, then no one else needs have their opinions colored unnecessarily.

Let us not put other Christians in the position where they should be disciplining us. If we feel a brother has wronged us, let us not offend because we have been offended. Let us not jump the chain.