As cultivating interpersonal relationships, dealing with sin and conflict, raising children, avoiding folly, shepherding God’s people, discerning false teaching, etc., are all vital parts of life in the church, Christians must talk with and about others.
In recent months, I have had several people speak with me about situations going on around them. Each of these parties were godly Christians seeking counsel about difficult matters involving others. Each time, they would pause and say something like “I don’t mean to gossip” or “I hope this isn’t gossip.” Clearly, they were struggling with matters of conscience regarding whether speaking of others constituted gossip.
As cultivating interpersonal relationships, dealing with sin and conflict, raising children, avoiding folly, shepherding God’s people, discerning false teaching, etc., are all vital parts of life in the church, Christians must talk with and about others. I find many sensitive believers struggle to open up because they wrongly believe to do so would be to gossip. Sadly then, the above needs are not met properly.
So when is gossip not? I studied over the answer to question 144 in the Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) : “What are the duties required in the ninth commandment?” regarding not bearing false witness. Here are five guidelines distilled from that meditative exercise.
It is not gossip when…
The matter is public record.
I have seen people hesitate to convey information that is recorded in civil or ecclesiastical documents as a matter of public information. Here I speak of such matters as public news items in the local paper, a published article available in print or on the internet, divorce records in a civil court, or public disciplinary sanctions taken by the church. I know of situations where someone has been accused of not following the principles of Matthew 18 in speaking to a person privately when the issue at hand is already known over social media or in print. This situation is not gossip.