Of course, there is good reason for our interest. Following the New Testament lead, we find the Law contains essential background to the principles of the sacrifice of Christ and to acceptable worship of God. Further, we are people who read the whole Bible, not just the Psalms and New Testament, so we want to understand all scripture.
In keeping with this tradition, we draw attention to principles evident from the priests examination for leprosy (recorded in Leviticus 13). The principles are particularly, but not exclusively, applicable to ecclesial life and our concern for the possible eruption of false doctrine in our midst.
Some things look like trouble but are not
Beside the obvious, however, there were many skin conditions which could have been leprosy but, upon closer examination, were not that disease (Lev. 13:4-44). The parallel is that there are many teachings which may be major departures from the faith, but are not unambiguously so. How are these not-so-clear cases to be handled? The principles of Leviticus offer instruction.
Do not exclude unless necessary
In the case of the physical disease, the answer is obvious: It would be dreadful unnecessarily to cut off a person from his family and livelihood, to say nothing of the terrible hurt to the family members who lost close association with a loved one. Furthermore, those exiled from the camp were cut off from the vital communal worship of the congregation. Most in Israel struggled to maintain obedience in the best of circumstances, and exclusion would likely worsen their opportunity to be saved.
There is here a pointed lesson for our community. The quickest and easiest solution may be simply to exclude anyone having ideas which seem out of step with our teachings. After all, we can reason, the rest of the community needs to be kept safe from what could be fatally wrong teaching. Unfortunately, what is not so obvious is the damage done by wrongful disfellowship. Its easy to see the harm when a leper is physically set aside; it may not be so easy to see the spiritual damage done by exclusion from the household of faith, yet very few can sustain the faith on their own.
Consider as well that Israel was to be known as a fair, considerate and loving community. It would hardly be consistent to exclude a person because they may have leprosy without making certain of the condition. In our own case, we are to be a community renowned for our love toward other believers. Its hardly consistent to exclude from our fellowship those who might appear astray before determining that they certainly are afflicted with doctrinal error of a grave magnitude.
Judge on what you see
The parallel is evident. While the Lord knows the heart, we dont, and we are not to be making judgments of anothers heart. Our decisions must be based on what we can positively see and hear, not by our suspicion or personal dislike.
Examination over time
"The priest shall look on him the seventh day: and, behold, if the plague in his sight be at a stay, and the plague spread not in the skin; then the priest shall shut him up seven more days: and the priest shall look on him again the seventh day" (Lev. 13:5-6).
There was to be a personal involvement over an extended period of time. This was the only way an accurate diagnosis could be made as to whether the condition had spread. The process might be inconvenient to everyone, but that was the only fair and considerate approach to take.
All kinds of human behavior can only be evaluated over time. Passing circumstances can cause people to act and think contrary to their normal patterns. This often happens in ecclesial life. A combination of factors may cause a person to stray for a while on some area of teaching or temporarily to behave badly. Thats why only the local ecclesia is fit to make decisions in such cases. Counsel from a distance may help to clarify principles, but it should not be allowed to make a final decision. There are more than a few examples where the "innocent" party in a marital breakdown has contributed more than 50% to the problem. Only those with long-term experience with the situation will really know the facts.
There are a good many campaigns of accusation from afar which would never have started if this wisdom of Leviticus 13 had been followed. Some have presumptuously interfered into situations thousands of miles from their homes, ignoring or demeaning (perhaps inadvertently) the considered wisdom of those who know the situation first-hand over time.
Had the condition spread?
This is a critical concept in examining wrong teaching. Has one confused idea led to another or has it stopped there? Some brethren have difficulty articulating aspects of the atonement, for example, and say what is not correct. Does this reflect fundamentally wrong thinking or is it a difficulty in one, restricted area? Over time, somebody on the spot is in the best position to determine the answer.
The priest was looking for the existence of clear-cut evidence of leprosy. We are inclined to view some suspicious teaching as the tip of an iceberg, a glimpse of a mountain of corrupt teaching lurking just beneath the surface. Thats possible, but the priest was given very strict diagnostic procedures to follow to make sure he didnt jump to wrong conclusions. Its clear the Lord was concerned people might be labeled lepers when they were not. Being fully aware of our tendency to panic and needlessly hurt other people, the Lord sought to protect the innocent as well as isolate the diseased. We could well learn the principles behind the Lords commands so we, too, can determine when its not leprosy.