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If your brother sins , go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Matt 18:15-17 (NASB)
First off, this article is intended for Followers of Jesus Christ within the context of a Christian Church or organization. It is not intended to suggest any application outside this context. This is how EVERY bible believing church is expected to operate on matters of church discipline and every believer is to act in matters of sin and disagreements. Now, before the e-mails start flying in that we are not to judge:
But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not JUDGE those who are within the church?
1 Cor 5:11-12 (NASB)
I am going to mostly address a side of this issue you may have never thought about. This verse tells us how to deal with a Brother or Sister in Christ who is in sin. This most usually is what you will hear about in a sermon, if sin is dealt with at all within the church. Almost completely absent in the church today even in these episodes is any form of church discipline. Interesting how we ignore the parts of Scripture that we are uncomfortable with.
The other side of this verse is how you are to deal with a personal problem or disagreement you have with another Christian, and this includes interpretative matters on faith or theology – the many items that are debatable. A few examples:
- Tithing verses the New Testament Principle of Giving
- The mechanics of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ (not will Jesus come again, but rather how and when will He come again)
- The age of the universe and matters of natural revelation
- The color of the tile in the new building program!
This list is not comprehensive, but you get the idea.
Ok, so lets say you and a friend at church are involved in a heated argument over a sin issue in their life. The same principles below are to be used in such instances as well as in disagreements you may have over such matters as Theological interpretations or even personal business dealings. Lets say that someone you know within your church is living in adultery (they are being unfaithful to their spouse OR living together outside of marriage), and you are aware of this and have first hand knowledge and proof that this is the case. What are you to do?
Here is the procedure per this verse:
- “…go and show him his fault in private.” You do not mention them and the issue in a Bible Study or Prayer group. You do not discuss the matter over dinner with a mutual friend. You do not accuse them from the pulpit and call for their repentance.
- “…if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you.” After you have gone to the person who is in sin or with whom you are having a serious disagreement with, you are to make a follow up visit with that person with one or two other believers within the same congregation preferably. This should be the only time the situation has been discussed by you with anyone else! It does not say to skip the first item on this list and discuss a matter in a Bible Study; it does not say you are to first discuss this in front of the deacon or elder body…this is the SECOND step in the process, not the first.
- If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church… God is sovereign, and there is a reason for this process to be followed and IN THIS ORDER. The goal is ALWAYS reconciliation and repentance. I am going to offer a bizarre example why this is so important below.
- and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Try applying this in one of your emergent churches or even in a mega church. It will never happen in today’s market driven church.
Seems straightforward enough, right? Well, then why is this rarely followed? Here is another scenario: you have a more minor disagreement or bad business dealing with a person in a church, then what do you do to resolve the situation? The answer is exactly the same, you follow the procedure listed above.
Case Study: A man was involved in a situation once in a church. The main leader and he had a long history of conflict. He tried to speak with the leader on several occasions, including asking him how he had sinned against him that they could not work together and what he could do to rectify the situation. The only answer given by the leader was that he (our subject) could always leave. After years of conflict, one day it all came to a head. He () our subject) discovered the leader was doing something very odd with the mail addressed to him. Our subject had a friend ask him at a conference jokingly why he never responded to a speaking request. It turns out that that our subject never responded and “…was not even courteous enough to decline the offer.” Well, our subject explains that he never received the invitation in the first place (this was in the day when you sent a letter, written and placed in one of those things called an envelope and placed postage on it sending it through the mail!).
Our subject became suspicious, realizing he never received mail addressed to him at this church, including junk mail. Our subject asked the leader why he never received any mail? The leader claimed to have no idea. One day the leader did his daily mail run to the post office, and our subject followed him and watched from the parking lot some very curious conduct that goes on for quite some time. Our subject goes into the post office after the leader has left to investigate, looking into the various trash cans he had seen the leader going back and forth to. Our subject found carefully removed labels with his name on them. In other trash cans he found the envelopes, and in still other trash cans the contents of the various items. Our subject confronted the leader, showed him the proof, and the leader denied the whole thing. The next few weeks, our subject mysteriously started getting a little junk mail here and there. Then it again ceased. A few months later, our subject followed the leader again and watched and verified it was all going on still.
Our subject went to another man involved in the ministry in question in the church and discussed this with him. This man wanted to see for himself, so he and our subject watched the whole strange thing, getting the verification necessary for proof. The man he recruits per Matthew 18 wanted to bring in another person, so they did. The third person said they wanted the men to confront him with the facts, and see what happened. This was done, and the leader denied the whole thing. A meeting was set with a board over the whole issue, and the night of the meeting the leader suddenly resigned. This was never taken to the third step which is what our subject requests (that the Biblical procedure be followed). Our subject was then asked by this board to likewise resign…three days after the leaders resignation.
Months or years later, the leader was arrested for indecency in a public setting when he exposed himself to an off duty police officer…as I said in another of my blogs, “the problem is seldom the problem.” I suspect this leader thought there was something about to come public when the meeting was supposed to occur before the board, and in reality the thing the leader feared was not even known at the time. Had Matthew 18 been followed, the whole thing could have been reconciled for the issue at hand, and in the process the organization might have learned of the actual deeper sin in progress in the first place. Instead the leadership of the organization sinned against our subject by asking him to resign, and all he had done was ask for Matthew 18 to be properly followed. The issue was not dealt with, and this leader went on to another position in the meantime and continued in his sin. He was later caught calling another church organization (before he was arrested) talking to the secretary he had known from the first org, anonymously, with perverted sexual suggestions…
God is sovereign, and there is no excuse for mature believers in Jesus Christ to not follow clear teachings of scripture. Matthew 18 gives clear instructions on how to deal with various issues within the church body and Christian community. It is not unambiguous, nor is its meaning difficult to any interpreter. You cannot say you believe in the authority of Scripture and ignore its teachings and instructions!
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