Thursday, June 12, 2008

Matthew 18:15-17—Church Discipline

Question: So a Christian who continually sins and does not acknowledge the sin after its been brought to his attention needs to be booted out of the church. But non-believers doing the same thing can stay in church?

Here is the text: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

In these verses Jesus teaches a process that can result in someone being asked to leave the fellowship and community of the church family. First, the person who is engaged in sinful behavior needs to be confronted by the person who has been wronged. If this person listens and turns from their sin, the text says “you have won your brother over.” But if the person does not listen, then two or three people are to confront him. If he then turns from the sinful behavior then again he has been won over. But if he continues in the sinful behavior and refuses to acknowledge it as a problem and address it, then we as a church family are to put this person outside of our fellowship and to treat them as a non-believer. The hope is that this loss of fellowship will spur them to acknowledge their sin and turn from it—when this happens they can come back into the fellowship of the church. It’s very important to understand that church discipline serves a redemptive purpose and not a punitive one. I don’t believe this means we are to shun them. But I do think it means that when we come into contact with them, our communication with them should be unmistakably characterized by our hope of them turning from the sin and our hope of renewed fellowship once they have turned from this sin.

Now, to say a non-Christian can do anything they want and stay within the church is not accurate. All people within the church need to understand that we are there to change. Our character must become more like Christ as we grow spiritually. This is called sanctification. You have to ask yourself “why would a non-believer be in church to begin with?” If the answer is because they are checking out what it means to be a Christ follower, then we have to ask how should we respond to sinful behavior? The same basic concept applies as outlined above. The difference is that a non-believer does not have the same core convictions that a Christian should have and so it will take quite a bit of grace, love, and communication to explain the concepts of change and that the Bible as our guide for living out our faith. So in very practical terms a non-Christian would get more time and more explanation but would still be expected (as all Christ followers should) to live their lives in light of the scriptures.

Related Question: I often wonder where the line lies between accountability within the church and hypocrisy? How do we decide what is calling someone on their ungodly behavior, and looking like we are better than them? Or loving kids where they are and getting on them for their choices?

I’d like to build on my answer to the previous question for this one so please make sure you read the preceding question and answer.

This is a very real possibility. Paul said in Galations to be careful when you restore someone lest you fall and Matthew said to get the log out of your eye before pointing out the speck in someone else’s. We should always approach accountability with humility and in the same way we’d want someone to approach us.

1 comment:

RangerTommy said...

Hi! I like this post, however, I wonder if we jump to conclusions about what Jesus means by treating the unrepentant person as a "Gentile or a tax-collector." In that Jesus clearly focused on such people as the objects of his love, might he have also meant that we "treat them as if starting from square if they need to hear the basic good news from scratch"? If so (and I lean toward this understanding), perhaps Jesus simply means that we regard them compassionately as the "weaker members" of the body.