My earlier article entitled “Gossip in Church – Satan’s Effective Tool to Ruin a Church” highlighted the perils of gossip in the church. The article ended with the question:
In reality, there are situations in which one believer feels offended by another believer in the church. So, what is a person to do?
The purpose of this article is to advocate that rather than gossip, church folks should consider using the procedure of Matthew 18:15-17.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT GENUINE CONCERNS IN THE CHURCH
As best I can determine, the best way to address genuine (or perceived) offenses is to follow Jesus’ advice in Matthew 18:15–17 (NASB95), which reads:
15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 “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. 17 “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.
In the generic sense, here is my take on the biblical procedure to address a legitimate concern and avoid gossip.
The first condition is that, “If your brother sins.” The accused must be a believer and they must have sinned. In the context of church, it is a fair assumption to say a fellow churchgoer is a believer. The action must rise to the level of sin. One definition[i] of “sin” is:
Sin—is “any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God” (1 John 3:4; Rom. 4:15), in the inward state and habit of the soul, as well as in the outward conduct of the life, whether by omission or commission (Rom. 6:12–17; 7:5–24).
My suggestion is before one starts the Matthew 18 process, they make sure they know all the facts as best they can and make sure those facts establish the accused believer’s actions as biblical sin. Sometimes hurt feelings are not the result of biblical sin.
Next, the accuser should approach the accused in private to discuss the situation. I suggest that the accuser inform the accused of the purpose of the meeting so both parties can prepare ahead of time. It doesn’t do much to resolve the situation by sandbagging the other person. Ambush will only intensify the conflict. The accuser may discover more facts and realize that there is no sin, ending the matter. Or, the accused may acknowledge their transgression, repent, and the issue is over without any more conflict.
However, if the private meeting fails to resolve the matter in some fashion, the accused can bring along one or two other believers who know the offense. Verse 16b reads:
take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.
In the New Testament, the NASB95 always recites Old Testament passages in capital letters. A commentary[ii] helps to identify the OT passage:
In 18:15b, Jesus acknowledged the second and worse response toward a straying brother—continued resistance. In this case, the next step is to take one or two others along. Including the original confronter, this increases the number of confronters to two or three. This is important, as Jesus showed from Deuteronomy 19:15 (also Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6). These numbers are based on the requirement, under Mosaic Law, that no accusation should be taken seriously unless it was confirmed by the testimony of more than one witness.
The principal Old Testament passage is Deuteronomy 19:15 (NASB95), which reads:
15 “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.
Would you please keep in mind that the “one or two more with you” are not friends who know nothing of the facts of the offense?
If this is a “he said, she said” situation where there were only two parties to the allegedly offending conduct, I’m not sure what can be done. But, if there were more, then those witnesses need to be brought into the discussion.
If the accused still refuses to repent, verse 17a says take it to the church body:
“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;
Finally, if the accused continues to not repent, verse 17 b reads:
let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Another commentary[iii] reads:
If the brother obstinately refuses to be moved by the persuasion of the Christian community, he is then to be regarded as an outsider, severed from the fellowship of the church. The Jewish proverbial designation of pagan or a tax-collector indicates that this brother has aligned himself with those outside the covenant and thus is to be socially avoided. However, the categorization of the fallen brother does not mean that the church should have no further contact with him. Since the church now relates to him as an outsider, classed among the worst of sinners, further contact must take the form of remedial association
According to Weber[iv], restoration is available:
Just as the Lord is open to receiving a repentant Pharisee (Matt. 3:7–8; John 3:1–21; 7:50–52; 19:38–42), so also Jesus should be seen here as leaving the door open for even a hardened heart such as this to soften and return.
ADDITIONAL “GLOSS” IF THE ACCUSED IS AN ELDER
Regarding elder discipline, Paul set out a little higher standard of proof in 1 Timothy 5:19–20 (NASB95):
19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. 20 Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.
Finally, the Bible discusses the elder-congregant relationship in Hebrews 13:17 (NASB95):
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
Church discipline, especially if it involves an elder, is not an easy procedure. But, Jesus made provision for this less-than-fun action. Each situation is fact-sensitive so that my suggested procedure may require variations.
My big takeaways are:
(1) be sure the offense is, in fact, biblical sin, and not merely a preference;
(2) work through the steps;
(3) keep the overall health of the church in mind;
(4) strive for resolution and restoration.
If you are reading this post and are not a Christian, unless God intervenes, your eternal destination is hell. But, your destiny can change.
Today can be the day of your salvation! Please see my blog (https://stevebelsheim.com/2020/04/20/for-god-so-loves-you-2/) for a description of how you can be saved. You can also go to another article at my blog (https://stevebelsheim.com/2020/10/20/there-is-hope-even-when-there-seems-to-be-no-hope-2/ ).
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[i] Easton, M. G. (1893). In Illustrated Bible Dictionary and Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature (p. 632). New York: Harper & Brothers.
[iii] Chouinard, L. (1997). Matthew (Mt 18:17). Joplin, MO: College Press.
[iv] Weber, supra at Vol. 1, p. 293.