A few years ago I was talking to a head elder, who had rushed to judgment and taken it upon himself to take “executive” action against another church member. I asked him if he had followed the counsel in Matthew 18, and talked to the member first. He boldly told me he did not need to follow any of the steps in Matthew 18, because he already knew from one source exactly what was going on. When he said that my heart sank! I was talking to a Seventh-day Adventist head elder, boldly telling me that he did not need to follow the Bible, and why! I wish I could say that is the only time that has ever happened but it is not. I still believe these are inspired words…..
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear [thee, then] take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell [it] unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. Matthew 18:15-17
This counsel rarely ever gets followed. How much better our world and church would be if people would follow this counsel from Jesus.
Here is what I have seen happen too often. Someone actually tries to follow this counsel, but at step 2, when he tries to get a brother to go along, the brother perceives it as gossip and does not want to meddle in the situation even though this is exactly what Jesus says to do. Or, instead of being neutral, that person gets an ear load from one side and goes into the meeting very biased.
Even more sadly, I have talked with church leaders who passed judgment on another member without ever hearing that person’s side of the story or going to them personally first. They clearly admitted they did not follow the counsel of Matthew 18 because they already had all the evidence without needing to follow Matthew 18. What? You don’t need to follow Bible counsel because you already have the full scoop? Since when was following the Bible optional? Apparently it happens all the time. To me this is the most sad situation of the three, because the people not following Matthew 18 know they are not following it and don’t care, but they still think they are fit to be church leaders while intentionally ignoring Bible counsel.
Before many churches can heal and move forward in proclaiming the gospel, they need to make sure they are following the gospel themselves. We need to make sure we follow Matthew 18 when a problem arises and go to our brother or sister one on one without anyone else knowing. Most problems can be resolved at step one. If not, then step two means we should take along another party who can hear both sides of the story at the same time, and not get an ear full from one side before even hearing the other side. This talking to another person and stacking the deck in one’s favor is very easy for humans to do, but with God’s grace we can avoid this temptation – especially if we are honestly wanting truth to win.
The third step is to take it to the church. At this point the church should not be afraid to handle the matter. It is not gossip at this point; it is Bible counsel. In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul tells the church it will be judging angels and needs to be judging its own issues.
When we reject Bible counsel everyone loses. When we follow Bible counsel there is redemption for all.