Thursday, April 12, 2012

More Masticating on Matthew 18: Thoughts From Readers and Other Sundry Sources

A few people have commented to me about my example of a woman who was “Matthew 18'ed” (a process of the misuse of the passage to have her family thrown out of fellowship) over issues related to her children and volleyball games.  Some people have also offered other observations, some of which echo previous posts on this topic. They've given me permission to post some of their thoughts on the subject.

I've also been granted permission to repost another vignette of the misuse of Matthew 18 that appeared on a blog in 2007, a story about Matthew 18 within a messy mega church bureaucracy.

It is my hope that people will consider many, many perspectives and implications of the use and abuse of this special passage of Scripture and will follow wisdom and the Spirit, thinking for themselves.


Comments from Readers
About Matthew 18:15-17

Prescriptions that Do More Harm than Good

I have also seen people approach Matthew 18 as if it was some sort of prescriptive formula for every offense or error, but I don't see it that way. As others have pointed out, Paul did not hesitate to address specific public error with a specific public response, particularly when dealing with false doctrine.

The overall point is about interpersonal relationships among believers, and we Christians are often good at turning relationship issues into dogmatic rules, and end up missing the point in the process. The situation you mentioned about a mom being "churched" for tardiness is an example. I had a friend who was going through some tough times with her teenaged kids, and over about a 6 month period she chose to get drunk an three occasions to dull the pain. She went to her pastor each time and sought counsel and forgiveness, as she was very convicted over her behavior and was really struggling with gaining victory and making her repentance complete. The church has a membership covenant that forbids any drinking of alcohol. After the third time she fell and talked to her pastor, he brought her before the church and she was thrown out.

They basically shunned her, and she spiraled downward afterwards. She went through a couple of marriages in a couple of years, and it was several years after that before she regained her footing. She was eventually able to get her life back on track with God and other believers. In my mind it was an example of the church doing the exact opposite of what Jesus intended. 

Rules Versus Relationship Principles

In my mind (which I realize may not be entirely renewed on the subject), when a church's leaders are behaving in abusive ways, they have already broken covenant with the members, so they aren't really in a position to claim authority based simply on their position. Our submission to one another is always intended to be mutual, and works in the context of redeemed relationships, so whenever someone tries to make submission a matter of rules rather than relationships, they have missed the point and undermined any authority they might have otherwise had.

Another concern I have with how Matt 18 is applied in authoritarian, hierarchical church settings is that, if the offending party does not respond to an individual plea or to a plea with one or two others, they tend to add a step of bringing the concern before the elders to make decisions, rather than taking the matter to the whole church. Some just skip over the initial pleas altogether and bring people in before the elders ("star chamber" meetings) from the start. Then they still want to claim they have handled things "biblically". You can always tell that someone has turned a relationship principle into a rule when they start modifying or adding on to the rule.

Taking the Passage Out of Context

Talk about one of the most misused passages out there! One of the problems with it, is that no want wants to include the context of verse 1 and so on. And Jesus said this before the church age and Pentecost. Not that means it doesn't apply but how does it apply? There really is no "letter" of the law for church governance.

A Fourth Step in the Process Involving Leadership?

“Is it a mandate for leaders to take members to task, playing both leader and brother, using authority to manipulate?" No way. That is why it is so abused.

Imagine that you have two believers, and one has an offense against the other. That person is to approach the other person alone. If the one who has done the offense will not hear or acknowledge, then you go back and get three witnesses and try again. The witnesses can be anyone and are there to make sure you not only stay in line but witness the offenders response and make a determination if there is repentance. If that does not work then you take it to the church....the WHOLE church.

There is no 4th step like Jay Adams teaches where you take it to the elders first then the church later. He lied about that. It says nothing about elders or leaders of any sort. (Exegesis of the New Testament Greek is very clear about this, and there is no fourth step of going to leadership for intervention indicated or remotely implied.)

Abuse Ranging from the Sublime to the Ridiculous to the Tragic

Can you imagine taking a situation like being late for volleyball games to the whole church? They would be laughed out OR every single silly offense would be game for this.

This only works if you are in the same church. Try and see it from First Century point of view which makes it harder. Read the context of the whole chapter in the verses preceding it, then, read the parable after it. It is not as clear cut as people want to make it. It is more about resolving conflicts. It is NOT about church discipline.

And it needs to be a serious wrong, and even then, I've seen the passage horribly abused.

The Adventures of Matthew 18 in a Mega

The Adventures of Matthew 18 in a Mega Church:
It's enough to make you scream.
Senior Pastor’s Appointments Secretary (SPAS)
(Reports to his administrative assistant)
Mid Level Church Staffer (MLCS)

Scene Set up: 
Mid level staffer was astonished to hear the Senior Pastor make some inappropriate remarks at a staff retreat during a small group sharing time. He knows he should discuss this with the pastor in private. Here is his attempt to practice Matthew 18 from one Brother in Christ to another at a 20,000 member mega church. The leadership of the church constantly tells staffers to use Matthew 18 in dealing with conflict or offense by a brother. At this point, Mid Level Staffer draws up his courage to meet with his ‘Brother in Christ’ to implement Matthew 18.


(Phone rings in Senior Pastor’s office)

SPAS: Pastor ______ ‘s office, this is Victoria, how may I help you?

MLCS: Uh...Hi Victoria, this Mike Green calling for Pastor ____. Is he in?

SPAS: What was your name again, sir? (Clicking on computerized membership file)

MLCS: Uh…Mike Green, I am downstairs on the 3rd floor in Media Relations.

SPAS: So, you are a STAFFER?

MLCS: Er...yes, ma’m… Pastor in?

SPAS: Mike, is your boss Tom Frank, Director of Media Relations?

MLCS: Uh…yes, ma’m…my direct supervisor is Todd Bellow, he is the Artistic Facilitator.

SPAS: Mike, why are you calling Pastor _____?

MLCS: Er...W..Well ma’m that is kind of per...personal. Is there a better time for me to call him?
SPAS: Mike, have you discussed this situation with Todd Bellow first?

MLCS: Well, ...uh…no ma’m…it does not really concern him.

SPAS: Mike, I really think you should go through the chain. Does Todd know you are calling the Senior Pastor?

MLCS: See, ma’m, this does not concern Todd. It is of a very personal nature.

SPAS: Oh, I see. Let me get you a number to call. Hold on just a minute...


SPAS: Ok, here we are. You need to call extension 332 and ask for Bob Teal. He can help you.

MLCS: Bob Teal? I don’t know a Bob Teal. Wh..who is that?

SPAS: He is one of the best counselors we have here. You know we have counselors who deal only with the church staff and their personal problems. He is a wonderful man and would be more than happy to help you.

MLCS: I…I …uh…really don’t need a counselor. I…I just wanted to talk with the Pastor about something personal…between he and I.

SPAS: Mike, do you have any idea how busy Pastor____ is? What if every single staffer here wanted some of his time? Would he ever be able to get anything done? Mike, really! Call your boss about this and if what you want to discuss with Pastor_____ is of urgency, then I am sure it can be sent up the chain and dealt with. Have a wonderful rest of the day! Bye.

Question: Is the Pastor of this church a Brother in Christ to the staff person? Does Matthew 18 apply?

Matthew 18

15 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If 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.


More Posts to come addressing
forgiveness, reconciliation and Peacemaker Ministries