by Moody Adams “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 an heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:5-17).
The flagrant refusal of the modern church to obey this command of Christ is so common few even notice it. Anyone trying to obey this order is looked upon as some radical heretic today. The banner flying over the church is “judge not that you be not judged.” The reason Jesus’ discipline has disappeared, is the church is sinking into some sort of social club, with very little accountability to God, and even less to the church. This has resulted in few erring members being restored and the church losing its reputation and influence on society. Secular civic clubs have more stringent rules than most churches. They remove members who fail to attend for a year. “Even when surrounded by stained glass, Christians can stray. A congregation can be less a light to the world, than a mirror of the idolatry, injustice and violence of contemporary North America,” noted Ronald J. Allen. This command is to preserve the integrity of the church, recover erring members and resolve conflicts. God tells us exactly what must be done to help an erring brother. This involves a four-step program aimed at restoring the brother and maintaining the reputation of the church.
Step one: “go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” The person who has been harmed by the trespass should take the initiative and go to the offender privately and tell him what he did that offended him. When the offender apologizes you have “gained your brother.” You have restored him and strengthened his relationship with the church. Step two: when the first step fails, “take with you one or two more, that, ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” The hope is he will listen to several people.
Step three “. . . if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.” When several people establish his guilt, the spiritual family of the church might be able to convince him.
Step four: “…let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” The erring member should be put out of the church and dealt with as an unsaved person. Hopefully this will rouse him and get him right. Obeying the instructions of Christ restores fallen members, strengthens the church and protects the honor of our Lord. It is essential.
John Leadley Dagg, a prominent 19 Century writer said, “It has been remarked, that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.”
Paul rebuked the Corinthian church for failure to obey Christ in the matter of discipline, “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (I Corinthians 5:1-6).
It appears that his removal from the early Corinthian church apparently led the immoral man to repentance: “Sufficient in such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many” (II Corinthians 2:6).
I had a pastor friend who enforced this rule within his church. When he heard about two members having a falling out, he would pick up one and take him to the others house. Once inside he would explain we are going to pray and read scripture until your problem is settled. We will not leave the room until this is settled. Bringing the opposing men together and getting them to talk to each other helped resolve disagreements.
A restored brother writes this testimony on the Internet: “I am one of several people I know who have been through church discipline. It was for me a life-saving procedure. Now, many years later, I am grateful for the faithfulness of my church elders and friends who were obedient to Matthew 18 and thus they allowed God to deal directly with me until I came to my senses seven years later. I can assure you that God's discipline can be very severe when necessary. ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ ” (TheParacleteForum.org archive).