A friend of minereminded me of an important, and often neglected piece of Scripture.
“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.”
And as God will often do, I have been challenged and confronted by this passage all week. First, during a class we discussed the Anabaptist fraternal abdomition, and this passage fit perfectly with our discussion, so I was able to quote a scripture verse for the first time in precept. Second, I was able to experience that personally when a close friend confronted me over something stupid I did.
His willingness not to let me “slide” revealed to me the heart of Matthew 18, which is not in the individual but in the community. It is not about the individual’s sin, but the ability for the community to remain a relational-community. The value of Matthew 18 is not in getting the individual to repent, but to providing a close community that confronts and accepts confrontation. My friend forced me to see my mistake, and to humbly admit that i screwed up. Not because my salavation was at stake, but the good of the community was at stake.
Therefore the final verse, which is often misinterpreted, does not mean that the member should be excommunicated. Rather, if the community is healthy and humble the individual would not feel threatened by confrontation, because the church’s ethos valued relationships over individualism.
The interest twist is this…The final line says “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Therefore, the community is called not to kick the individual out but to treat them as Christ treated pagans and tax-collectors (The Disciple Matthew is identified as a tax-collector: Mat 10:3) For pharisees that means to treat them as outsiders, for Christ that meant showing them the abundant grace of God, to dine with them (Luke 19).