One of the many books I am currently reading on my Kindle, is “The Teaching of the Twelve: Believing & Practicing the Primitive Christianity of the Ancient Didache Community” by Tony Jones. In the book Tony refers to Matthew 18:15-17:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they 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 they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
I have taught through this passage numerous times. It seemed straight forward and obvious how to handle my sinning brother: go talk to him man to man, one on one, mano y mano. Set the deadbeat straight by exposing him to his sin. There is an air of protection to the sinner. His sin was not shared with the community (church). The hope is that if his sin was exposed he would stop and correct his behavior.
If my Christian brother refused to listen to me, the passage instructs me to bring others from our community. This instruction comes from the Old Testament with the idea that the testimony of witness requires more than one person’s word. If two or three affirm the brother’s sin, maybe then he will change his ways. No where does it require these “others” to be in church leadership, but I do believe that these “others” are from the community (church).
If the brother still refuses to change his sinful nature, his sin was to be told to the community (church). Not as we would read in the Gossip Magazines, not as we hear on TMZ, not as we might over hear at school or on break at work, but as a way to inform the community of their sinful brother’s error. It is corrective, the community is to also be a witness to help correct this brother.
But what happens when the brother still does not change his sinful ways?
treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector
What does that mean? For me it was instruction to kick sinful brothers and sisters out of the youth group. It seemed clear that if I tried everything to get those foul mouthed, smokers and partiers to stop their sinful ways by following Matthew 18 I had no choice but to kick the kid out. And isn’t this is the same method followed by churches?
But Tony Jones says that the Ancient Didache Community, an early first century Christian group, would say this is the wrong conclusion.
Let us look at the example of Jesus, who seemed to hang out with sinners and tax collectors:
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. Matthew 9:10
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Luke 5:29-30
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ Matthew 11:19
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” Matthew 21:31
From the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. Luke 15:1
Wild! Jesus never instructs us to kick out the sinful brother, rather these are the people we should be embracing. Matthew 18:17 is not a clause in our Statement of Faith that allows us to avoid that sinning, cussing, smoking, and drinking womanizer. These are the people we should love with all our heart and energy.
If you continue reading in the same chapter of Matthew, we see Peter asking Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?”
Jesus’ wise instruction follows!