Several years ago, a personal friend of mine began a very public journey away from biblical Christianity.Claiming to still be a Christian, he adopted a lifestyle that directly contradicted Scriptural principles and he encouraged others to follow his example. When I wrote a comment on his blog challenging his new theological positions, he chastized me for not approaching him privately first, in accordance with Matthew 18:15.Regrettably, I acquiesced to his demand that I confront him privately, because he twisted that very Scripture in an effort to avoid responsibility for his sinful choices.
Matthew 18:15-20 deals with restoring a transgressing brother or sister to fellowship within a local congregation.
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. 16 But 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. 17 If 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. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (ESV)
As Josh Buice recently wrote in his article, Matthew 18 and the Universal Church, there’s a difference between someone in one’s local church who sins privately and a person like my friend (who lives in another state) whose sin appears, not only in his blog, but also on television interviews and on other websites. The public display of his rebellion eliminates the need for private confrontation because his reputation doesn’t require protection.
I would add that my friend had already committed to his choices. Since Matthew 18:15-20 carries the goal of restoring a person to right relationship with God, it doesn’t really apply to someone who no longer accepts Biblical standards–especially when he or she publicly works to influence others to misinterpret Scripture in respect to that sin. When someone believes and teaches that their behavior meets with God’s approval, twisting the Word of God in order to justly their course of action, we can safely assume that they don’t honestly care about obedience to His Word.
Obviously commenting on my friend’s blog wasn’t going to bring him to repentance, but it could have made his readers think about the matter. Or I could have (and eventually did) written about him in my own blog, warning people against his error. Because he is somewhat of a public figure who writes openly about his lifestyle and beliefs, and because it’s highly unlikely that anyone will dissuade him from his sin unless the Lord miraculously intervenes, I need not talk to him privately before warning others about his false teaching.
I use my experience with him today as an example of how people use Matthew 18:15 out of context in order to silence those who expose their false teaching. Like my friend, they don’t really care about being corrected in a Biblical manner. They want to shame Bible-believing Christians into leaving them unchallenged.
Please be aware that someone who publicly disseminates false doctrine, particularly with the purpose of excusing sin and influencing people to embrace that sin must not be permitted to hide behind Matthew 18:15. Their public espousal of false teaching already demonstrates an unwillingness to repent. Just as they distort other Scriptures to their advantage, so they twist this verse. We need not play their game.