Misapplying Matthew 18:15-20 Constitutes Poppycock


Several years ago, a friend of mine departed from Biblical Christianity, choosing to live in open rebellion against God’s Word. Concurrently, he began blogging about his changing understanding of Scripture, assuring others that “traditional” Christianity taught restrictive values that God never meant to impose on anyone.

I posted comments on a few of his posts, challenging his newfound theology that resulted in the life choices he embraced and advocated. In response, he emailed me demanding that I stop posting comments on his blog. That didn’t bother me in the sense that  bloggers have every right to control what happens on their Comments Sections.

But his follow-up demand indeed disturbed me. He accused me of violating the model for Biblical confrontation that Jesus outlined in Matthew 18:15-20. He said that the passage required me to first go to him privately rather than posting a correction on his  blog post. Therefore, he said, mine was the greater sin.

Initially, I acquiesced to him. In the years since that exchange, however, I’ve realized that my friend’s application of Matthew 18:15-20 constituted mere poppycock. Look at the passage with me and you’ll see what I mean:

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)

The first problem with the man’s use of the passage shows up in verse 15. His sin broke my heart and continues to break my heart, but he did not sin against me personally. His sin has nothing at all to do with me. As a result, there’s absolutely no way either of us could possibly make the case that his sin was against me.

As a matter of fact, his sin is the nucleus of his public blog as well as the ministry he now maintains. At the time of our interaction, he had a relatively prominent profile in certain pockets of evangelicalism, and had appeared on national television proclaiming his distorted version of Christianity. Although he’s small potatoes in comparison to the false teachers I’ve covered on this blog, he’s managed to do some substantial damage to the Body of Christ.

The public nature of his sin allows for public rebuke. The same Jesus Who instituted Matthew 18:15-20 publicly rebuked the Pharisees on more occasions than I could possibly list in this article. Paul and John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, also issue public rebukes concerning certain people who sinned openly.

But as we keep reading Matthew 18:15-20, we notice that Jesus presents a context of a local church to which both parties had accountability. My friend, on the other hand, lived several states away and we attended entirety different churches. That being the situation, the protocol of Matthew 18:15-20 didn’t apply.

Certainty, calling out the sin of false teachers should be done sparingly, and with heartbroken prayer. The apparent delight that some discernment bloggers take in calling out people with whom they disagree in no way demonstrates an eagerness for restoration of sinners. Please understand that I do not advocate calling out public false teachers for the sake of spiritual muscle flexing.

At the same time, we mustn’t permit anyone to use Matthew 18:15-20 as a billy club to silence us from exposing false teachers and their harmful doctrines. Demanding private confrontation regarding public sin is poppycock.

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