(Available on Youtube "John Gishler")
Jesus is teaching us how to reconcile conflicts with love. Matthew 18 describes this section (v. 15-22) as “Dealing with sin in the church”. Paul explains that all sin is a failure to love God, our neighbour or ourselves. Conflict and unforgiveness pollutes our soul (sin) and separates us from God and other people. Today we are focussing on the work of the church to proclaim, teach and model orthodox faith with love. Jesus repeats Mt. 16.19 re-affirming the role of the church as holding the keys to the Kingdom with the authority of binding and loosing sin guilt. This three-step process of confidential reconciliation is the opposite of what normally happens. It protects reputations, determines the truth and facilitates forgiveness:
- Person goes first to the person to seek reconciliation
- Only if this fails, they take witnesses and go again to reconcile
- Only if both attempts fail do they take it to the church leadership, again in confidence, to avoid spreading the conflict beyond three or four people
Step #1: “Go and point out their fault just between the two of you”
At this point only two people know of the conflict. Both can reach a resolution without loosing face or having their public reputation damaged.
- Most conflicts are misunderstandings that can be easily resolved at this stage.
- Problem is that this step takes courage and love.
- Conflicts in fact test our love.
- Sadly most people do not do this and instead go around destroying a reputation. This forces the other person to respond in kind and publicly destroys two reputations and divides the church into opposing camps. This is how Satan destroys churches.
Step # 2: Go again with two or three witnesses
If you can not resolve the conflict alone the next step is to take two or three witnesses. Outside witnesses can help clarify who said or did what and whether this really constitutes a sinful failure to love.
- Witnesses scalate the pressure on both parties to make and honest attempt at determining the facts and reconciliation.
- Consequences of not reconciling is the loss of a reputation, embarrassment before the church leadership and possible excommunication.
Step # 3: Take it to the church leadership in confidence
This is sadly where many people start. They put the clergy or leadership in the difficult position of taking sides in a dispute that they only know one side of. Wise clergy should know about the “Matthew 18 Rule” and not get involved until the person has gone through steps one and two for most conflicts.
- For serious accusations such as adultery, theft or abuse clergy must step in immediatly and investigate and then take appropriate action - criminal offences including abuse must by law be reported to the police
- Ideally in these cases clergy would visit the person involved first to determine the truth and then offer counselling, confession and absolution and healing prayer ministry
- The responsibility of the church leadership is to determine the truth behind the conflict, make a judgement on sin and “bind or loose” any sin guilt and bring forgiveness and healing.
- This is very serious as the consequences can be loss of faith or salvation, continuing divisions and conflict in the church which will damage everyone spiritually
- If the conflict is related to a failure to love by either party they must be visited by clergy, offered counselling and invited to apologize or seek healing through confession and absolution
Church leadership is commissioned by Jesus to proclaim, teach and maintain orthodox Faith. All Christians need a church community where they can discover a Bible-based and Holy Spirit guided Faith. This often happens in Bible Study groups where people are free to test their own understanding and experiences against that of other people. This discussion and sharing helps correct misunderstandings everyone grows in their spiritual lives. It prevents destructive conflicts over doctrine and practice that pollute our soul and separate us from God and each other.