Jesus is teaching us how to reconcile conflicts in the church with love. Conflicts can pollute our soul with the sin of unforgiveness if we fail to love the other. Love requires us to respect the privacy and dignity of the person who we think is sinning. We are to make two attempts to resolve the issue privately and discreetly before “taking it to the church’ and making it public. This is the opposite of the way most people handle disputes. We can fail to love our neighbour and tell all our friends in church about the terrible thing someone has done. This is a failure to love and creates a much more dangerous conflict. It makes the issue harder to resolve as reputations are on the line. The three-step process protects reputations, determines the truth and facilitates forgiveness:
1. First go alone to the person to seekréconciliation
2. If this fails, take one or two witnesses and go again
3. Only if both attempts fail, 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 losing face or reputation damage.
• Most conflicts are misunderstandings that can be resolved at this stage.
• Challenge is that this step takes personal courage and love.
• Conflicts test our love of our neighbour
• 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 divide the church into opposing camps. This is how Satan destroys churches.
Step # 2: Go again with one or two witnesses
If you cannot resolve the conflict alone take one or two witnesses.
· Witnesses can help clarify who said or did what and whether this really constitutes a sin.
• Witnesses escalate the pressure on both parties to make and honest attempt at determining the facts and réconciliation.
• Consequence of not Reconcilingis the loss of a reputations, embarrasmentbefore the church leadership and possible exclusion
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 know about the “Matthew 18 Rule” and do not get involved until the person has gone through steps one and two.
• For serious accusations such as adultery, theft or abuse clergy must step in immediately, investigate and take appropriate action – some criminal offences including child abuse must by law be reported to the police
• Ideally clergy would visit the person involved, determine the truth and then offer counselling, confession and absolutionand healing prayer ministry
• The responsibility of the church leadership is to determine the truth behind the conflict, make a judgement on sin, “bind or loose” any sin guilt and bring forgiveness and healing discretely.
• Taking it to the church can have serious consequences - loss of faith or salvation and continuing divisions in the church which will damage everyone spiritually
All Christians need a safe church community where they can discuss and develop a Bible-based and Holy Spirit guided Faith.
· Bible Study groups are a confidential and safe opportunity to test their understanding and experiences against that of other people.
· Discussion and sharing helps correct our misunderstandings and grow in our spiritual lives.