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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Up to HERE with Bogus Applications of Matthew 18

Before I get started, here is the text in question, from the English Standard Version:

 “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.

Okay, there it is.  Got it?  Good.

Now, I have just about had it up to my eyeballs with bogus applications of this passage.  Let's just note the obvious first:

This passage assumes locality.  That is, this is not about something that occurred elsewhere in Christendom, maybe somewhere across the world.  At the time Jesus was speaking, you could go to the offender.  You could take other church members.  This was never about publicly responding to words published or spoken publicly to the whole of society.

The passage says, "...sins against you..."  Whether you take "you" to mean "you" personally as an individual or "you" as the local church (again, the passage assumes locality), the passage is not about something that the offender did to someone else, that is, it's not about--let's just pick something wild as a hypothetical--it's not about you seeing your ostensible brother beating the squeeze out of a little old lady and burning her house down, and then going to him alone, then with two or three brothers, and then, say, to the police.  

The passage says "sins."  This is not about questions of direction, wisdom, brass-tacks decisions, and so forth.

Now, for four quick examples, though many more could quickly--quickly!--be produced:

1) Remember when Brian McLaren was actually being listened to?  You remember Brian McLaren--high grand poo-bah of the so-called "Emergent Church?"  You remember how he wrote several books which, among other things, had pretty severe criticism for just about every stream of Christendom that has ever existed?

When I (and others) critiqued his books and his thinking, I (and presumably others) were piously asked if we had gone privately to Brian to express our concerns first.

Feh.  Fie on that.  He hadn't--at least not that I know of--sinned against me or my church.  What he'd done was very public and required public responses.  It was absurd to say that critiquing his critiques was a "Matthew 18" situation.  It was on the level of saying that the early church was obligated to go privately to Marcion first, before responding to his public heresy by publicly labeling it heresy.  It was on the level of saying that Martin Luther should have traveled to Rome to express his concerns to the pope before nailing up the 95 Theses.

2) Not all that long ago, I was driving down the road and noticed that a local church which I had formerly attended had changed its name to something "hipper," for lack of a better word.  And I observed on Facebook and Twitter that this would likely contribute nothing whatsoever to church growth.  Next thing you know, people were telling me it was a "Matthew 18" situation, that I should have first gone to the pastor to privately express my "concerns."

Say what?  Are you mad?  No sin involved, just a difference of opinion.

3) Again, not all that long ago, I made the dreadful mistake of observing that a change in a certain church's direction would a) likely not contribute a blessed thing to that church's growth and b) involved renouncing outreach to the people in the neighborhood.  I didn't mention the church's name nor any individual.  When I expressed my thoughts, I was expressing generalized thoughts about this sort of strategy's viability. But I was told that this, too, was a "Matthew 18" situation.

Again, difference of opinion, not sin.

4) Just over the last few days, there have been a couple of posts elsewhere in the blogosphere regarding the admission of Muslims to one of our Southern Baptist seminaries.  It will not surprise you to learn that one of the comments I read on those posts suggested to the blogger that this was a "Matthew 18" situation and that the blogger should have gone to the seminary president privately, etc., etc., etc.

Oh, for the...

First of all, who is the offended brother here?  Is there even a church in view?  I think not.  One of the offended parties is this man's employer, the Southern Baptist Convention, which--God knows I hate breaking it to you, but someone has to do it--is not the church.

Considering this quote, and assuming that the information is correct (I do not know from first-hand observation, obviously):

... In a faculty meeting in 2012, **************  warned anyone who questioned him about Muslims being admitted into ****************, or anyone who was disloyal to him and discussed this matter with others not associated with *************** would be terminated.

It is apparent that the other offended parties would have been those who were threatened with the loss of their jobs over a difference of opinion or--and this is critical--carrying out further steps in their own Matthew 18 process.

That's what I'm sayin': the blogger wasn't in a Matthew 18 situation; the threatened faculty were.

Over and over and over again, I see "Matthew 18!" being used as an excuse to stifle discussion, dissent, disagreement, criticism of actions and thinking.  It was never meant for any of those things.

This is getting ridiculous.

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