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Church Discipline: Part 7

September 17, 2009

Church Discipline: Part 7

                Matthew 18:15-20 is one of the key texts on church discipline. We have looked at several facets in the process of church discipline so far. It goes from being private confrontation, to taking witnesses, and to finally having the person excommunicated. Again, the point of church discipline is for restoration, not a ‘get even’ attitude. However, if the person(s) is not willing to repent and reconcile, then the church’s purity and Christ’s honor are to be maintained by removing the sinning member from the church.

                Perhaps the most confusing aspect of this passage is verses 18-20. Much bafflement has abounded in the minds of many as to exactly what these verses mean. Some who have been adamant about knowing what I means have consistently misused it in its intent. Others have carelessly quoted this verse in support of some idea of what they have heard that it means. Let’s look at the verses together: “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Mat 18:18-20 NASB)

                The first and most important thing we have to remember about these verses before we attempt at interpreting them or using them to prove a point is that they belong to the context of church discipline. So we must ask ourselves how these verses support, clarify, highlight, and/or expand the concept of church discipline. So if these verses are about church discipline, we can already rule out some of the popular uses (abuses?!) of these verses. One such use is by some in the charismatic/word faith groups that states if you speak a ‘word of victory’ over something or have enough faith to believe God for something, then God will obligate Himself to meet your ‘faith request.” This is simply bogus and has NOTHING to do with the context of church discipline. A bible verse cannot mean anything someone wants it to; it can only mean what the bible uses it for!

                A second misuse of this verse, thought not promoting false theology as the first one, is using these verses to support and comfort a small gathering of people that God is ‘with them’ even though their numbers are small. Even thought this IDEA is true, this is NOT the verse teaching that concept. This verse again is about church discipline, not about Jesus giving assurance to a small group meeting together that He is with them.

So what do these verses mean? Thinking in lines of church discipline, in vs. 18 Jesus affirms that He will move heaven to be in agreement with the church discipline decision when it is in line with biblical parameters. For when the church agrees on an issue by biblical parameters, then heaven (God Himself!) is in agreement. Think of it this way: “Whatever you presently rule on in regards to church discipline, it will already have been put into effect in heaven.” Notice the tenses of the verbs: “you loose” (aorist active-undefined time of the action; in other words, whenever it takes place) and “shall have been loosed” (perfect passive – a completed action that happens to the subject/person with ongoing results). Jesus says, “When you act in obedience to following through with church discipline, whenever it’s needed, heaven will already have moved to carry out the consequences of such action.”

Vs. 19 about the two agreeing is in line with the Old Testament legal witness that everything is to be verified by two or three people to protect the truth and individuals. It also establishes credibility.  Compare Deuteronomy 19:15 “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.”   

                In vs. 20 Christ is affirming His presence and approval to the rulings of church discipline. He is promising that they will not be acting alone in carrying out God’s judgment in the church. When we carry out church discipline we act as Christ’s messengers and with this He puts His stamp of approval on a church that practices loving, biblical church discipline.

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