Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The steps of discipline

Commenting on Jesus’ words in Matthew (18:15-20), France writes that the ‘disciple is not to ignore a fault he sees in his fellow-disciple, but to confront him with it, with the hope that he will repent, and so be gained.’ The believer is to address their fellow-disciple privately, if that does not work they are to take two or three witnesses, if the offender refuses to listen to this small group the matter is to be brought before the church, and if they refuse to listen to the church they are to be treated as you would a pagan or a tax-collector.’ Adams points out that the public nature of the offence mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5 means that the process of discipline begins at the church level.
Barclay asks what it means to treat a fellow-disciple as ‘heathen or a tax-collector.’ He highlights that when Jesus spoke of such people he ‘always does so with sympathy and gentleness and an appreciation of their good qualities’ saying that ‘it is a challenge to win him with the love which can touch the hardest heart.’ Similarly Green points out that Jesus ‘loved them into repentance and new hope.’ However, it is noteworthy that Barclay avoids the suggestion that Jesus’ words teach exclusion from fellowship. Carson suggests that it is poor exegesis to cite Jesus’ favourable treatment of tax collectors (8:1-11; 9:9-13; 15:21-28) and say that Jesus is teaching that the offender should be treated compassionately. The argument and the New Testament parallels ‘show that Jesus had excommunication in mind.’
Barclay argues against a reading of Jesus’ words in Matthew that would suggest the church abandons the offender as ‘hopeless and irredeemable.’ However it should be noted that those who teach that this passage is speaking of exclusion do not necessarily ignore the redemptive aspect of discipline. For example Caswell writes that one aim of excommunication is ‘to bring about the true repentance of the offender.’
Indeed any attempt to suggest that Jesus’ words in Matthew do not refer to exclusion from fellowship would place Jesus’ words at variance with the teaching of the Apostle Paul. Paul teaches that the Christian is not to associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler … “Expel the wicked man from among you” (1 Cor. 5:11-13). It would seem wise to follow Augsburger in seeing the teaching of Matthew 18 (15-20) and 1 Corinthians 5 (1-13) as complementing each other.

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