If there is one command by Christ which has been more often violated
in the Church than most others, it is perhaps the procedure for
conflict resolution between brethren, as set forth in Matthew 18. We
might think that in a given situation this procedure might not apply,
or that there are other ways to deal with a perceived or real problem.
However, experience has shown time and again that circumventing the
godly-inspired procedure for the purpose of resolving problems between
members has ALWAYS caused unnecessary harm.
Let us therefore
carefully and prayerfully review the procedure, and let us make every
effort to apply it, as instructed in God’s Word:
When a member
thinks that there is a real or perceived problem between him and
another person in the Church, which is either caused by the other
person or by the member himself, what should the member do?
18:15 instructs the member: “Moreover if your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him ALONE.”
As we can
see, at this stage, there is no minister, close friend or even a mate
involved. If a member thinks that someone in the Church has sinned
against him, he is to go and talk to the person–with humility and
compassion and with the right attitude (Galatians 6:1)–and he is to do
so ALONE, in PRIVATE.
Matthew 18:15 continues: “If he hears you, you have gained your brother.”
This must be the motivation–not one of revenge for getting back at the person!
same principle applies if the member knows that his brother has
something against him. If a member knows that his brother has a real or
imagined problem with him, he–the member–is to go to his brother. He
is to go to him ALONE, in PRIVATE, without anyone else present, with
the goal of restoring the relationship between the two of them (compare
If the meeting has the desired result, but
subsequently, another similar or identical problem arises, what is the
member to do? Is this now the time to tell the ministry—because,
after all, the member might think, “I tried it once, and he just does
not listen?” The answer is: The member is NOT to tell the ministry at
that point in time. Luke 17:3-4 tells us: “Take heed to yourselves. If
your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive
him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times
in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
one might think: “That’s too difficult and unpleasant.” Or, “It’s not
practical. I went to him once–that is sufficient.” But God instructs
us to do EXACTLY as He tells us, as HE knows that this is the ONLY way
which MAY produce positive results. If we act differently than
instructed, we WILL have trouble.
(The forgoing does not apply,
however, when a brother is charged with illegal wrongdoing, including
sexual abuse. In that case, the ministry is to be told immediately, in
confidence! But even then, one has first to make sure that the facts
are true and correct, and not just mere speculation or suspicion
If a meeting, in private, between the two
members has taken place, and the sinning brother refuses to repent or
to make amends, then what is the next Biblically-ordained step?
18:16 continues: “But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two
more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be
The member who has a problem with a brother in the
church, and who has tried, unsuccessfully, to solve the problem with
the brother, is to return to the brother with one or two
witnesses–again in the effort to solve the problem and to reconcile
with the brother. The one or two witnesses must be carefully selected,
and they should not in any way already be involved in the situation.
Rather, they must be impartial and objective witnesses. After all, it
is now up to the impartial witnesses to see whether the brother accused
of sin is actually guilty of the same, and unwilling to repent and to
What, if the brother refuses to hear the witnesses?
Matthew 18:17 continues: “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.”
have always understood and taught, and the Church of the Eternal God
and its corporate international affiliates uphold and teach this
understanding, that the reference to “the church” in Matthew 18:17 is
the “ministry,” not the entire Church congregation (Please see Q&A
in Update #147). The Church congregation was, in a sense, already
involved, in a representative capacity, in the persons of the witnesses.
Matthew 18:17 continues: “… But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
is, the ministry will have to make the decision in such a case to
temporarily suspend or even disfellowship the person until he shows
real and sincere repentance. At that point, depending on the gravity of
the situation and in a rare case, the local Church congregation or even
the entire Church might have to be told.
How can we be sure that
the ministry will make the correct decision in such cases – by having
seen to it, that the proper procedure has been followed, as discussed
and set forth in Scripture, and by praying to God for wisdom to render
the right decision.
Matthew 18:18-20 tells us:
I say to you, whatever you [the ministry, now called upon to render a
decision] bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose
on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of
you [in the ministry] agree on earth concerning anything that they ask
[including wisdom to make right decisions], it will be done for them by
My Father in heaven. For where two or three [ministers] are
gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
through His Holy Spirit, will give His ministers the discernment, if
they are close to God and diligent in following the Biblical procedure
for conflict resolution, to see what needs to be done in a given case
(compare John 20:21-23). And if God should reveal to His ministry that
the accusations against a member were false, then the ministry will
have to deal with the accuser (compare Deuteronomy 19:15-21). Many
times, accusations and problems develop because of misunderstandings.
That is why two members need first to talk about those problems ALONE,
IN PRIVATE and ONLY between themselves.
The Bible is very clear
as to how we are to attempt to solve problems amongst us. And if all of
us–the ministry and the members–have done all that they were required
to do, and if a problem just cannot be solved, then God WILL see to it
that a godly and correct decision will be rendered.
Lead Writer: Norbert Link