Matthew 18:17:Just elders?

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thistle93

Puritan Board Freshman
Hi! I have recently heard and read a few people say that when is says in Matthew 18:17 If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won't accept the church's decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. (ESV) it is not referring to the whole church body but rather just the elders. The word used is ekklesia. In my understanding this is the whole corporate body not just the leadership of the church. Can someone tell me anywhere else in the Bible where ekklesia refers exclusively to the leadership of the church and not the general church body? I hate to say it but this interpretation seems to be a case where church tradition is driving exegesis. By the way, while I believe in a form of congregationalism on general church matters I do believe in the plurality of elders leading the church, even at times when majority disagree with decision of elders but I just do not see this verse referring exclusively to elders. Thoughts?

For His Glory-
Matthew
 

Mushroom

Puritan Board Doctor
I've wrestled with this somewhat Matthew, and have not heard a convincing argument that it refers only to the leadership. If we are to treat them as a pagan or publican, how could we do that unless the entire congregation is informed? I understand the need for discretion, but when excommunication is determined necessary, it appears it must be done publicly so that the congregation will know to do this and that they would be warned. The details may not be necessary, but the general offense it seems would need to be made known. I would be interested to hear other views.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
"...if he neglects to hear the church..."
Is this a babble? Who speaks for the church? Is it not her ministers and elders?

Is it rational, or appropriate, to air every bit of scandal to the whole body? For what cause are there elders?

v18 "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Who binds and looses? Who has been given this authority? Can anyone? Can any group? Must it be the whole church voting? Must it be unanimous? Or a majority, and then everyone else assents?


The idea that seems present in the very words of the text, is that once informal contacts have failed and a small coterie of witnesses have failed, then formal steps are required to resolve the situation.

Perhaps, in some church-setting, a whole public airing could possibly take place. This seems burdensome, especially as it requires of every member an equal competency to hear and judge of a disciplinary matter. If someone is presumed competent and has no cause for recusal, then it is incumbent upon him to participate--he has no right to beg off his duty. He has no right to decide "when" he will participate (e.g. when a pastor is being called) and "when" he won't (discipline). This isn't any less true of a 14yr old member, sitting in judgment on a case of adultery, than for an elder... right?

But isn't it eminently rational and clear that discipline is the responsibility of leaders? They have been elected, chosen for their ability and competence, and their age and experience. They are representatives of the church. Therefore, in their official capacity and function, they act as the church.

This is a specialized use of the term. It cannot be abstracted entirely, as if it were possible to have leadership without followers. No one here would say that the leaders ARE the church; such a view is the essence of Romanism. But it is legitimate to refer to a part--especially a significant part, like the head or heart--for the whole.

So, I would say that the thrust of the text forces the responsible exegete to conclude on the basis of this text that the lawful representatives of the church may be properly referred to as the church, acting in its official capacity. I don't know why this would seem like "tradition" driven exegesis. And what if there is no other text that seems more explicit than this one, someplace else "ekklesia" might refer to a part, rather than the whole? How does that determine the meaning of "ekklesia" here? That's not a good hermeneutic.

In our churches, especially in the case of excommunication, we set our decision before the whole congregation, 1Cor.5:1-5. We are, in essence, asking the whole body for a ratification of sorts. This consent takes the form of agreement to the official action, and obedience to the charge not to keep Christian-fellowship with one who has given cause for thinking him contumacious and possibly a liar in his profession (God forbid). So the whole church becomes a part of the official stance of the church, taken by its leadership.
 

rbcbob

Puritan Board Graduate
1 But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow.
2 For if I make you sorrowful, then who is he who makes me glad but the one who is made sorrowful by me?
3 And I wrote this very thing to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow over those from whom I ought to have joy, having confidence in you all that my joy is the joy of you all.
4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you, with many tears, not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have so abundantly for you.
5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe.
6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man,
7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.
8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.
9 For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things.

Doesn't this passage seem to point to full congregational participation in discipline and restoration?
 

Mushroom

Puritan Board Doctor
I agree with your point, Bruce, that the leaders represent the whole, and agree that discretion is called for in the hopes of restoring an errant brother. My question arises where excommunication has been determined necessary by the Session; are there cases where it is needful to declare publicly the general offense (not the gory details), such as in the case of adultery or other offenses of aggression against a person, so as to warn the members and to defend the victim? Or what about cases where excommunication is not even pursued?

A case in point; our confession in chapter 24 paragraph 5 states that once betrothed, the only just occasion for dissolution of that contract to be detection of infidelity. If a man does this to a woman without said evidence, and no discipline is instituted, or if it is yet kept confidential, that woman is saddled with the perception that infidelity had been detected. That is one scenario, but there are many others that could come to mind that seem to imply a public discipline is needed.

I have personally experienced the one described. The man is the son of a Ruling Elder of another PCA Church. He had not yet transferred his membership. Not one of my Elders called his father or Pastor. Nothing was stated to the congregation. What is the scriptural, confessional, and covenantal way to address this? Simply ask the offender to stop coming to that particular Church and let the congregation, that has witnessed a 3 year long courtship and betrothal, come to their own conclusions? Please answer that openly and honestly, brother, because I have the utmost respect for you, and have every confidence that you will not do as others have and retreat into a circle-the-wagons mindset around Church Officers. My Session did just what I described above in the case of my beloved covenant daughter, baptized and admitted to the Lord's Table by the very same Session. Yes, it's a sore subject with me. But I'd like to hear a man with a backbone actually address it rather than descend into platitudes of submission and imperfect leaders.

So yeah, I agree with your question - is it babble? Or do those men who presume to take those Offices have any responsibility to humiliated and slandered covenant members?
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Brad,
You're putting me on the spot, brother. I'm having a hard time even picturing the scenario with the brushstrokes you've provided. How can I "pass judgment" on a situation I can hardly be said to have real knowledge about?

It sounds like some cad led your daughter along, and then played a coward and scat. Of course, I don't have even one full side of the story, much less anything like both sides, or the observations of anyone in the vicinity. Of course, I assume that you and yours have been grossly hurt and offended; I'm definitely "BY your side," even if I'm hesitant to say I'm "ON your side." I hope that makes sense.


As to WCF 24:5, the point of that para is to say (positively) that adultery/fornication is proper and legitimate grounds for a divorce, and that holds even as far back as the contract (betrothal) for marriage. So that no one could say, "hey, you have to go through with this, because technically it wasn't adultery since there's no marriage yet." We aren't confessing that every non-adultery broken-betrothal is truly and properly sinful in and of itself. What if the couple mutually called it off? So, it can be a scandal, and the heart-breaker a jerk, and there be sin and cruelty there. But failure to go-through with a wedding isn't (barely considered) sinful; the sin (or less) is in one or both parties.

24.6 is the para that actually states the limited number of grounds for dissolving marriage, repeating the grounds of adultery, and adding "such willful desertion...." I would say this: is it possible this broken-engagement was God's mercy for your daughter, that she not marry someone who it seems clear isn't worthy of her?


As I said in my earlier post, I think that the congregation deserves information. I can only hope that pastorally, if whatever situation evidently warranted it, the session would help the whole church-body get a clear picture of any issue. And no, not just in the case of excommunication. Genuine slander is a sin, and it should be addressed as such; and a daughter of Abraham deserves to be vindicated before all. Now, from way out here (where I have no business judging guilt or innocence in a distant quarrel, or the competence of local judges), it sounds like one of those genuine injustices in life that will not be well-resolved before the Day of Reckoning.

Again, I'd ask that as you stand by your daughter, and help her regain her composure and grace, consider how you were spared having this Bozo for a son-in-law (you'll get another, fear not).
 

Mushroom

Puritan Board Doctor
Thank you, Bruce, and yes, it was a great mercy to have that weasel trot off into the sunset, although sadly with another covenant child in his gunsights. There were promises made to both her and myself - in the presence of some of those Elders as a requirement for my permission - that were broken openly. I'm told now that courtship and betrothal are archaic institutions that a father should never have expected to be abided by in this day and age, although at the beginning none of those protestations were aired, in fact our position was admired. Even this past Lord's Day, in another of the yuletide series of sermons we are presently blessed with, the point was made clearly that the betrothal of Joseph to Mary was a custom of a 2000 year distant and ancient culture with which we have no present familiarity, although it appears to not have been foreign to the Divines a mere 400 years ago. But I do have to differ with you on one point; that is that dissolution of such a contract may be made rightfully under any other criteria than that stated in the confession. There may be an argument made for a mutual agreement, but other than that it has been a prosecutable offense even in this godless nation up until the 1920's in most states. It was called breach of promise. While we are now glad of the vermin's desertion, my daughter's honor was never upheld and defended by those set over her. What I have determined to do is accept that as the Lord's will for us, but I am also determined that I will not sit idly by and acquiesce to further degradation of Church integrity in such matters. I will call a spade a spade, and as I told my Pastor and Elders, if they take issue with it, please press charges and try me openly. The casting off of our standards permeates many other aspects of Church life (hence the yuletide nonsense, sermons, wreaths, trees, and candles). In the past I have just left the Church over them. Anymore I refuse to leave - they will have to eject me.

But hey, I'm just a block-headed layman, so .... Merry Christmas!
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
This thread sparked my interest.

Here is Cotton in Keyes of the Kingdom:

Thirdly, it appeareth farther that Christ gave the power of the keys to the Body likewise of the Church, even to the Fraternatie with the Presbytery. For the Lord Jesus communicateth the power of binding and loosing, to the Apostles, or Elders, together with the whole Church, when they are met in his name, and agree together in the censure of an offender, (Matt 18:17,18). If an offender (saith he) neglect to heare the Church, let him be to thee as an Heathen or a Publican, that is, let him be excommunicated. Which censure administered by them, with the whole Church, he ratifieth with this promise of the power of the keys, Verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall binde on earth, shall be bound in heave, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven. In which place, howsoever there be some difference between Classicall and Congregationall Divines, what should be meant by the Church (Tell the CHurch) whether they Presbytery or the Congregation: yet all agree in this (and it is agreement in the truth which wee seek for) That no offender is to be excommunicated, but with some concurse of the Congregation, at least by way, 1. Of consent to the sentence, 2. Of actual execution of it by withdrawing themselves from the offender so convicted and censured. Now this consent and concurse of the Congregation, which is requisite to the power and validitie of the censure, we conceive is some part of the exercise of the power of the keys.

Bruce, would you agree with the Cotton that there is universal agreement in Presbyterian churches that the congregation has to be involved at some level?
 

Worddoer

Puritan Board Freshman
"...if he neglects to hear the church..."
Is this a babble? Who speaks for the church? Is it not her ministers and elders?

Is it rational, or appropriate, to air every bit of scandal to the whole body? For what cause are there elders?

v18 "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Who binds and looses? Who has been given this authority? Can anyone? Can any group? Must it be the whole church voting? Must it be unanimous? Or a majority, and then everyone else assents?


The idea that seems present in the very words of the text, is that once informal contacts have failed and a small coterie of witnesses have failed, then formal steps are required to resolve the situation.

Perhaps, in some church-setting, a whole public airing could possibly take place. This seems burdensome, especially as it requires of every member an equal competency to hear and judge of a disciplinary matter. If someone is presumed competent and has no cause for recusal, then it is incumbent upon him to participate--he has no right to beg off his duty. He has no right to decide "when" he will participate (e.g. when a pastor is being called) and "when" he won't (discipline). This isn't any less true of a 14yr old member, sitting in judgment on a case of adultery, than for an elder... right?

But isn't it eminently rational and clear that discipline is the responsibility of leaders? They have been elected, chosen for their ability and competence, and their age and experience. They are representatives of the church. Therefore, in their official capacity and function, they act as the church.

This is a specialized use of the term. It cannot be abstracted entirely, as if it were possible to have leadership without followers. No one here would say that the leaders ARE the church; such a view is the essence of Romanism. But it is legitimate to refer to a part--especially a significant part, like the head or heart--for the whole.

So, I would say that the thrust of the text forces the responsible exegete to conclude on the basis of this text that the lawful representatives of the church may be properly referred to as the church, acting in its official capacity. I don't know why this would seem like "tradition" driven exegesis. And what if there is no other text that seems more explicit than this one, someplace else "ekklesia" might refer to a part, rather than the whole? How does that determine the meaning of "ekklesia" here? That's not a good hermeneutic.

In our churches, especially in the case of excommunication, we set our decision before the whole congregation, 1Cor.5:1-5. We are, in essence, asking the whole body for a ratification of sorts. This consent takes the form of agreement to the official action, and obedience to the charge not to keep Christian-fellowship with one who has given cause for thinking him contumacious and possibly a liar in his profession (God forbid). So the whole church becomes a part of the official stance of the church, taken by its leadership.

There is nothing in the text from an exegetical standpoint that would indicate Jesus was thinking of the elders as opposed to the church at large. Taken in its plain sense, the last step of excommunication is to inform the entire church so that THEY can go and encourage repentance. If the community at large is bringing shame to the individual (something the ancient culture would have be VERY familiar with), that would serve as a powerful tool for correcting sinful behavior.

In your scheme (I assume PCA), Jesus words make no sense because those who are going to this individual are the elders almost from the outset. The book of church order provides explicit instructions around discipline that are completely inconsistent with Mat. 18 in my opinion. The church is merely informed that an individual would not repent after the fact and that they have been excommunicated. Such an arrangement ignores the honor-shame/group mentality of Greco-Roman culture. Moreover, I have watched members just resign their membership and have the elders along with appointed men from the Presbytery just allow it in order to keep things quiet. This is not at all a loving or biblical way to handle these matters.

Finally, your way of looking at this text indicates an inappropriate dichotomy establishing levels in the church that are nowhere expressed or established in the NT. Holding one another accountable is something that not only the servant leaders do, but also something the entire body is responsible to do. To deny the body this service is to deny them a blessing that God intended them to have and experience.
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
Such an arrangement ignores the honor-shame/group mentality of Greco-Roman culture.

Welcome to Puritanboard!

Could you provide some sources that deal with this aspect of the Greco-Roman culture?

Also, you need to fix your signature in accordance with board rules. Click on the words 'Signature Requirements' under my signature to find out how.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
There is nothing in the text from an exegetical standpoint that would indicate Jesus was thinking of the elders as opposed to the church at large. Taken in its plain sense, the last step of excommunication is to inform the entire church so that THEY can go and encourage repentance. If the community at large is bringing shame to the individual (something the ancient culture would have be VERY familiar with), that would serve as a powerful tool for correcting sinful behavior.

In your scheme (I assume PCA), Jesus words make no sense because those who are going to this individual are the elders almost from the outset. The book of church order provides explicit instructions around discipline that are completely inconsistent with Mat. 18 in my opinion. The church is merely informed that an individual would not repent after the fact and that they have been excommunicated. Such an arrangement ignores the honor-shame/group mentality of Greco-Roman culture. Moreover, I have watched members just resign their membership and have the elders along with appointed men from the Presbytery just allow it in order to keep things quiet. This is not at all a loving or biblical way to handle these matters.

Finally, your way of looking at this text indicates an inappropriate dichotomy establishing levels in the church that are nowhere expressed or established in the NT. Holding one another accountable is something that not only the servant leaders do, but also something the entire body is responsible to do. To deny the body this service is to deny them a blessing that God intended them to have and experience.

Ed,
With all due respect, one of the first things you need to do in order to interact respectfully on the PB here is put a signature together, so your posts are "signed." You can find basic instructions on how to do that in the blue link below in my signature.

Second, you may (oddly enough) confess the Presbyterian confession (per your profile) and belong to a Baptist-congregational church. But beside the sacramental incongruity of these two entities, do you take exception to ch.30 of that Confession, "Of Church Censures?" Because, that section contains what Westminsterians confess is the biblical teaching concerning the disciplinary duty of the government of the church, "in the hand of church OFFICERS."

Third, you don't really take explicit issue with a word of what I wrote, or my references to the text. Except you don't agree, which is assertion in lieu of argument. Nice to know you think the "plain sense" supports your view, and cancels mine. That's not especially compelling, and if I just turn that claim around, on what basis would you object to that line of "reasoning?"

Fourth, if you read my post to the end, you can plainly see I have sufficient warrant for the duties of the congregation as a whole--which conclusion you draw from Mt.18--only drawn from 1Cor.5 (with reference to 2Cor.2 & 7). Pertinent to the question, is whether or not our Lord's instruction in Mt.18 is wholly generalized to the body of the faithful, or if it is especially concerned with those who are (that is, will be, from the historic standpoint of the passage) in positions of leadership and authority within the body (cf. v1). That is a pertinent exegetical question, and how it is answered will have important bearing on the directives and applications one derives from the passage.

Fifth, you don't need to assume anything about me. Any pertinent information is available on my profile page, accessible by clicking on my screen name, and the "about me" tab on that page. The rules we follow in church-operations are publicly accessible (on the web) and should be accurately referred to when offering specific criticism.

Sixth, it would probably be helpful to try to get a "handle" on why people with whom you disagree make the sense they do of Jesus' words, even if at the end of the day you still find their reasoning wanting. That would prevent you from saying foolish things like, "In your scheme..., Jesus words make no sense." Are you familiar with the notion of "internal critique?" That's where you argue that a person's conclusions are inconsistent with his alleged first-principles, or his "schemes." All you have indicated thus far (to put a charitable spin on what you wrote) is that the whole thing--our exegesis and our church order--doesn't make sense to you.

Seventh, show me a church of any stripe, and I'll show you a group of people who are to one degree or another failures when it comes to the exercise of their faith, their fidelity to their vows, their consistent application of their avowed principles, and their love. Presbyterianism is by no means the only offender in these things. And do not forget that success never gets the press that failure does. How many excellent exercises of proper church discipline within Presbyterianism have there been that you know nothing at all about, and with good reason? So, picking out one or even several instances of poor shepherding does nothing at all to challenge the basic institution; and if you insist it does, then the accusation rebounds and undercuts your own preference for polity.

****************************************************************************************************

Eighth, with regard to your final paragraph, you are plainly aware that the NT (to say nothing of the OT) establishes order in the churches. And two indispensable components of order are leaders and followers. And leaders exercise authority. No one was ever a better or more complete Servant than our dear Lord Jesus, who stooped down and washed his own disciples feet. And he also commanded them, and they did bow down to him as King and Lord, even God. Those who serve him and his people as his mouthpieces, shepherds, and servants (preachers, elders, deacons) occupy stations of responsibility. And they will be judged more strictly, Jas.3:1.

And because Holy Spirit so clearly states they will be judged more strictly, it is a corollary that they have duties and responsibilities that exceed those of the entire body. Not all are teachers, indeed some are forbidden to teach, 1Tim.2:12, which is an exercise of authority. Again, authority implies responsibility, which implies a duty to respect the responsible party from him who is the responsibility, stated explicitly in Heb.13:17. That such officers are not to "lord it over the heritage," 1Pet.5:3, does not imply that they are not OVER the heritage; see the previous verse in which such persons have duties of OVERsight. The description itself indicates that they occupy a station from which they exercise their duties under Christ.

Peter is a good example of the highest church-officer putting his emphasis in the right place, when he situates himself among the other elders of the church, in order to exhort them, v1. And he appropriately uses his exceptional apostolic office (by an oblique reference to his "eyewitness" authority) to add weight to what he says; and follows that up with a reference that puts him into the commonest category of every believer who will partake in the glory to be revealed. The fact that he is a common believer, and an ordinary elder, does not at all disestablish him from occupying one of those "twelve thrones" of judgment, Mt.19:28, cf.Rev.4:4.

And besides, there is nothing in the Presbyterian "scheme" that robs the membership of any privilege, including their right to hold their leaders accountable to a review of their exercise of authority, whether instituted from below or above. It appears to me this accusation flows from more misunderstanding and distrust of a foreign way of doing business.

It is a bit absurd to me, to feel obliged to belabor the point that there are obviously "levels" in the church having to do with exercise of authority and responsibility; which are nevertheless not intended by Christ to be positions of "glory" on earth but of service, and rightly occupied only by those possessing a deep sense of humility and unworthiness to be found therein. The determination to abolish all vestiges of such order--on the supposition that men being sinners, they will inevitably corrupt themselves in the work--is ultimately to set oneself against both a divine institution, and the grace of our Lord and the Person and presence of Holy Spirit, meant to counteract the power of sin and temptation. The tyranny of a majority is no more sanctified than a tyranny of oligarchs or of one.

Did our Lord really intend that every member have the "blessing" of the BURDEN of the most momentous decisions cast in his lap? Is there no room in Christianity for simple sheep who have no ambition, only a willingness to trust and a willingness to exercise an elementary discernment? Will everyone who has such aspirations actually exhibit the requisite competence in combination with humility? see Tit.1:10ff. It is an abuse of the principle of equality to insist that everyone is in every way "equal." By the denial of diversity even those with a most reasonable desire to be competently led are left to the mercy of factions. Nature itself tells us that there are a variety of gifts, and those are inequitably distributed.

It is the a priori insistence that "church" cannot mean the part-for-the-whole in this or any biblical context--in an entire chapter dedicated to Jesus' teaching servant-leadership to the pride-oriented disciples--that ends up referring exercises of church-authority to the competence (and incompetence) of the whole. It is a kind of radical egalitarian and ultra democratic orientation that is brought to the text; it does not arise from it, nor from any cultural setting native to the original hearers. Abandon that a priori and the specific "plain sense" previously alleged evaporates.

With grace,
 

Worddoer

Puritan Board Freshman
There is nothing in the text from an exegetical standpoint that would indicate Jesus was thinking of the elders as opposed to the church at large. Taken in its plain sense, the last step of excommunication is to inform the entire church so that THEY can go and encourage repentance. If the community at large is bringing shame to the individual (something the ancient culture would have be VERY familiar with), that would serve as a powerful tool for correcting sinful behavior.

In your scheme (I assume PCA), Jesus words make no sense because those who are going to this individual are the elders almost from the outset. The book of church order provides explicit instructions around discipline that are completely inconsistent with Mat. 18 in my opinion. The church is merely informed that an individual would not repent after the fact and that they have been excommunicated. Such an arrangement ignores the honor-shame/group mentality of Greco-Roman culture. Moreover, I have watched members just resign their membership and have the elders along with appointed men from the Presbytery just allow it in order to keep things quiet. This is not at all a loving or biblical way to handle these matters.

Finally, your way of looking at this text indicates an inappropriate dichotomy establishing levels in the church that are nowhere expressed or established in the NT. Holding one another accountable is something that not only the servant leaders do, but also something the entire body is responsible to do. To deny the body this service is to deny them a blessing that God intended them to have and experience.

Ed,
With all due respect, one of the first things you need to do in order to interact respectfully on the PB here is put a signature together, so your posts are "signed." You can find basic instructions on how to do that in the blue link below in my signature.

Second, you may (oddly enough) confess the Presbyterian confession (per your profile) and belong to a Baptist-congregational church. But beside the sacramental incongruity of these two entities, do you take exception to ch.30 of that Confession, "Of Church Censures?" Because, that section contains what Westminsterians confess is the biblical teaching concerning the disciplinary duty of the government of the church, "in the hand of church OFFICERS."

Third, you don't really take explicit issue with a word of what I wrote, or my references to the text. Except you don't agree, which is assertion in lieu of argument. Nice to know you think the "plain sense" supports your view, and cancels mine. That's not especially compelling, and if I just turn that claim around, on what basis would you object to that line of "reasoning?"

Fourth, if you read my post to the end, you can plainly see I have sufficient warrant for the duties of the congregation as a whole--which conclusion you draw from Mt.18--only drawn from 1Cor.5 (with reference to 2Cor.2 & 7). Pertinent to the question, is whether or not our Lord's instruction in Mt.18 is wholly generalized to the body of the faithful, or if it is especially concerned with those who are (that is, will be, from the historic standpoint of the passage) in positions of leadership and authority within the body (cf. v1). That is a pertinent exegetical question, and how it is answered will have important bearing on the directives and applications one derives from the passage.

Fifth, you don't need to assume anything about me. Any pertinent information is available on my profile page, accessible by clicking on my screen name, and the "about me" tab on that page. The rules we follow in church-operations are publicly accessible (on the web) and should be accurately referred to when offering specific criticism.

Sixth, it would probably be helpful to try to get a "handle" on why people with whom you disagree make the sense they do of Jesus' words, even if at the end of the day you still find their reasoning wanting. That would prevent you from saying foolish things like, "In your scheme..., Jesus words make no sense." Are you familiar with the notion of "internal critique?" That's where you argue that a person's conclusions are inconsistent with his alleged first-principles, or his "schemes." All you have indicated thus far (to put a charitable spin on what you wrote) is that the whole thing--our exegesis and our church order--doesn't make sense to you.

Seventh, show me a church of any stripe, and I'll show you a group of people who are to one degree or another failures when it comes to the exercise of their faith, their fidelity to their vows, their consistent application of their avowed principles, and their love. Presbyterianism is by no means the only offender in these things. And do not forget that success never gets the press that failure does. How many excellent exercises of proper church discipline within Presbyterianism have there been that you know nothing at all about, and with good reason? So, picking out one or even several instances of poor shepherding does nothing at all to challenge the basic institution; and if you insist it does, then the accusation rebounds and undercuts your own preference for polity.

****************************************************************************************************

Eighth, with regard to your final paragraph, you are plainly aware that the NT (to say nothing of the OT) establishes order in the churches. And two indispensable components of order are leaders and followers. And leaders exercise authority. No one was ever a better or more complete Servant than our dear Lord Jesus, who stooped down and washed his own disciples feet. And he also commanded them, and they did bow down to him as King and Lord, even God. Those who serve him and his people as his mouthpieces, shepherds, and servants (preachers, elders, deacons) occupy stations of responsibility. And they will be judged more strictly, Jas.3:1.

And because Holy Spirit so clearly states they will be judged more strictly, it is a corollary that they have duties and responsibilities that exceed those of the entire body. Not all are teachers, indeed some are forbidden to teach, 1Tim.2:12, which is an exercise of authority. Again, authority implies responsibility, which implies a duty to respect the responsible party from him who is the responsibility, stated explicitly in Heb.13:17. That such officers are not to "lord it over the heritage," 1Pet.5:3, does not imply that they are not OVER the heritage; see the previous verse in which such persons have duties of OVERsight. The description itself indicates that they occupy a station from which they exercise their duties under Christ.

Peter is a good example of the highest church-officer putting his emphasis in the right place, when he situates himself among the other elders of the church, in order to exhort them, v1. And he appropriately uses his exceptional apostolic office (by an oblique reference to his "eyewitness" authority) to add weight to what he says; and follows that up with a reference that puts him into the commonest category of every believer who will partake in the glory to be revealed. The fact that he is a common believer, and an ordinary elder, does not at all disestablish him from occupying one of those "twelve thrones" of judgment, Mt.19:28, cf.Rev.4:4.

And besides, there is nothing in the Presbyterian "scheme" that robs the membership of any privilege, including their right to hold their leaders accountable to a review of their exercise of authority, whether instituted from below or above. It appears to me this accusation flows from more misunderstanding and distrust of a foreign way of doing business.

It is a bit absurd to me, to feel obliged to belabor the point that there are obviously "levels" in the church having to do with exercise of authority and responsibility; which are nevertheless not intended by Christ to be positions of "glory" on earth but of service, and rightly occupied only by those possessing a deep sense of humility and unworthiness to be found therein. The determination to abolish all vestiges of such order--on the supposition that men being sinners, they will inevitably corrupt themselves in the work--is ultimately to set oneself against both a divine institution, and the grace of our Lord and the Person and presence of Holy Spirit, meant to counteract the power of sin and temptation. The tyranny of a majority is no more sanctified than a tyranny of oligarchs or of one.

Did our Lord really intend that every member have the "blessing" of the BURDEN of the most momentous decisions cast in his lap? Is there no room in Christianity for simple sheep who have no ambition, only a willingness to trust and a willingness to exercise an elementary discernment? Will everyone who has such aspirations actually exhibit the requisite competence in combination with humility? see Tit.1:10ff. It is an abuse of the principle of equality to insist that everyone is in every way "equal." By the denial of diversity even those with a most reasonable desire to be competently led are left to the mercy of factions. Nature itself tells us that there are a variety of gifts, and those are inequitably distributed.

It is the a priori insistence that "church" cannot mean the part-for-the-whole in this or any biblical context--in an entire chapter dedicated to Jesus' teaching servant-leadership to the pride-oriented disciples--that ends up referring exercises of church-authority to the competence (and incompetence) of the whole. It is a kind of radical egalitarian and ultra democratic orientation that is brought to the text; it does not arise from it, nor from any cultural setting native to the original hearers. Abandon that a priori and the specific "plain sense" previously alleged evaporates.

With grace,

Bruce,
1) Thanks for the correction on the signature. I did not realize that was one of the rules.

2) Creekside Bible Church is a church plant by a Master's Seminary grad, Rob Tartaglia.

3) Your response here is a fair one, so I will keep it pithy for the sake of space and time. :pray2:

Elders are not there to be the primary vehicle of discipline, although they do have a fundamental role in instructing the body on how to correctly carry it out in the right steps and with the right spirit and goals of course. The context says if anyone sins and the variant of course adds against you. The idea is observed sin requires a response from the observer. The text never tells the observer to take it to an elder. He attempts to demonstrate to the brother that he is in sin. If this fails, he takes a witness or two with him. Privacy is clearly a concern. If he does not listen, then they are to tell it to the church. Jesus did not say, tell it to the presbyters. οὺς πρεσβυτέρους τῆς ἐκκλησίας was certainly a phrase at Matthew's disposal but he did not use it.

There is no formal and informal process outlined by Christ. The entire process is God's ordained process for how sin is to be handled in His Church. You are reading polity into the text that is not there. Perhaps you are reading the WCF back into Matt. 18. Binding and Losing seems to be an activity of the Church at large, not a board, not a group of elders, but of the body. One need look no further than the groups of Greco-Roman times to understand how they would view such an event. It would strike terror into their hearts. Paul's letter to the Corinthians was to the entire church, not the session.

I would think that the people with whom you agree also make sense to you the same as people with whom you disagree don't make sense either.

I have been through the PCA process with a wife who divorced me without biblical precedent. The elders took over a year to do anything and would have done nothing had I not insisted they do something. But everything was kept quiet. They refused to follow Matt. 18 stating the BOC as their guide. Speculation was terrible among the congregation. I refused to discuss it with anyone because of the gossip prohibition in Scirpture and for fear I would be viewed as stirring up division. The pastor confided in me on several occasions that he feared the church would split over it. I only understood what he meant after I quietly left. There were key women and one key deacon, key financial supporters who were close to my wife and they insisted the church not embarrass her publicly. When I finally had enough filed formal charges, the pastor instructed my wife to resign to avoid the scandal because they presbytery would not allow them not to address it should I appeal which he knew full well I would do. In the face of her resignation, I appealed to the presbytery and they sent a senior fellow over to chat with me. I was absolutely shocked when this man informed me that my wife could geneuine repent of her sin and still divorce me. In other words, she can repent without repenting. I went through with my appeal despite his political undertones that nothing would come of it. And he was right. The presbytery's decision was to do nothing since she resigned her membership. No public announcement of any kind. Rumors were everywhere. I walked away and prayed that God grant me the ability to forgive these frail men as I too am a frail man. I am sure I have done far worse than caving to political pressure. Anyways, I experienced the PCA process intimately and found it quite distant from Matt. 18. I was very frustrated that the BOC seemed to carry more weight than Scripture. Anyways, I digress.

My apologies if I came across as arrogant or less than charitable. That was not my intention. Christian brothers should be able to disagree with great respect and admiration for one another as we all search for truth and seek out spiritual growth.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Bill,
I think you've made a helpful contribution there, from the standpoint of an alternative (mediating?) polity. I can see how your congregation would need to act, formally and finally, on the decision to expel a member--it is quite rational: because he is himself one of the final-decision-making constituents of that penultimate ecclesiastical authority. He has, in effect, the right to cast perhaps the one dissenting vote against his expulsion, or seek to persuade the body as a whole to reject the case against him.

For our part, we do not send the session's decision to the body for final action as a recommendation. Our leaders act federally, on behalf of the congregation that called or elected them, in a manner analogous to the decisions of our state representatives (at least in most states I'm aware of). Our secular legislatures and magistrates do not put every one, or perhaps any of their deliberations and votes to a plebecite referendum of approval. In a sense, that's what a new election or a recall election is about.

But, again in secular polities sometimes the people react to a certain governmental decision in so powerful a way that it results in a change (greater or lesser) in government, or a reversal, adjustment, or amendment to the first action. That is what it means in our circles, that the laypeople retain their original rights and reserve their ultimate allegiance to Christ alone, the Lord of the conscience. They have recourse to respond to perceived injustice or incompetence.

Furthermore, because of our connectionalism, the decision of the lower adjudicatory is subject to an appeal. A person who believes he has been wronged in a local decision has the right to have that decision reviewed by a superior adjudicatory. Through the Presbytery, a member has access more broadly to the mind of the whole church. In our church, a man's appeal does not end at the point where his own authority reaches its limit (the congregation).

**************************************************

Ed,
I'm sorry for the trials you have experienced. It isn't the first time I've heard of such things. And of course, I'm way too removed from the situation to have any right to criticize anyone, or form opinions from the sketchy details (and you are right to obscure them).

May God give you peace and strength as you live for him, and exercise your gifts and fulfill your role as godly parent, and any other work God intends for you in or out of the church. May he give me the courage to always do the right thing, not the politically expedient thing.

Peace,
 

Worddoer

Puritan Board Freshman
Bill,
I think you've made a helpful contribution there, from the standpoint of an alternative (mediating?) polity. I can see how your congregation would need to act, formally and finally, on the decision to expel a member--it is quite rational: because he is himself one of the final-decision-making constituents of that penultimate ecclesiastical authority. He has, in effect, the right to cast perhaps the one dissenting vote against his expulsion, or seek to persuade the body as a whole to reject the case against him.

For our part, we do not send the session's decision to the body for final action as a recommendation. Our leaders act federally, on behalf of the congregation that called or elected them, in a manner analogous to the decisions of our state representatives (at least in most states I'm aware of). Our secular legislatures and magistrates do not put every one, or perhaps any of their deliberations and votes to a plebecite referendum of approval. In a sense, that's what a new election or a recall election is about.

But, again in secular polities sometimes the people react to a certain governmental decision in so powerful a way that it results in a change (greater or lesser) in government, or a reversal, adjustment, or amendment to the first action. That is what it means in our circles, that the laypeople retain their original rights and reserve their ultimate allegiance to Christ alone, the Lord of the conscience. They have recourse to respond to perceived injustice or incompetence.

Furthermore, because of our connectionalism, the decision of the lower adjudicatory is subject to an appeal. A person who believes he has been wronged in a local decision has the right to have that decision reviewed by a superior adjudicatory. Through the Presbytery, a member has access more broadly to the mind of the whole church. In our church, a man's appeal does not end at the point where his own authority reaches its limit (the congregation).

**************************************************

Ed,
I'm sorry for the trials you have experienced. It isn't the first time I've heard of such things. And of course, I'm way too removed from the situation to have any right to criticize anyone, or form opinions from the sketchy details (and you are right to obscure them).

May God give you peace and strength as you live for him, and exercise your gifts and fulfill your role as godly parent, and any other work God intends for you in or out of the church. May he give me the courage to always do the right thing, not the politically expedient thing.

Peace,

Thank you for being such a refreshing reflection of grace and kindness. God strengthen me and pour out His grace on me that I would be more like you in that regard. While that whole experience was bitterly disappointing, and remains disconcerting, I also recognize, by grace to be sure, that it was very good for my spiritual growth. God opened my eyes to anger issues and more pride that you could ever imagine a Christian could have and still be a Christian. :) I continue to pray for those men and my former spouse. I admit that to this day, I still have to acknowledge emotions and remind myself of the grace I walk in so unworthily. The PCA is an excellent church and in my estimation, the best denomination on the planet even though I am not quite a covenant man. Without belittling the error, I recognize that every church is filled with sinners saved by grace, and this means leaders as well. :)
 

Te Deum

Puritan Board Freshman
I've always found Barnes' Notes to be helpful:

Barnes' Notes on the Bible said:
Tell it to the church - See the notes at Matthew 16:18. The church may here mean the whole assembly of believers, or it may mean those who are authorized to try such cases - the representatives of the church, or these who act for the church. In the Jewish synagogue there was a bench of elders before whom trials of this kind were brought. It was to be brought to the church in order that he might be admonished, entreated, and, if possible, reformed. This was, and is always to be, the first business in disciplining an offending brother.

It would seem to me that such cases should be handled by the ordained ministers who have the task of disciplining offenders, even with the penatly of excommunication if need be.

Calvin is of the same opinion:

Calvin's Commentary said:
Tell it to the Church. It is asked, what does he mean by the term Church? For Paul orders (1 Corinthians 5:5) that the incestuous Corinthian shall be excommunicated, not by a certain chosen number, but by the whole assembly of the godly; and therefore it might appear to be probable that the power of judging is bestowed on the whole of the people. But as at that time no Church as yet was in existence, which acknowledged the authority of Christ, and no such order had been established, and as our Lord employs the ordinary and received forms of expression, there can be no doubt that he alludes to the order of the ancient Church, as in other places also he accommodates his modes of expression to what was known and customary. When he commands that:

"the offering, which we intend to present, shall be left at the altar, till we are reconciled to an offended brother,"
(Matthew 5:23,)

he unquestionably intends, by means of that form of the worship of God which was then in existence and in force, to teach us, that we cannot in a right manner either pray, or offer any thing to God, so long as we are at variance with our brethren. So then he now looked at the form of discipline which was observed among the Jews; for it would have been absurd to propose an appeal to the judgment of a Church which was not yet in existence.

Now since among the Jews the power of excommunication belonged to the elders, who held the government of the whole Church, Christ speaks appropriately when he says that they who sinned must at length be brought forward publicly to the Church, if they either despise haughtily, or ridicule and evade, the private admonitions. We know that, after the Jews returned from the Babylonish captivity, a council was formed, which they called Sanhedrim, and in Greek Synedrion, (sunedrion) and that to this council was committed the superintendence of morals and of doctrine. This government was lawful and approved by God, and was a bridle to restrain within their duty the dissolute and incorrigible.

It will perhaps be objected that, in the time of Christ, every thing was corrupt and perverted, so that this tyranny was very far from deserving to be accounted the judgment of the Church But the reply is easy. Though the method of procedure was at that time depraved and perverted, yet Christ justly praises that order, such as it had been handed down to them from the fathers. And when, shortly afterwards, he erected a Church, while he removed the abuse, he restored the proper use of excommunication. Yet there is no reason to doubt that the form of discipline, which prevailed in the kingdom of Christ, succeeded in the room of that ancient discipline. And certainly, since even heathen nations maintained a shadowy form of excommunication, it appears that, from the beginning, this was impressed by God on the minds of men, that those who were impure and polluted ought to be excluded from religious services. It would therefore have been highly disgraceful to the people of God to have been altogether destitute of that discipline, some trace of which remained among the Gentiles. But what had been preserved under the Law Christ has conveyed to us, because we hold the same rank with the ancient fathers. For it was not the intention of Christ to send his disciples to the synagogue, which, while it willingly cherished in its bosom disgraceful filth, excommunicated the true and sincere worshippers of God; but he reminded us that the order, which had been formerly established in a holy manner under the Law, must be maintained in his Church.
 
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