the weblog of Alan Knox

Church Discipline Revisited – Introduction

Posted by on Apr 30, 2008 in discipline, scripture | 7 comments

Sometimes, systematizing Scripture and Christian beliefs can be very beneficial. It is beneficial to know what Scripture teaches and what Christians general believe about a certain topic. But, occasionally, systematizing Scripture into topics and themes unintentionally damages or undermines the original context. I think this often happens with Matthew 18:15-20:

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. 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. 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. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:15-20 ESV)

Today, if you pick up a book or read an article about “church discipline”, the author will probably include a discussion of Matthew 18:15-20. In fact, the “three step process” of church discipline originates from this passage: 1) confront someone who sins alone, 2) confront someone who sins with two or three others, 3) present someone who sins to the church. Of course, the final stage of “church discipline”, if the person does not repent, is to treat that person like “a Gentile or a tax collector” – whatever that looks like in a particular context.

Church discipline is a very important topic. I think that misunderstandings about “church discipline” have caused some to overreact to sin, and others to fail to act when a brother or sister is sinning. I also think that this is one topic where systematization has caused a misreading of this particular text. Often, Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, and a few other passage are chunked together into a “church discipline” manual without much consideration of the original context of the individual passages. Thus, the narrative effect of the Scripture is lost in the theological grouping.

Over the next few days, I am going to discuss this passage (Matthew 18:15-20) both in its original context and in the context of church discipline. I hope that this turns into a valuable discussion, and I encourage you to take part. This will not be a comprehensive study of the topic of church discipline, nor will it be a comprehensive study of Matthew 18:15-20. However, I hope that through this study we will all look at this passage in context and try to learn what Jesus was teaching his original hearers – and us through the Gospel of Matthew.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-1-2008

    [O]ccasionally, systematizing Scripture into topics and themes unintentionally damages or undermines the original context.

    Occasionally? Occasionally??? ;)

  2. 5-1-2008

    Looking forward to it … this is a subject that I have wondered about for some time – what is the right way? I have seen too much legalism and judgement carried out and I have often tried to figure this subject out. Thanks!

    ~Heather :)

  3. 5-1-2008

    I’m interested in what you have to say. This is a topic I have been interested in for some time. I’m looking forward to the discussion to come.

  4. 5-1-2008

    It would seem the matthew passage in particular has been manipulated into a context for which it was never intended.

  5. 5-1-2008


    Yes… occasionally. How occasional? Well, that would be another post. :)


    Thanks. I hope you interact with us and help us understand this important passage.


    Good. I hope you take part in our conversation too.


    Manipulated? Are you suggesting that Christians might hijack Scripture to use it for their own intentions instead of God’s intentions?


  6. 5-2-2008


    I’m pleased I could see your tongue in your cheek when you replied to Grace.

  7. 5-2-2008

    Aussie John,

    I’m glad that you could see that my response was “tongue-in-cheek”. I hope others could as well.