Do the elders and preachers constitute the church in decisions?


I have been a member of the church of Christ for sometime now. My family and I moved to another congregation to help out because they were very small. My wife and I began to have difficulties in our marriage. She decided to take our problems to the elders and the preacher of the church. To make a long story short without getting too much into detail, the elders and the preacher demanded things of me that I believe were unscriptural. So according to the Bible, specifically Matthew 18:17, I have a right to have my case heard in front of the church. According to them (the elders and the preachers), they are "the church" and the Scripture is not referring to the whole congregation. So basically they are saying to me that whatever they deem neccessary to be repented of, I have no other recourse but to comply with them. I don't believe the Scripture is saying that because it simply states "the church" and if he doesn't hear them then he should be disfellowshipped. Well, because I didn't agree with them and didn't comply with their demands, I was disfellowshipped without consulting the congregation as it states in the Scripture. Again I don't believe the term "the church" in Matthew 18:17 is referring to the church leadership. If it was referring to the leadership I am sure God would have specifically stated elders and preachers. I have asked four times now to have my case heard in front of the congregation and the leadership will not allow me the opportunity to defend myself. This is quite disturbing especially when the Bible says so, if they truly love me and care for my soul I don't understand why wouldn't they follow the Bible. Also, I don't understand how all five of them are in total agreement with each other in my case, but I am the only one pleading to have full disclosure. When is the last time have you seen a case where the accused is begging for full disclosure to the congregation and the accusers will not allow it? It just begs of something that is not right. Please can you help me in your explanation of this Scripture to me.


This is a bit difficult for me as I am being asked to comment on a situation for which I am only told one side and even then I only given vague indications regarding what was wrong.

"Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector" (Matthew 18:15-17).

First off, this passage has often been misused by applying it to situations beyond what God has stated. Jesus gives this as a method to settle disputes between individuals. The goal is to gain a resolution to the problem with the least number of people involved as possible.

I assume that in your case, your wife believed that you were in the wrong regarding something that involved your marriage. She was unable to resolve the problem with you and so she went to the elders of the congregation for additional help. The elders' responsibility was sit down with both you and your wife to learn both sides of the dispute, thus serving a witnesses to exactly who is claiming what in the dispute, but they are also there to attempt to resolve the dispute. Jesus does not require that the elders or the preacher be among the witnesses, they just happen to be good choices in most cases. Nor does Jesus require that all the elders and preachers be present as only two or three people are needed to establish what someone says.

If the matter remains unresolved, the issue is to be brought before the church. The reason for this is apparent, if someone is unrepentant of sin, it is the church who must take action against the sinner by withdrawing from the sinner (I Corinthians 5:1-8).

There are times, however, when the elders of a congregation may determine that an issue is not appropriate for the entire congregation. For example, if a person is teaching false doctrine, then it wouldn't be wise to give the false teacher a platform to further his cause. "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11). But the false teaching doesn't fall in the category of a dispute between two Christians.

The real core of your question, however, is whether the elders and preachers of a congregation are the church, or can make decisions on behalf of the church. This is settled simply by looking at a case where false teachers went out from Jerusalem. "And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question" (Acts 15:1-2). The reason for the question being sent to Jerusalem is solely because the men teaching the false doctrine came from Jerusalem. As Paul and Barnabas made a report of the events leading to their coming, the matter came to a head. "And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses."" (Acts 15:4-5). But I want you to notice something very important: the report was made to the church, the apostles and the elders. Neither the elders or the apostles constituted the church. The church was present with these men.

The nature of the problem required thought and discussion. "Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter" (Acts 15:6). This wasn't an open forum where everyone could have a say, but neither was the matter discussed behind closed doors. "Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles" (Acts 15:12). There was a large audience to these discussions. In other words, the church was present listening as their leaders and learned men considered the issue raised. They learned by watching the apostles and elders discuss the issue. The proper answer was reached by appealing to what God had said and done. The whole church was able to agree because they knew what was said. "Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch" (Acts 15:22). Notice once again, the men were sent by the apostles and elders, but the consent was also given by the whole church. Again we conclude that the apostles and elders are not the church, nor was it necessary for them to make decisions of which the church was not aware because all were there to agree. The leaders lead the church to the proper conclusion, but they were not a substitute for the whole church.

Therefore, when Jesus said in Matthew 18:17 to tell it to the church, we can conclude from Acts 15 that telling only the elders and the preachers would not fulfill this command. If the elders of your congregation claimed to be the church, they made a grave error. The elders lead the church, they watch over its members, but the elders are not the church.

I could get into a side issue regarding the preachers as well. A preacher is a member of the congregation. He holds authority in the teaching of the Gospel. He has responsibilities in the installing and rebuking of elders. However, the preacher is not over a congregation. He serves the congregation while he teaches the Lord's message to mankind.

But what are you to do? You have requested a chance to talk to the church and have been denied. I don't know why. I can't comment on whether what was asked of you was scriptural or not as I don't know the situation or what was asked. Assuming that you are in the right, it would be best for you and your family to attend another congregation -- you indicate that there are others in the area. Go to the elders of that congregation and explain what happened in detail. Allow them an opportunity to investigate the matter. Perhaps they will be able to help you and your wife resolve your problems, but if they find that you have been wronged, they will likely welcome you as members.

I really appreciate you going into detail with that particular Scripture. Not only did you answer my question, but you gave reference Scripture which really nailed it on the head. My situation is really sad because I believed that those brothers would be fair by me. I feel they were not acting in good faith and went completely out of their way in an attempt to grant my wife everything she demanded. I completely understand that Matthew 18:17 is not about dividing but resolving issue with the least amount of complication. But my problem came when I notice everything that I said wouldn't be believed or at least not given the benefit of the doubt; and my wife can come with all kinds of zany notions, and it would be believed. All the while they have evidence to dispell her stories and they would not act on it. It is sad because I worked hard in that congregation only to be disfellowshipped without due process. Again I want to thank you for bringing light to the Scriptures, I really appreciate God leading me to you.