“Have You Gone to Him About It?”
by Brian A. Yeager
How brethren deal with sin among the saints should often be brought into question. In fact, one could easily write many articles pointing out how infrequently brethren will apply what the scriptures teach when it comes to congregational discipline. Then, when brethren finally decided to practice scriptural discipline it is sad how they argue over what is to be done and how. The word of God does clearly command congregational action on those who walk disorderly and not in accordance with the written word of God (II Thessalonians 3:6; 14-15). The scriptures show disapproval of those congregations that fail to deal with sin among the saints (I Corinthians 5). The scriptures also clearly show we can mark those outside of the local flock as we will see in this article.
It is not my intention to deal with all of the errors regarding congregational discipline or marking false brethren. This article will not explain how the scriptures teach discipline is to be carried out in every case. However, there is one common mistake that is made that this article will deal with. That problem is best described in the follow scenario. There is a person who has committed a public sin by teaching false doctrine. That false teaching was then opposed (Galatians 2:4-5). The false teacher did not recant his error, but defended it. Brethren then mark him as a false teacher. A year later this man is referred to in another location as a marked false teacher who taught error in this case. Someone then objects asking: “have you gone to him privately about it” citing Matthew 18:15-17. Brethren, the one objecting has erred in using Matthew 18:15-17 and in defending a false teacher. We will examine the argument made from Matthew 18:15-17 throughout this article and see if those passages apply to public sin likened unto our scenario above.
When Error is Taught and Upheld Action Must Be Taken
Teaching error is a sin in all cases (Jeremiah 14:14-15, Jeremiah 23:32, Matthew 7:15-20, and II Peter 2:1-3). Those who teach error will also put in jeopardy the hearers of their false teachings (II Peter 3:17). The word of God teaches us that we are to take action against those who teach error: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).
Not only do we have a direct command to mark false teachers, but we also have approved examples. Notice the following: “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (I Timothy 1:19-20). “But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some” (II Timothy 2:16-18).
Now, this error is taught and dealt with in one place. Is it a violation of “autonomy” to mark this fellow from the marking done elsewhere? Well, can you read the epistles written to the churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, etc.? If so, have you not read that the church in Corinth had a fornicator among them that they did not deal with? Have you not read the examples above of marked false teachers from a letter written from one preacher to another (I Timothy 1:19-20 and II Timothy 2:16-18)? When error was taught in Antioch Paul reported it to the apostles, elders, evangelists, and brethren in Jerusalem who in turn decided to take action to resolve those errors (Acts 15). False doctrine has to be dealt with and brethren need to be warned about false teachers (Acts 20:28-31)! Does this mean we have to personally talk with every false teacher before we label them as others have?
Should You Talk With That False Teacher Before Marking Him Also?
Anyone who studies just the limited references made above should know that we have not just the right, but the necessity of marking those who teach false doctrine. Souls depend on brethren taking the right action. That does not mean we have to talk with every false teacher before we mark him / her. In fact, I just cited the example where the brethren in Jerusalem were involved with the problems in Antioch without any of them talking directly with those brethren. They believed the report of Paul and Barnabas. The brethren in Jerusalem wrote a letter to these brethren dealing with the errors taught there (Acts 15:23). When Paul received report of the household of Chloe that there was division in Corinth he wrote them based upon that report rebuking them of their sins (I Corinthians 1:10ff.). He did not personally talk with those involved.
If we need to talk with every false teacher we mention before we make note of them publicly, that means we cannot mention Balaam, Elymas, Hymenaeus, Alexander, Philetus, or any others named in the Scriptures as false teachers as we have never talked with them. We cannot preach against the false doctrines of so-called Popes past or present. Stephen would have been wrong for passing judgment on men he’d never met (Acts 7:52). We could not speak against the errors of dead men whom we cannot speak to at this time. Brethren, the concept that you have to talk to known, marked, false teachers before identifying them and their doctrines as false is absurd. Even more absurd is how brethren twist the scriptures to argue that point.
Does Matthew 18:15-17 Apply To Public Sin?
The difference(s) between that which is answered in Matthew 18:15-17 and a public matter of sin are these things:
1. Matthew 18:15 states: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” Thus, this context deals with a PRIVATE matter between TWO Christians, not a public matter at all.
2. If going to this brother fails in private you are then to include one or two witnesses so that “every word may be established” (Matthew 18:16). In the case of public sin EVERY WORD has already been established.
3. If going to the brother in private (the Matthew 18:15-17 private sin matter) does not work, the matter is to be brought before the church (Matthew 18:17). In the case of public sin the matter is already before the church. In the case of most false teachers there is evidence that can be continually supplied to support the marking that they are teaching error.
4. Thus, no part of Matthew 18:15-17 has any relevance to the matter we are discussing in this article.
Whether marking false teachers is done on a local level or across the world there is still the same instruction. As we have seen when error is taught it must be exposed along with those who are teaching it. If this is correctly done false teachers will lose the influence they typically have over audiences who are ignorant of their error. The more word can be spread warning about those teaching error the more we will find congregations spared of following error into apostasy.
We must always hold brethren accountable for what they’ve done. We cannot say that everyone must talk to someone before their PUBLIC sin is dealt with or mentioned elsewhere. Until a person who commits a public sin confesses that fault and expresses their willingness to repent they are lost and dangerous to others. If they’ve been marked [noted] for what they’ve done that remains until they repent. Those who excuse them by perverting scriptures like Matthew 18:15-17 are just as lost and dangerous. Brethren, let’s be contenders (Jude 3), not pretenders (Titus 1:16)! If someone sins publicly they should be dealt with in a like manner. I conclude with what Paul wrote: “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (I Timothy 5:20).