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. (Matthew 18:17 ESV)
This ties into an idea I have been noodling over for several weeks regarding accountability and community. I read something at Church Task Force on the question of The Church in a Locality and this question came up. When Jesus says that the final step in dealing with a brother who has sinned against you is to “tell it to the church”, i.e. the entire church, I wonder: how does that happen?
I think the assumption is that “tell the church” means going before everyone in the local church you are members of and announcing it from the pulpit. That can’t be what Jesus had in mind because at this point there were no local churches segregated from other local churches. In fact the church pretty much was located in a small geographic area. So if someone at Crossroads Community Church is in sin and refuses to repent, the assumption would be (if the church was even trying to engage in actual discipline) that they would boot him from that local church. Of course if he were so inclined he would drive 15 minutes away and start hanging out at a different local church and likely none would be the wiser because we have such limited interaction with one another.
What if the church was more like what we saw in Scripture, i.e. the church in Akron would consist of all of the Christians in Akron. They wouldn’t all get together every week but they would all be interconnected. There is still the issue that in any decent sized town there are going to be a lot of Christians. Wouldn’t that be where the elders would come into play? Not every Christian would know every other Christians but everyone should know some of the elders and all of the elders would know one another. If someone were cut off from the church, that would be something the elders would pass on to the entire Body so that every Christian in Akron would know what had happened and hopefully would know when that brother was reconciled and welcomed back into the church.
What do you think? Too pie-in-the-sky? I certainly think that if that were a reality, restorative discipline would actually function unlike the present system where discipline means finding a different “church”.