There is a process for dealing with sin in the church. Church discipline is extremely important for training and maturity. Discipline in the church should not be considered as punishment. It should be done in a loving manner rather than accusing another of a fault or a sin.
In this section we see the Lord provides a process for dealing with sin in the Church. The key thing we see in this disciplinary procedure is that it is fair and just but firm. The aim is first to address the issue with the person doing the wrong, and second to ensure the church is aware if an escalation is required so they can all learn from the matter.
This section begins, “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.” (Verse 15) Now an examination of the original Greek text shows that the two words “against you” are not in the original texts. So this is not about a brother sinning against you, but if the sin and you find out about it. We should also understand that Jesus is talking about a brother (or sister) in the Lord.
The first step in dealing with sin in the Church is to go to the brother committing this wrong and speak to them one on one about it. This is fair to them and gives them the opportunity to repent of the wrong and to make things right. It is done privately so that they are not possibly put to shame in front of the rest of the church. Perhaps they are new Christians and have not yet learned that what they are doing is wrong, so this can be a process of learning as well as repentance. If they listen and take this advice and make amends through repentance, then that is the end of the matter.
However if they do not listen, this process escalates to the second step in the disciplinary procedure. If they will not listen to you, take along two or three others to witness the conversation and again explain to them their fault. By this process the matter is still kept relatively private and there are others who can confirm every word that is spoken. It is hoped that the person will take notice this time and repent of the wrong. They may not have listened to just one person as they may have thought it is just “your opinion versus mine” so to speak. However with several witnesses it is no longer opinion but it becomes much more serious.
We also see in the last section of this scripture that Jesus said, “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 in the midst of them.” (Verses 18-20) So by the evidence of the two or three extra witnesses there is power to loose or bind the matter. Jesus has given authority to the church to make these collective decisions, and whatever two or three here on earth agree, in the Lord, will be done and agreed in heaven.
One other point that comes out of this last section is that we see where two or three are gathered, Jesus is in their midst. Effectively then, two or three coming together in the name of the Lord is a church with the rights, responsibilities, power and authority of a Church. People sometimes think of a Church as needing a great number of people, but this is not the case. Two or three people meeting together in the name of the Lord constitute a Church.
The final step in this disciplinary procedure for dealing with sin in the Church occurs if the person still does not take heed even after a discussion including two or three witnesses. The final step is to take the matter to the whole Church and tell it to them. If at this point the person repents, then welcome him or her back. But if they will still not listen, even after telling it to the whole Church, that person is to be cast out of the Church.
This final step does several things. First and foremost it removes a potential source of trouble from the Church. Someone who is so arrogant as to ignore three warnings and unwilling to change their ways despite the matter being brought to their attention should be removed. This is so they do not taint the minds of others who may still be weak in the Lord. In addition it serves as fair warning to the rest of the Church that matters requiring discipline will be dealt with, but they will be dealt with in a fair and just manner in accordance with the Lord’s instruction.
The point of this section is that it is important to maintain the Church as a place of refuge, learning and upbuilding where people can come together and meet in joy and praise for the Lord.