In Matthew Chapter Eighteen, Jesus told his followers how they were to deal with someone who had done them wrong, and he outlined three steps that they should take (in verses 15-17) to resolve the matter: 'Therefore, if your brother should fail in some way, take him aside and discuss it between you and him alone; then if he listens to you, you'll have won over your brother. But if he doesn't listen, bring along one or two others so that whatever is said can be proven by the mouths of two or three witnesses. However, if he refuses to listen to them, you should speak to the congregation. And if he refuses to listen to even the congregation, then let him become as a man of the nations or a tax collector to you.'
Although many have concluded that Jesus was discussing how to handle such matters within Christian Congregations, we have to realize that there were no Christian Congregations back then. Rather, he was speaking to Jews in general, and what he was telling his listeners was that they should be kind to each other and try to work things out among themselves before taking such matters before their congregation (gr. ekklesia) at a local synagogue. And even if the matter couldn't be resolved there, notice that Jesus wasn't instructing those in the Jewish synagogues to kick out the offender, but rather, he was saying that the injured party should not associate with such an evil person.
These instructions are very similar to what Jesus had said earlier at Matthew 5:25, 26: 'Also, while you're on your way [to a court], you should quickly work out an agreement with your adversary, so won't have to leave the matter in the hands of the judge, who may then hand you over to the bailiff, who will throw you in jail. If that happens, I tell you this for a fact: You won't be released 'til you've paid your last cent.'
Of course, in this case he was warning about the dangers of taking civil matters before Roman courts where they might not have been treated fairly.
However, in First Corinthians (which was written after the Christian congregations had been formed), Paul laid out some procedural guidelines on how to deal with 'those who are called brothers' who may be guilty of scandalous and un-repented sins. This matter was raised when a brother in Corinth was said to have taken his father's wife as his own. Such a thing, even if the woman had been widowed, was considered a very serious offense by the ancient Jews, for the Old Law said tha doing such a thing was the same as uncovering the nakedness of his father (see Leviticus 18:7, 8). And if this man was having sex with the wife of his living father, that was even worse and creating a public scandal among the Jews who lived in that city. So Paul's instructions were for Christians to 'judge such matters' and to 'remove the wicked man from among yourselves.' What did this entail?
Well, notice what Paul said should be done (at 1 Corinthians 5:11), 'However, now I'm writing you to quit associating with anyone called a brother who is immoral, greedy, an idol worshiper, an insulter, a drunkard, or an extortionist. Don't even eat with a person like that!'
So you can see that he didn't really say the whole congregation should stop talking to the person, but that they shouldn't treat him as a friend whom they would invite over for a meal. Of course, in those early days of Christianity, most of their congregational meetings were held in private homes (not in 'synagogues' or public meeting places), so exclusion from the congregation likely meant that the offender was no longer welcome at their (private) meetings either.
There seems to be a similar instruction at 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15, where Paul wrote: 'And if anyone isnŐt willing to obey the things we wrote in this letter, note this and donŐt keep company with him to shame him. However, donŐt think of him as an enemyÉ council him as a brother.'
Unfortunately, many religious groups have failed to recognize what Paul was talking about here, and as the result, they have created an entirely new category of shunning, which they call 'Marking.' However, notice that it appears as though Paul was talking about just one person in that congregation who didn't work for a living, but did a lot of visiting to get free meals; and in the process, he or she was becoming a busybody and spreading gossip. Then Paul used the Greek word 'semeioo' (say-mi-o'-o), meaning (according to NASB Word Usage) take special note of, when giving his instructions to the congregation. So it doesn't appears as though Paul was giving Christian Congregations another level of official shunning. He was simply telling the brothers there to take note of the fact that this person was creating a problem and that they shouldn't invite him or her over for free meals.
However, John (the Apostle) warned of a more serious situation at 2 John 7. For there he was talking about people in the Christian Congregation who had 'strayed [back] into the world' and wouldn't admit that Jesus the Anointed One had come in the flesh. He then referred to them as 'the AntiChrists,' and he said (at 2 John 10, 11), 'Now, if someone comes to you and doesnŐt bring this teaching, donŐt welcome him into your homes or even greet him, for those who greet him become sharers in his evil deeds.'
So in the case of people who may have denied that there ever was a Jesus, or who may have denied that he had been truly anointed by God (people whom he called the AntiChrists); he said that such individuals weren't even to be greeted on the street. However, these instructions don't seem to be added to what was said by Jesus and Paul, because the circumstances were different. Also, notice that these added directions from John were penned almost forty years after the writings of Paul. So as you can see, there were no written instructions that forbade Christians from speaking to errant brothers during most of the First Century.
But would this same action (not to welcome him or even greet him) be taken against a person who disagrees on a doctrinal matter? Not necessarily. Notice what Paul wrote about this at Romans 16:17: 'Now, I beg you brothers to keep an eye on those who are creating divisions and setting traps by going against the teachings that you've learnedÉ avoid them!'
You can see from the original Greek words that Paul's instructions were to 'keep and eye on' (gr. scopein) them and to 'avoid' them (gr. ecclenete ap auton – incline away/from them), not cut them off from the congregation.
Understand that taking religious action against a person who simply disagrees with some particular religious doctrine is a very slippery slope that many have fallen into, since the person may actually be right! And even if he or she is still wrong; don't we each have the right to a wrong opinion? Remember the wonderful advice that the famous 1st Century religious teacher GamaliEl gave to the Jewish religious court about Christians, as it was recorded at Acts 5:38, 39. For he said there (in part): 'So in this situation, I tell you not to mess with these menÉ leave them alone! Because, if the thing they're doing is from men, it will be overthrown. But if it's from God, you won't be able to overthrow them and you'll actually be fighting against God!'
But didn't Paul write (at 1 Corinthians 1:10) that all Christians should believe and teach the same thing? Yes he did; but does this mean that our brothers must believe and teach things that they really believe to be wrong? No! For more information, see the Note, 'Should Christians Agree on Everything?'
Throughout the past 2000 years, some religious groups have arrogantly taken powerful action against people who disagreed with their doctrines. For example: when Galileo discovered that the earth wasn't the center of the universe (as Catholic doctrine taught), he was brought before an Inquisition in 1631 and threatened with being burned at the stake if he didn't recant the findings that he had published. And though he publicly recanted to save himself; whom has history proven to be wrong?
Understand that Galileo's charge was that he was a hereticÉ that is, he was someone who disagreed with an established doctrine of the Catholic Church (which doctrines have since proven to be wrong). Yet today, some Protestant religions prefer to call people who disagree with their doctrines 'apostates,' which is a wrong term, but it's one that they prefer to use in order to avoid any obvious connection with the Inquisition. Yet if the doctrine in question should in fact prove to be wrong, their actions are no different than the Inquisitors who threatened Galileo or those Jewish Pharisees who expelled the blind man that Jesus healed from their synagogue because he called Jesus a Prophet (see John 9:34).
Through the years, expulsions of notorious members from Christian congregations have taken many forms. Catholics, for example, call such removal excommunication. However, they limit these disciplines to just those that offend their Church. Yet, other groups may 'disfellowship,' shun, or expel those whom they consider unrepentant sinners. On the other hand, many other religions just ignore Paul's instructions altogether and overlook the actions of members who sin in vile and notorious ways.
But in certain cases, religious groups have adopted the extreme view that the sanctions recommended by Jesus, Paul, and John are cumulative and that fellow members must take all the actions listed above against those who are guilty of any of the practices listed in those combined verses, including even those who may disagree over some doctrinal point (heretics). These religions also threaten the rest of their members with sanctions, including expulsion if they choose to associate with or even talk to persons whom the religion has judged to be violators in matters of business, morality, or doctrines. And even after wrongdoers have repented, such religions may impose further disciplinary sanctions on them. Of course, these views and actions can't find support in any Bible texts.
But what did Paul actually write about the matter after the man whom he had mentioned in First Corinthians had repented his actions? Note that in a second letter that he wrote to the congregation in Corinth a short time after his first letter, he said (2 Corinthians 2:5-8): 'So if someone else has saddened you, he hasn't saddened meÉ therefore I won't be laying any further burdens on you, since the discipline that the majority of you gave this man was sufficient. You can kindly forgive him and comfort him now, so that he won't somehow be swallowed up by his deep sadnessÉ yes, I'm telling you to let him know that you love him!' For more information about this, see the Note, 'Accepting a Repentant Sinner.'
In addition, some religions have gone so far as to ban normal conversations with ones own family members when they are guilty of any of the offenses listed above. Is this a correct understanding?
It would seem that whenever there are no clear written Biblical guidelines (as in the case of how to treat erring family members), Christians should turn to basic Scriptural law. And God's Law requires wives to respect their husbands, husbands to love their wives, children to obey their parents, for everyone to respect their mothers and fathers, and for each one to provide for those who are in their own households. Anything less than that would fit the description that Paul gave of how Godless people would act in 'the last days' (at 2 Timothy 3:3), where he wrote, 'They won't love their families (gr. astorge) or be willing to agree on anything.'
Such sanctions obviously go beyond Paul's instructions at First Corinthians the Fifth Chapter, and they stray into conflict with Jesus' words to the Pharisees as found at Matthew 15:6-9, where it is recorded that he said: 'So, [you are really saying] that [you] shouldn't honor [your] parents at all. And when you do this, you are nullifying the Word of God with your traditions. You hypocrites! How well Isaiah prophesied about you when he said, These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away from me! It's a waste for them to keep worshiping Me, because they preach the teachings of men as commandments.'
At John Chapter Nine, we read the story of a man that had been blind since his birth, whom Jesus healed on a Sabbath.
This man was thereafter taken before the Pharisees, who questioned him about the miracle and about the man who had healed him (Jesus).
And after intense questioning, they said this to him about Jesus: 'We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don't know where this man is from!
And the man said: 'It's truly marvelous that you don't know where he's from, yet he opened my eyes! We know that God doesn't listen to sinners, but he listens to anyone who is God-fearing and does His Will. Why, through the ages, no one has ever heard of someone that could open the eyes of a person who was born blind. And if this man wasn't from God, he couldn't do anything.
Then they replied: You were born a complete sinner, and now you're teaching us?
And at that, they threw him out.'
Notice that this man was ejected from his local synagogue for simply telling the truth. However, Jesus had warned his disciples that this would happen to them. For it's recorded that he said (at Luke 21:12, 13): 'But before all of these things happen, they'll lay hands upon you and persecute you, and lead you before synagogues and to jailsÉ yes, they'll drag you before kings and governors because of my name. And this will serve as your sign!'
Notice also what he said at Matthew 10:34-39:
'Don't think that I came to bring peace to the earth;
For I'm not bringing peaceÉ just the sword!
I came to divide fathers from sons,
As well as daughters from their mothers
And brides from their mothers-in-law.
'So your enemies will be those in your own homes;
But the one who cares less for me
Than for his own father or mother,
Isn't worthy of me.
And the one who cares less for me
Than for his sons or his daughters,
Isn't worthy of me.
'Those who won't pick up their own torture poles
And follow behind me, aren't worthy.
For those who seek life will lose it;
But they'll find it if they if they'll lose it for my sake.'
The point? If we stand up for what the Bible tells us is right, we can expect persecution.
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