Most of my life was spent in church. I grew up in church, and as my church ran a school I grew up in church school. I have been around “Christians” most of my life. In fact, if it hadn’t been that I had enough of religion and got very angry with church and Christianity and God, I probably would have spent my whole life in church. And one of the things that caused my disillusionment with religion was the amount of judgment going on between fellow Christians, and more often between Christians and those outside the church. People were held to such high standards, that if the truth were known no one lived up to, that life was exceptionally difficult. There was a rule for just about everything. Some went so far to say if you were a boy that had hair touching the tops of your ears you were in sin. Nothing but good crew cut for you young man.
Sound familiar? In fact I have found many people who have had similar experiences, and have walked away from God and organized religion forever. It is unfortunate because when you look at Jesus in scripture He was the most sincerely welcoming person in history. He welcomed everyone He encountered, except for the hyper critical religious people. And yet at times there seemed to be times where Jesus seemed critical of others. On of those times is in a verse I want to look at. It has been misunderstood by many and has been used to abuse people in churches for years.
The verses are found in Matthew chapter 18:15-17;
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.
16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
As a result of these verses many people have been ostracized and denied fellowship with fellow believers. And it seems like Jesus is giving us permission to do this. And it never sat right with me. One person even asked me when it was right to kick someone out of the church and used these verses to back up his decision. And many other abuses have happened. In bible times a tax collector was the most hated of individuals by the Jews. The were seen as traitors because they collected taxes for the Romans from their own people, and embezzlers because they were allowed to collect as much “taxes” as they wanted as long as Rome got what it wanted. So they we very wealthy, and an extremely despised group of people.
This always gave me concern because Jesus accepted and fellowshipped with tax collectors so how could He be asking us to treat people in this way. It just never added up. And when I encountered God personally and came to know how immense His love for me was it just raised more questions. Until I came to understand what Jesus was trying to say. Jesus wasn’t trying to say for us to abuse people in this way at all. Let’s look at these verses again but in the Message version;
“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.
Jesus wasn’t telling us to remove them from fellowship at all. He was simply asking us to treat them as a non-believer. Simply to show them God’s love and share the message of the redemption from sin offered in Jesus. Maybe they didn’t understand it before. Not to treat them as less than human and not worthy of breathing the same air as us.
We as Christians have harmed a lot of people following verses like these without understanding them. Jesus welcomed sinners with open arms and asked us to do the same. I think much of what we consider “doctrine” needs review because our churches are supposed to be places you can feel welcome, especially when there is no where else to go. A place of safety and non-judgment, where you can feel loved and accepted. We are supposed to accept the person, and not the sin. They are separate from each other. Jesus would welcome everyone including the despised of our culture. The pedophiles and homosexuals and murderers and rapists and everyone else that we look down our noses at. He died and sacrificed His life for each of them. Jesus never tolerated sin, but He never asked people to change until they came to Him as Saviour and Lord. And then He began working inside them changing them from the inside and working with them until their lives reflect His image.
This is the Jesus I came to know, and the one who is still working on changing me. And what an exciting journey it is. I welcome everyone to come and take a second look.