Personal Offenses vs. Public Error

11:55 am false doctrine, rebuke error, Truth

Matthew 18:15-17 is a passage of Scripture that is often misunderstood and abused.  I would like to provide some excellent quotes from respected men who give a good analysis of this passage.  The first is by Wendell Winkler, A Study of Jesus, the King, As Developed in Matthew 18 in the Book of Matthew, edited by Garland Elkins and Thomas Warren, pp. 470-486. “(7) A special note: an abuse of this test.  Some use this text, when public ungodliness is rebuked (I Tim. 5:20), and written and spoken false doctrine is taught, by asking, “Have you been to see the brother?”  Such is not required, since this text is dealing with personal offenses, not public ungodly living and public proclamation of false doctrine.  Based on this reasoning Catholicism could not be rebuked unless one first went to see the pope, nor Baptist doctrine as taught in his column, “My Answer,” without first going to see Billy Graham!”
Consider this quotation from Terry Hightower, Jesus’ Teaching on Offenders, Offenses, Forgiveness, Divorce, and Riches (Studies in Matthew, edited by Dub McClish, The Fourteenth Annual Denton Lectures, November 12-16, 1995, pp. 224-254).  “The foolish notion that the Lord’s first step goes beyond personal offenses to apply to those publicly teaching error is patently absurd in the light of Christ’s controversial dealings with His own disciples (e. g. a “Get thee behind me Satan” Peter or a “cumbered about much serving: Martha), the temple moneychangers, Pharisees, Sadducees, entire cities (e. g., Matt. 11:20-24; imagine His having to go to every resident first before He could publicly rebuke them!).  He felt no compulsion to seek a totally private audience with a Herod or a Pilate (Luke 13:32; John 18:33-38).  John did not feel compelled to refrain from calling Diotrephes’ name in 3 John 9-10.  Paul did not misapply Matthew 18:15 in dealing with Peter’s sin in Galatians 2:14, nor in operating upon what some today would call “hearsay” or “rumor” in I Corinthians 1:11 and 5:1-13.  Is it not the case that those most prone to “eisegete” verse 15 are the very ones who will ignore it and criticize the criticizers without first going to them? (pp. 233-234).
Those who publicly declare false doctrine (either verbally or in writing) are rightly subject to public rebuke and exposure.  This solemn charge is given by the apostle Paul in II Tim. 4:1-4, “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.  For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

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