Monday, April 16, 2007

Someone Challenged Something in the Sermon

Yesterday's sermon spoke deeply to some. I had some great feedback from folks. Thank you all for being receptive. I admit that part of the passion behind yesterday's sermon was frustration with the growing level of broken relationships in the church because of offense (real and received/perceived).

But someone challenged me on something that I said.

Let me start by saying that I do not mind people challenging me if they don't agree with something. I don't even mind if you go so far as to say, "You are wrong, buddy." Just let me know how you came to your position. That way I won't take offense.

For those who didn't have the benefit of yesterday's sermon, here is the nutshell version.

TEXT: Matthew 18:15-18
TITLE: Confronting Offensive Behavior

I started by relating the week's events regarding the Imus/Rutgers news blitz. No matter where you turned, every news source was fixated on this incident. So I wrestled with why this bugged me. It came down to the extreme example of how we are a nation of the offended. When we encounter someone who offends us we go into victim mode to defend, protect, and get restitution/revenge for ourselves. And this is the culture we live in. INCLUDING the church.

So I went back to Matthew's gospel account of how to handle a situation when someone "sins (against us)". The steps outlined in this passage are:

1.) If someone sins (against us) then we are to go to the person in private and deal with that person to the end that the relationship is restored;
2.) If they do not respond we are to take two or three "witnesses" to bring the matter to them;
3.) If they don't respond then we are to bring the matter before the church;
4.) If the person still does not respond then we are to treat them as a Gentile or tax-collector.

I wanted to make the point that this is not about church rules nor ostracizing or excommunicating someone (although it has been used that way). This was a method of restoring relationship when someone offends another.

The point that someone challenged me on was #2. I made the statement that Matthew's gospel "borrows" a line from Jewish law to give #2 authority. Jewish law required that statements must be corroborated by 1 or 2 witnesses. I interpreted that in this passage to say that the offended should bring "witnesses" before the offender who were witnesses to the offense to support the offended in their claim.

I was challenged by someone who interpreted the passage to read that the offended bring witnesses to verify what was said between the offended and offender.

I still stand by my interpretation. But I can see the point of the other person.

So I put it to you: how do you interpret this passage?

Matt 18:16
16 "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so thatBY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED.

Matt 18:16-17
16 But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.

Matt 18:16
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.'