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D.A. Carson on Matthew 18 and Public Rebuke

Matthew 18 is too often mis-used in public dialogue. I can’t say anything like D.A. Carson, so I offer here the link to his answer to the criticism that we should talk to a person privately before rebuking them publicly. Read the whole thing here.

There is a flavor of play-acting righteousness, of disproportionate indignation, behind the current round of “Gotcha!” games. If Person B charges Person A, who has written a book arguing for a revisionist understanding of the Bible, with serious error and possibly with heresy, it is no part of wisdom to “Tut-tut” the narrow-mindedness of Person B and smile condescendingly and dismissively over such judgmentalism. That may play well among those who think the greatest virtue in the world is tolerance, but surely it cannot be the honorable path for a Christian. Genuine heresy is a damnable thing, a horrible thing. It dishonors God and leads people astray. It misrepresents the gospel and entices people to believe untrue things and to act in reprehensible ways. Of course, Person B may be entirely mistaken. Perhaps the charge Person B is making is entirely misguided, even perverse. In that case, one should demonstrate the fact, not hide behind a procedural matter. And where Person B is advancing serious biblical argumentation, it should be evaluated, not dismissed with a procedural sleight-of-hand and a wrong-headed appeal to Matthew 18.


2 Responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly. I’ve seen many a self-enshrined religious manipulator do just what Carson is describing!

    Paul rebuked Peter “before them all” in Galatians 2. Peter’s teachings were leading others astray and causing schisms within the Body of Christ. The issues were public and leading others astray and could only be addressed publicly. There is no dithering or hand-wringing by Paul over Matthew 18.

    Christ’s teachings in Matthew 18, and it’s mirrored companion passage in Matthew 5, are meant to address, maintain, and reconcile inter-personal relations and not intended to be applied to instances of heresy or the propagation of doctrinal errors.

    If a man wants to earn preacher pay and eat preacher chow and accept the prestige such a position has in some circles, then he had better fear open, public rebuke when his words and actions don’t line up with Scriptural teachings and principles. “Them that sin rebuke before all that others may fear…”

    I’m a layman…but I want a preacher to know that I won’t hesitate in loving confrontation and correction if he steps out of line; I’ve seen too many scoundrels get away with too much nonsense during my time in IFB circles.

  2. It doesn’t just happen in IFB circles . . . but your overall point is true. Matt. 18 was not meant to be a hard-and-fast procedure for handling confrontation over sin. If there were true, many of the biblical writers (most notably Paul) would have been in violation of that procedure.

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