A Study of Matthew 18:15-17
“But God hath called us to peace.”
(I Corinthians 7:15)
“And the way of peace have they not known.”
God has said of someone — I do not say He said it to me — that He “hath called us to peace.” There IS someone He has called to peace, and I do not say it was you. But, it is certain that God has called someone to peace. He also says of someone else, “The way of peace have they not known.” So someone is called to peace, and someone has never known the way of peace. This is evident from the portions of the texts quoted above. I shall not deal with them in their contextual setting — I’ll leave that to the reader. Rather, I hope, the Lord willing, to deal specifically and practically with the truths thus stated in a more general application.
Of all the precious prizes the poor saints of God on earth possess, it is the peace of God. The peace of God that passeth all understanding they have experienced in their deliverance from the powerful dominions of sin. The peace of God in the fellowship of the church of God, is one of its greatest and most blissful graces they have experienced in this life. They have felt the sweet flow of spiritual fellowship from breast to breast, and they need no text to cause them to embrace one another and greet one another with the holy kiss. Never would a young saint ever believe that they should ever feel any discord in this heavenly grace in their blissful, radiant soul while in their first love.
Ah! how horrible, to feel it gone!
How miserable the coldness, and how disillusioned the spirit, when this peace is breached and the Blessed Spirit withdraws His felt-presence from those who are “called to peace.”
Never have I experienced more heartrending agony than I do for Zion’s sake. I go mourning and distressed with my heart reaching out fervently for the poor suffering saint torn asunder by the present strife among them. I realize many wish nothing said, hoping it will just “go away”; and find them blundering from one sad experience to another, and then waiting fearfully for the next. The peace of Zion needs emphasis, and particularly the remedy given in the “way of peace.”
Brethren, I have a burden for the peace of the church, and silence is not the remedy. Here I am, whatever I am, esteemed at least by the churches I serve as a man of God entrusted with the care of the flock. To say nothing, for fear of man, is to be no better than those hirelings who flee when the wolf comes.
This address is a general address. I see no need for partiality. I ask the reader not to be so liberal as to give this to that other brother, but keep it closer home. I often hear reports of troubles among others not associated with our churches. Reports which are often reported gleefully, no less, and this adds to my afflictions.
Shall any one tribe of spiritual Israel rejoice over the afflictions and distresses of the other tribes?
Is it not true that when one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer?
If so, wherein can any boast, rather than mourn?
I cannot believe that associations and chains of correspondences are churches; or that they are of divine origin. But I do see and recognize those churches in them, as churches of Christ. Collectively, they are the members of the body of Christ.
Occasionally I’m given opportunity to speak in various associations and correspondences. And I have found the same love, the same rejoicing in free grace, the same presence of the Spirit of God among them as is found among our independent churches. They have the same joys, the same afflictions, the same crosses, the same experiences, etc., as are found in any one correspondence of them, or among us.
When the Zion Landmark correspondence suffered their distresses, I was also distressed and grieved. When the Signs correspondence suffered the same tribulations, my heart was equally grieved. And when our own churches answer “not in peace”, I am distressed. No tribe has a monopoly on peace. There has never been a division with all the goats on one side, and all the sheep on the other. None have a monopoly on the truth, nor on the blessed felt-presence of the Spirit of God. The church is one body, notwithstanding the peculiarities and personalities which dwell in it.
And Zion, as a whole body — regardless of affiliations — is in the throes of convulsion as great as ever before. The poor sheep of Christ’s pasture in all of them are in great distress.
Ah, my brethren, where is our peace when Zion mourns?
We each have our differences (and I ask none to sacrifice truth for peace sake, nor advocate union), but the sad consequences of the present general rupture of peace throughout Zion must alarm and perplex whoever that people is that “is called to peace.”
Surely if there be any who “have not known the way of peace,” then there must be “a way of peace” of which they are in ignorance.
Ah, dear saint, surely of all people on earth, you must have known the way of peace through the sufferings and forgiveness, and mercies of Christ.
Can one ever forget it — really lose it?
Would such a merciful God love such with an everlasting love, send His darling Son to bleed and die, and send His Holy Spirit to one for this very end — to “call us to peace” — and have failed to make provision in His decrees and appointments to maintain it once it was bestowed?
Can any imagine such a needful provision being left out of the Gospel way by the Eternal “I AM”?
Surely no believer can say so.
Where, then, is the appointed “way of peace”?
It is surely found in Gospel Order, for this order pertains to the Gospel of peace.
The very best I can do is to give you the letter of this WAY OF PEACE. I would to God He would give us all the spirit of it. The precious Saviour of His church gave the order of it, and here is the letter of it as given:
“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him ALONE: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, THEN take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear THEM, tell it unto the CHURCH: but if he neglect to HEAR the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
This is the most fundamental church order. All other grievances pale into insignificance before the words of Jesus for the peace of His own blood-bought church. Let men say who is in or out of “order”. Let them say what churches are in or out of order; let them say what they will about order – but let us know and consider this: that such an individual or church body that violates this order is surely “out of order.”
Here is the primary source of ALL our divisions, i.e., all members and churches without exception violate this way of peace in one way or the other at times. The answer to almost every problem facing the church of Jesus Christ in this upheaval is found right here. Bear with me as I attempt to set forth this way of peace, and forgive me of my plainness of speech.
As mentioned before, this word of our Blessed Saviour is Gospel order. First, it is according to the Gospel of peace. For those who “have been called to peace” and have known the way of peace in times past, it is glad tidings when applied by the Spirit to follow this rule and dwell in peace with brethren. So many poor sheep have been so torn and mauled by strife and discord that they can hardly dare to hope they will ever return to that first love when the peace of God was shed abroad in their hearts, and the love of the saints so warmly embraced them.
That Christ Jesus did indeed provide a “way of peace”, and that it can be re-established again by His appointed way so that joy and rejoicing may again be heard in the streets of Zion; and that the inhabitants of this holy city can again find protection by those they freely love — surely, that is good news, or the Gospel.
Second that it is “order”, can be clearly seen in the passage by anyone who can read. It is set forth in an order. It sets forth four clear steps in a specific orderly outline or arrangement. If such is not “gospel order”, I fail to comprehend anything else that can better qualify for that which is called “church order.”
In this simple, easy-to-be-understood order, the sweet love of Jesus to His precious lambs and sheep — as the Bishop or Shepherd of His Own flock — and the infinite wisdom of God, are set forth as a sure “way of peace” for them in His church. Let one scoff if they will; let him laugh if he dare — but this, at this present time, is most serious and needful of a full re-examination by ALL members and churches, in ALL independent and corresponding affiliations. Only such as are isolated from current events in the churches; or, calloused in their hearts; or, those who “have never known the way of peace” can deny the serious and urgent need to return to this divinely appointed “way of peace”.
Because it is self-evident that there has NEVER been, nor ever can be, a division among the churches except there FIRST be an offending party and an offended party. And this way of peace, as ordained by Christ, deals very specifically with the order of His church in dealing with brethren in this condition before it breaches the peace of the brotherhood. I beg of you, now, to consider seriously with me the four steps found in the instructions of the Lord cited above.
“If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.”
Some individuals are hard to offend, while others are very sensitive and easily offended. When one is called to peace in Christ, he comes with much of his Adam nature with him. As we all know by experience, this nature is hard to subdue. The quickened saint is not biologically changed. He carries on a constant warfare between the outer man and inner man of the heart. Being called to peace and the fellowship of the church, his fleshly nature will often offend.
And too, some who profess outwardly what appears to be an experience of grace may not necessarily “have known the way of peace.” If one has not been “called to peace” he cannot long appear peaceful. There are some who are wolves in sheep clothing who have crept in unawares. Such as these will surely try and vex the peace of the saints and of the church, robbing both of the joy and fellowship first found so sweet in their first love.
Some are young lambs who blunders into trespasses unwillingly and ignorantly, being unskillful in the word. Of the sheep it is said that “in many things we all offend.” (James 3:2) Seeing it is so that “we ALL offend,” the Lord has graciously, out of His great love and care for us, provided this as the very FIRST step in Gospel Order in our dealings one with another. It is right here, at this step, that the first breach of peace is always made.
After the trespass is committed, unwittingly or otherwise, the offended brother or sister is ordered by the Lord to go to the trespasser and “tell him his fault between thee and him alone.”
How often we hear individuals speaks of others offending them. And how often do we ask: “Did you tell him before you told me.” If not, this too, is disorder — and the greater offense! It is as this very point EVERY disorder begins.
Can we see the wisdom of Jesus in making this the first rule in His church?
Consider, if you will, that Old Baptists — more than any other people — fear to offend one of God’s children. Out of this fear and carefulness, Old Baptists, from ministers to the youngest lambs, have developed a manner of communication which is characterized by vagueness or ambiguity.
Ask almost any elder a simple question and see how long it will take him to answer it!
Indeed, when he is through, see if you received an answer to your question at all!
They expect, or necessitate, you to “read between the lines,” so to speak.
Reading “between the lines” is the most dangerous kind of communication, since one can readily read something never intended as easily as what was meant. Thus, “If a brother trespass against thee,” the Lord said, “go to him alone.” That is, clarify the issue at hand; try to communicate his fault “between him and thee alone.” That is far better than allowing a misunderstanding to destroy both your own peace and that of the church.
This FIRST STEP is mandatory in a grievance, and is the easiest of them all to perform.
“Tell him his fault between thee and him.” Notice He does not say “faults.” A specific “fault between him and thee” is intended — the fault that is the trespass. All of us have many faults, but all of them do not offend. But that particular fault which is the source of the trespass and offense is the sole subject to be corrected. Not faults which one adds to the grievance, but this one is the matter to be settled.
You’ll never make a perfect man out of your brother by getting him to lay aside all his faults!
He can’t do that. A man cannot change himself, but he can change a behavior if he knows what it is that offends. So tell him FIRST, and gain the brother.
Finally, in this first step, the offended party is the one required to go and talk to the offending party.
Not the other way around!
He may not know you are offended, so the burden is placed upon the offended, rather than the trespasser. In reality, seldom does the trespasser even suspect he has offended anyone. Thus the Lord makes the offended party responsible to initiate the reconciliation. If the trespass is not great enough for the offended party to follow this step, then he must drop it and say nothing to anyone else about it. To do so would then involve him in a greater offense than his brother by disobeying the commandment of Jesus.
Most of all, and this is the greater purpose, if he goes to the offender first he is most likely to “gain” his brother. Few are found in the church who wish to disturb the peace of another. It is very easy to gain a brother when one goes to him first, before going to others. At this point, he feels no need to defend himself or lay counter-charges against the offended brother.
“But if he will not hear thee, THEN take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”
The Lord has not subjected His church to the receiving of hearsay in its deliberations in offenses. Such as “have never known the way of peace” will also bear false witness. The children of God, too, in times of troubles are most often cast down and in the flesh, rather than in the Spirit. The flesh is capable of most any kind of transgression when the Spirit of God releases them to themselves. Thus, the church of God cannot, in Gospel order, receive an accusation unsupported by more reliable witnesses than the aggrieved participants.
But notice that at this step, the purpose still remains “to gain” the brother or sister. Discipline, at any step, is not designed to “get rid of members.” That is the ultimate sorrow. The whole order given by Christ is based upon love and restoring or maintaining the peace of His children. The witnesses are there to help restore the peace and fellowship of estranged brethren; to prevent other charges, and counter-charges which will make reconciliation more difficult.
How simple it is for someone to say or do something unwittingly and offend a brother or sister, for “we ALL offend.” How often are these simple rules of order neglected at the very outset and result in a division in the fellowship of the church. Once a church is divided, far too often sister churches seem to feel that they must decide which side is in “order” and thus divide associations or fellowships of churches. And sadly, how often other associations or fellowships are forced to divide one way or the other over a rupture in peace wholly unknown to them. And all this grief when the matter should have been resolved at the very beginning by this divine order.
Who among us can possibly desire to be the cause of such widespread dissolution in the peace of Zion?
Who at the very beginning, ever suspected their obstinate heart could cause so much destruction!
Read the words of the Lord Jesus in this same chapter which brought forth this discussion of these rules:
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Then surely it is worse to offend one (let alone thousands) of Gods people than to drown!
And He also further said:
“Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but WOE TO THAT MAN by whom the offense cometh!”
Ah, dear ones, how serious the matter of which we write!
“And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church.”
The steps herein are set forth so clearly, in such an orderly way, “that a wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein.” (Isaiah 35:8)
All of us – every member, every elder, every church — if we are indeed “called to peace” are absolutely bound to follow them to the very letter, or be in gross disorder.
The question before the church at this step involves, first of all, have the previous steps been complied with by the parties involved?
If not, the church has more than one offender before it to deal with: the first trespasser, and the other violator of Gospel order. If the steps have been taken, the church as a body now must labor to reconcile the parties. The primary purpose still remains, to “gain” the brother. All arguments in love, with all necessary Scriptural exhortations. admonitions, and instructions for correction are to be used by the church to reclaim an erring brother.
Let it be remembered what the Holy Ghost has said through James, “Brethren, if any of YOU do err from the truth, and one convert him, let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20)
That is the end, or purpose, for each step in Gospel labor. It is based upon love, and has as its end the fruit of the Spirit — the peace of the church of God.
Now if “He shall neglect to hear the church,” there is no further recourse open. The Woe to that man is now his.
“Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
He is hereby delivered to the world because of offenses.
The church is composed of all its members. If the steps HAVE BEEN FOLLOWED in both the letter and spirit of them — for reclamation of the brother, then ALL the members without exception have spoken, “Let him be unto thee (the whole body of the church) as an heathen man and a publican.” Or as such as they “who have never known the way of peace.”
In the past, this article could stop here. But today, it is needful of further comments, seeing this order is too generally ignored and most often violated. All the above is found in the context of a church’s peaceful deliberations to maintain their own peace and common accord in fellowship one with another. There is no Scriptural authority given for any other church, association, peace council, etc., to become involved in this process. “Tell it to the CHURCH” is the final step. It is the church, and church alone in which “Christ has pre-eminence” and the church is required by Gospel order to maintain the peace for those “who have been called to peace.”
Often a church will violate Gospel order out of fear of loosing the fellowship of certain other churches. But let them be mindful, that Christ is the Head of the body, and “to obey is better than sacrifice.” (I Samuel 15:22)
Whenever an individual, or church, takes the stand to act according to the truth of God, that individual or church must bear the consequences of that act. There is the room for compromise in this order without being delivered to troubles and confusion.
Any church, for fear of man, that violates this rule to hold the peace of unruly bodies elsewhere, will certainly find that peace shall not be theirs, for God is the sole “author of peace.” The saints of God have this law written upon their hearts, i.e., “And Him only shalt thou serve.”
It is yet possible, today, to follow good Gospel order, and yet suffer a division because another basic rule has long been neglected. But when both rules are followed, division is impossible. The rule of which I speak is that of receiving and dismissing member by unanimous consent. That, as all will agree, is Old Baptist rule, and certainly it is Scriptural rule.
Two-thirds, or a majority, is NOT the CHURCH.
The church is THE ASSEMBLY, the whole assembly. A minority is not “the church” nor any portion of the whole the church. When one is added to the church, they are added to the church, not to a minority or majority thereof. Thus, if one is excluded by THE CHURCH, it is the exclusion from the whole — not a portion of it.
Far too many elders and members have forgotten this rule.
It is Scriptural order, not Old Baptist tradition or custom. On the day of Pentecost, the disciples are described as being “all with one accord” when the Holy Spirit came upon them. (Acts 2:1)
When Ananias and his wife were struck down by the Holy Ghost, the church is said to have been “all with one accord in Solomon’s porch” (Acts 5:12).
When the dispute was settled over the question of circumcision, the report sent abroad said “It seem good unto us, being assembled WITH ONE ACCORD, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul.” (Acts 15:25)
Paul, writing to the Philippians urged them to “fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, BEING OF ONE ACCORD, of ONE mind.” (Philippians 2:2)
If there be another rule, I have not found it, except it be Robert’s Rules of Order, which is of, and for the world. But the point I wish to make is this: There has never been a division in a church where these rules were followed. It is past time for sound churches to get back to some of these first principles of good order.
Until this is done, I see no let-up in the discord, confusion, divisions and sufferings of our churches. I would to God He will work in each of us to faithfully follow His simple instructions.
The correspondence chains are being, or have already, been torn up by their roots as tares among the wheat. Their day has ended. The day of associations as “advisory councils” also has set. The churches no longer can put their trust in the arm and wisdom of flesh. These rules are set forth for our peace. Prize them.
By Stanley C. Phillips