Aaron Malone in writing about the Steve Young and the San Francisco 49ers win had this headline, “Super Bowl XXIX: Steve Young gets the monkey off his back.” As Aaron Malone wrote about the game, “The game started with a bang for the 49ers. On the third play of the game, Young found Rice for a 44-yard score. The fireworks were underway. The Chargers punted on their first possession and Young took four plays to return the football in the end zone. A 51-yard pass to Watters gave the team their second touchdown in under five minutes, and a 14-0 lead.” The 49ers went on the win 49 to 26. The monkey of Joe Montana’s legacy was off Steve Young’s back. He finally would take his team to Super Bowl gold.
You may wonder where is the world is this post going? We are going to talk about how we handle conflict in the church. I have seen Matthew 18 handled well in the church and poorly. I have recently teamed lead an elder training workshop with a pastor buddy of mine and this issue of handling complaints and gossip about the pastor came up. When I mentioned that Matthew 18 should be our model, there were a lot of blank stares in the room. To review here is the passage.
15 This is what you do if one of your brothers or sister’s sins against you: go to him, in private, and tell him just what you perceive the wrong to be. If he listens to you, you’ve won a brother. (The Voice)
There is in most Lutheran Constitutions a process for church discipline. However, do not lose sight of the purpose of the discipline. It is not to punish a person, but to restore a fallen brother or sister and to heal the entire Christian community. It should not be entered into lightly or in a heavy-handed manner. What we pray for at the end of this process is to have two believers become reconciled and the body of Christ witness forgiveness and healing.
So let’s dig deeper in the what some have called “The gentlest of the four steps of church discipline.” The beginning step:
(1) Go the one how offended you in private.
Recently I co-led an elder training workshop and this became a major sticking point. Everyone wants to jump to step two bring two or three witnesses to deal with an erring brother or sister. That is understandable, the person we are dealing with is in pain. They were offended and hurt, everyone except the person who hurt them seems to know about this. And being good caring Christian people, we want to help them. So we voluntarily offer to take the monkey off their backs and gladly put it on ours. Warning, Warning “Don’t take the monkey!” Because it is not your monkey, you don’t owe it to the person to take their monkey. It hurts the churches community and harmony for you to take their monkey. They need to go and deal with their own monkey. This is a critical first step in the process of reconciliation.
(2) Preserve the dignity of the straying brother.
If we take their monkey we rob people have erred the opportunity to confess that sin in private and receive forgiveness of that sin. Also, this increases the likelihood that the request for a meeting will be perceived in a loving way. As opposed to the very first time you hear about the incident is in front of something akin to the Spanish inquisition. At this point, a person’s natural tendency is to become defensive or aggressive when they feel attacked or threaten. Not the ideal way to bring about reconciliation and healing.
(3) The objective of the meeting: Show the straying brother or Sister their sin.
We must go into every confrontation assuming that the end goal will be confession and absolution. Assuming that what offense has occurred, was not done with willful intent, but is possibly a matter of negligence, or that we wrongly perceived the person’s actions. We pray that when this is brought the person attention that the straying brother or sister will respond with Christian love.
(4) Reconciliation and healing are our goals in the meeting.
The section of Scripture immediately following Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus has this conversation with Peter. “21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked him, “Lord, how often do I have to forgive a believer who wrongs me? Seven times?” 22 Jesus answered him, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy times seven.” (GWN)
You have to love just how dense Peter comes across in Scripture because it means there is still hope for me. The question is asking is how far do my grace and forgiveness have to go? Seven times far exceeds the rabbinic maxim of forgiving three times. Peter is really saying to Jesus, “So once a brother or sister has crossed that magical line, we can write them off right, Lord?” And Jesus responds to this by saying there is no limit to forgiveness. And pointing Peter back to God’s approach to forgiveness. “And at what point can God write you off? “He doesn’t! God’s forgiveness is unlimited. So for us how are disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ our forgiveness also has no limits. So our goal in reconciliation is to get to a point of forgiveness. That is the end goal, not just once, but seven times seventy.