Matthew 18:15-20 Covenantal Church Discipline.
Jesus laid down a procedure for dealing with cases where a believer might be guilty of sinning against another believer. The first thing to do is to try and resolve the matter one on one in private (v. 15). This highlights the importance placed upon reconciliation with a fellow believer, and not bringing in anyone else unless they refuse to acknowledge their wrong. This was also the preferred approach, according to the law, rather than harbouring hate toward the offender, or worse yet acting on that hate and taking vengeance into one’s own hands (Lev. 19:17). Anyone turning a sinner from their way in this way “will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (Js. 5:20).
A failure to acknowledge their sin after this initial meeting, then necessitates treating the matter in a more judicial fashion by taking one or two witnesses to have their obstinacy confirmed if they still refuse to acknowledge their wrong (v. 16). The law also gave the accused an opportunity to explain themselves (Dt. 1:16-17; Jn. 7:51). Whether a prominent individual in the covenant community or not, the same rule applied (Cf. I Tim. 5:19). The calling of witnesses also hearkens back to the law (Nu. 35:30; Dt. 17:6; 19:15). Again, this rule was put in place to place vengeance in God’s court by the rule of law. It was a prohibition against vigilantism.
The final judicial and covenantal confirmation came in a declaration before the whole church, with the hope still being that the confirmed offender might repent (v. 17 Cf. II Th. 3:6, 14). Note well that Jesus refers to the covenant assembly, still before the formation of Christian churches, as the ‘church’. If they did not repent, then the church was to excommunicate the offender. This power to bind and loose was here given by Christ to his people (v. 18 Cf. Jn. 20:22-23). Two or three persons in agreement was all that was required (v. 19 Cf. I Cor. 1:10). These verses have become the measure of what constitutes an assembly, congregation, or church (v. 20 Cf. Acts 20:7).