Weaponizing Matthew 18

Seth Brickley

Anyone paying attention over the last decade has seen mainstream American evangelical Christianity drifting (if not diving) to the Left. This became crystal clear when the “wokeness tsunami” overtook American society in 2018. Sadly, most well-known evangelical institutions went right along with a hard push from the political (and theological) Left. Those who understand how the Christian Left operates will know that they use certain verses frequently to advance their agenda

A verse commonly heard is Matthew 7:1: Do not judge, lest you be judged. Many who don’t know their Bible well will still know this verse, though typically completely out of context. They try to make the verse say that it’s wrong to tell someone to refrain from sinning (usually a very specific set of sins). To do so is “judgmental” and “unloving,’ though the Bible clearly admonishes people to repent and turn from their sins (Acts 2:38)

“If your brother sins against you”

Another favorite passage that wicked people will use to accuse others is Matthew 18:15-20, the passage dealing with conflict within the church (“If your brother sins against you…”). There are many examples of corrupt leaders in Christian institutions and churches weaponizing Matthew 18 against someone seeking to expose their compromise or complicity in evil. The effort is to take the blame off the guilty and heap it on the one shining the light on the sinful actions.

Several years ago I heard about a pastor who had a sinful past that was brought to light. A woman he was involved with years before spoke out publicly to reveal that he had been adulterous. All the disqualified pastor could say when confronted was, “She didn’t follow Matthew 18.”

Matthew 18 has been especially used by the Woke leadership of evangelical institutions to accuse those who have exposed their liberal drift. A pastor within a particular Christian denomination wrote a book exposing compromise within the denomination. The denominational leadership said this about the pastor: “It was our conclusion that had this pastor spoken to these individuals within the denominational leadership before publishing his book, he would have better understood them and would have different conclusions, correct conclusions, and a better book.” Referencing Matthew 18, the leadership is saying that if this pastor had just come and talked to them then everything could have been resolved.

The pastor who spoke out against the leadership was correctly concerned with the unbiblical content pastors and members were receiving publically, so he responded publicly in addressing his concerns. He desired to raise awareness to bring the leadership to repentance and to warn pastors and church members not to be influenced by the false teaching that had been pushed through conferences, articles penned, and books recommended.

The denominational leadership continued their accusations against this pastor saying, “His publication both in writing and video, violates the principle of Matthew 18 and instead employs a misreading of Galatians 2 bringing about published slanderous and accusatory words against the denominational leaders.” But the pastor never made baseless charges against the leaders. To say that this pastor violated Matthew 18 is a false charge, but it is one often used by progressive evangelicals attempting to steer to the left.

Matthew 18 Context

Matthew 18 addresses a local church context where one individual sins against another. The individual who has been sinned against is to go (personally) to speak to the offender. A parallel passage is 1 Corinthians 5 where the apostle Paul instructs the church in Corinth to discipline an unrepentant church member as one, several, and finally, the whole church confronts him. Generally, if there is a conflict between individuals the conflict should be resolved between two parties before others are brought in. But in the situation where a pastor or anyone else exposes public corruption among leadership, Matthew 18 is not applicable in the same way.

When an individual or Christian organization produces public materials, a public response is appropriate. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul confronted Peter about his unwillingness to be seen with Gentiles when the Judaizers were present. Paul told Peter that he was out of step with the gospel, and he did so in front of everyone present. He desired for everyone to know, for their own benefit, that this error was unacceptable.

Furthermore, when Jesus addressed the Jewish leadership in Matthew 23 and throughout the gospels, he didn’t “practice Matthew 18,” but addressed the public errors to the masses, calling them not to follow leaders who would lead them away from the Lord. To respond publicly to public errors is not only common sense but it is the biblical pattern.

Spurgeon and the Downgrade Controversy

The abuse of Matthew 18 in the modern day is nothing new. Charles Spurgeon faced this very charge during the Downgrade Controversy. The magazine that Spurgeon published, The Sword and The Trowel, frequently mentioned the liberal drift of the Baptist Union. The denomination’s leadership was angry that Spurgeon was bringing these errors to light. Instead of listening to Spurgeon and repenting of their errors, they weaponized Matthew 18 against him. They said he should have gone to particular individuals to resolve his concerns.

But Spurgeon understood the biblical pattern: that public errors deserve a public response. Had Spurgeon gone to all these men privately, they would have come up with new charges, continuing to accuse him of being divisive. The bottom line is that the Baptist Union in that day and evangelical denominations in our day are comfortable in compromise, and they feel threatened when true biblical shepherds expose them.

Weaponizing Matthew 18

Corrupt leaders have no problem weaponizing Matthew 18 against those who threaten their position and status by exposing their disqualifying errors. Christians need to understand the application of Matthew 18 and the situations where it truly applies. Christians also need to understand that deceitful people desire to abuse Scripture to advance their agendas. In the case of Matthew 18, it’s to take the blame off the individual or institution caught in compromise and shift it to the one who brought the problems to light. It’s a sly tactic, but sadly one used frequently in our day. Faithful pastors and Christians have experienced this weaponization of Matthew 18 by its misapplication, but this should not be. Our prayer must be that Christian leadership weaponizing Matthew 18 will cease participating in this deceit and come to repentance, or at least be seen for who they really are, a leadership committed to their own agenda over Christ (1 Peter 5:2).

When Matthew 18 is thrown around, Christians must be discerning.

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