Home > Mallinak, Methodology, Separation, The Church > The Church’s Grievance Policy

The Church’s Grievance Policy

August 24, 2009

I’ve appreciated Kent’s series on Shameful Alternatives for Church Discipline.  And, might I add, I agree.  These kinds of things are shamefully too common.  But I would also like to point out that our shameful lack of study of God’s Word on these sorts of things lends itself to an awful lot of shameful practice. 

Matthew 18 gives us an honorable alternative to the cold shoulder, conversational castigation, even pulpit bombardment.  Matthew 18 gives us the – get this now – Scriptural! approach to grievances and offenses.  Mind you, it might not appear in the majority of Leadership Manuals.  It may not fit anywhere in the Business Model to Church Management.  And you may not be able to locate a seminar on How to Follow Matthew 18 in real life.  But still, it’s there, in black and white, in English even, with all the necessary guidelines and policy points intact.

We might be tempted to think that Matthew 18 runs in one direction only – top down.  But that simply is not the case.  Certainly, Matthew 18 provides churches with the necessary guidelines for disciplining a member in sin.  But I would also like to point out (rather shyly) a little word that is repeated in various forms throughout the passage.  We see it in verse 15 no less than 6 times, in verse 16 twice, and in verse 17 once.  That little word is the second person singular pronoun “thy,” “thee,” and “thou.”  If — italicize here — THY brother shall trespass against THEE.  Note it well.  Jesus is speaking to you.  Not y’all, as they say in the Southern regions of the U.S.  He is speaking to you singular.  That means you yourself, you individually.  If thy brother shall trespass against thee.   Clearly then, the instruction is not only to church leaders, but also church members.  If you are offended, or your brother is in sin, here is what you do.

This is speaking to you as an individual, as a member of your local church.  Do you have a grievance?  Here is your grievance policy.  Note carefully what it says.  If thy brother shall trespass against thee… The word for trespass there comes from the Greek word hamartano – sin.  In this case, it is subjunctive, which means that the sin probably happened, but isn’t a definite thing.  Your brother sinned against you, or you think that he probably sinned against you.  What do you do?  The Bible says “go and tell him his fault between you yourself and him alone.

Simple enough?  And yet, this is where we stop, shake our heads, throw our hands up in the air, and say, “I just can’t do that.”  It is so much easier to tell everyone else about his fault, then it is to tell him.  Why is that?  Why is it easier to tell your neighbor about your adversary’s fault, or your wife about his fault, or your best friend about his fault, but not to tell him about his fault?  Why is it easier to go to the pastor and tell the pastor about the other guy’s fault, but not to tell the other guy about his fault?

One answer might be that we like having a problem, and therefore we don’t want to fix it.  I am amazed at how very unspiritual people can be in their pursuit of the appearance of spirituality.  We go about to establish our own piety in very unpious ways.  We want it to be righteous indignation, and of course, righteous indignation can only be directed towards unrighteousness and ungodliness.  Therefore, we must not only establish our own holiness, but we must also establish the unholiness of our opponent.

Another reason might be that we are chickens. 

Another reason might be that we are highly disturbed by the behaviors of the person in question, and of course want what is best for him.  And of course, wanting his best motivates us to tattle to any and every person who will hear.  We want to recruit the “prayer warriors” in the fight against our adversary.

Another reason might be cowardice.

Another reason might be that we lose the advantage when we go to him rather than go to others.  After all, when once we have approached him about it, and that privately, we can no longer use it against him in conversation.  At least, in theory we can’t.  I’ve known more than two gossips who could manage to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory this way.  But that being the case, it certainly makes it tougher to slander, when once you have approached him about his fault Scripturally (i.e. “between thee and him alone”). 

Another reason might be that we don’t like confrontation.  Telling unconcerned third parties about the issue is comfortable, even pleasant.  Telling him his fault “between thee and him alone” is not so pleasant.  Even more so if he disagrees with you.  And, in some cases, even more so if he hears you.  You might gain your brother, but you lose the offense and thus the opportunity.  And holding on to offenses, harboring resentments, and such like are favorite pastimes. 

Nevertheless, God commands that you go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.  And God gives the condition under which you must do this… “if thy brother shall trespass (sin) against thee.”  Whenever you have been wronged by your brother, you must go and tell him his fault “between thee and him alone.” 

And in so doing, we must keep in mind the high priority that God places on reconciliation.  God wants us, as much as is possible, to be at peace with one another.  Which would involve letting go of grievances.  Consider…

If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

If God wants us to live peaceably with all men, then it only stands to reason that He wants us to live peaceably with our fellow church members.  In fact, God wants this so much that He says…

Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

God wants reconciliation first.  That is His first goal.  And no amount of offerings or gifts can compensate for an unforgiving heart.  When we have an issue, God has a specific word of advice for us…

Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame.

Occassionally, a man will wear his contentious spirit around his neck like a medal of honor.  But God does not consider this sort of thing to be honorable. 

It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.

God puts a high priority on reconciliation.  After all, He sent His Son to die for ours. 

The Golden Path to Successful Personal Reconciliation

All things being equal, talebearing is not the Golden Path to Successful Personal Reconciliation.

Proverbs 11:13 A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.

Proverbs 17:9 He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.

Proverbs 18:8 The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.

Proverbs 26:20 Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.  As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.  The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.

The What of Reconciliation

God has given us a way — you might call it the Golden Path to Successful Personal Reconciliation — Matthew 18 lays it out in plain language.  Don’t tell others first.  First, tell your brother that sinned against you.  We could call this “the What.”  This is “What is to be done.”  Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.  And, if successful, you have gained your brother.  That is blessing.

The When of Reconciliation

Having explored the “What,” we next discover the “When” of this passage.  You might note the order here between verses 15 and 16.  First you tell him privately.  If he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more.  So, before you tell anyone else, you tell him.  That is the When – first.  When do you tell him?  You tell him first.

There is another When in this passage – when your brother is overtaken in a fault.  If he has sinned against you in a way that you cannot let go or forget about or ignore, then you must go to him alone.  By the way, if you feel that you need to discuss it with friends, with your family, or with your pastor, then it is serious enough that you need to discuss it with him.  And, in fact, you must discuss it with him first. 

People will always try to find a reason why their case is the exception.  If you are sulking about it, and you can’t be in good fellowship with your brother, then your case is not the exception.  If you feel the need to discuss it with others, then your case is not the exception.  If you find yourself dropping big hints all over the place, in really obvious ways, with really obvious clues, in hopes that others will ask you about it or discover the truth on their own, then your case is not the exception. 

So, is there an exception?  Yes, I think there is.  If you have gotten over it, without the help of anyone else; if you have forgotten about it; if, upon further review, you find that you took your brother’s action wrongly; or if you have come to the opinion that they were right in what they did, then your case is the exception.  In other words, if you can let it go without violating Scripture, then your case is the exception.

The How of Reconciliation

Next we should consider the How.  How should we pursue reconciliation?  In answering that question, we first must deviate from our text momentarily and consider another. 

Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.

Of course, the first point to be made here is that we must do all of this in the spirit of meekness, considering ourselves.  Notice that the Bible says “ye which are spiritual.”  That would mean no bad attitudes.  You are not spiritual if you have been gossipping and talebearing.  You are not spiritual if you have been sulking and/or pouting.  You are not spiritual if you want the offense to carry on without reconciliation.  The Bible says “ye which are spiritual.”  That would be the first thing then.  If you are not spiritual in your attitude and approach to the issue at hand, then you will not “restore such an one in the spirit of meekness.”  The ungodly attitude will not approach this in humility.  First, be sure that you yourself are spiritual.  Cast the telephone pole out of your own eye, then get out the tweezers for your brother’s. 

A good course of action would be to pray for your brother.  Pray for him, not with a Psalm 109 kind of prayer, but pray for him as one brother prays for another.  Ask God to give you discerment in the issue.  Ask God to make it very plain to you whether or not you should pursue the issue to begin with, and if so, why.  Pray for yourself, asking God to reveal any sinful attitudes or behaviors that may have caused or contributed to the problem.  Pray for yourself as you go to the person, that you would go with a right spirit.

When we go to the offender, we must go with the spirit of humility.  This would mean in part that we must go with the assumption that the offender is not aware of his offense.  Spurgeon argued that “We must seek out the offender, and tell him his fault as if he were not aware of it; as perhaps he may not be.”  This fits with the instructions of I Corinthians 13, which tells us the charity “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”  So often, we enter into these discussions with the presumption of guilt.  God would have us do otherwise.

The Why of Reconciliation

What should be obvious to us in all of this is the Why of this passage.  We do all of these things for the sake of our brother in Christ.  The Grievance Policy is very simple.  We go tell our brother privately.  If he hears us, then the issue is resolved and we are reconciled.  If he will not hear us, then we take one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.  If he refuses to hear them, then we tell it to the church.  If he still continues in his sin, then the church casts him out.  And God gives His full sanction to this action of the church.

We want to avoid this kind of thing if at all possible.  And so, we approach our brother privately first.  We do this to maintain the purity of the body.  We do this to gain our brother.  We do this to please the Lord.  Follow the Church’s Grievance Policy, and do it for Christ’s sake!

  1. Joshua
    August 25, 2009 at 4:06 am

    Practical question: when it says “two or three witnesses”, is that a reference to 2-3 who saw him sin, or 2-3 who will witness the second confrontation?

    Second practical question: What should church members do if they have no guarantee that the third step will be taken, or even the second? I think a lot of folk might agree with this, but what should they do if they are the only ones thinking this way. Do you think separation from that church is required?

  2. August 25, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    2-3 who will witness the second confrontation.

    Church members are limited, naturally, by what the pastor allows. If a church member approaches the pastor, and the pastor refuses to hear him, or else simply disagrees with the point at issue, and if there can be no resolution, then separation from the church would be required.

  3. Anvil
    August 26, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Another question along similar lines:

    If the original offense is denied by the accuse, and if when the 2nd confrontation occurs the accused still denies that anything took place, and the two or three witnesses to the confrontation are unable to gather enough facts to determine the case one way or the other, what then? Assuming the answer is “take it to the church,” (since that appears to be the biblical next step and there might possibly be some there who could shed some light on the case), but after hearing the case before the whole church there is still no evidence that the accused is guilty, and no way to determine which party might be lying, should the matter be dropped by the accuser? Or should there be a recess while the church prays about it, and then comes back to it later? This is the part of this process that has always been somewhat nebulous. Obviously there should be much prayer along every step, but that still may not guarantee any clear outcome. What should the church (and the accuser) do in this case? Any thoughts on this?

  4. August 26, 2009 at 1:20 pm


    Your questions raise an important issue, and I think I’d like to save my answer for a later post on this. I have had to deal with one issue along these lines, and you might be interested in what I found in Scripture on this.

    What I will say for now is that your question deals more with the rules of justice. Discipline follows justice. In this case, we need to follow the rules of justice first, and then, if we find the defendent guilty, deal with the disciplinary side of things.

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