At least that is often what happens, isn’t it? Most people want community, until it starts to actually happen. Most people want to feel welcomed, have a place to belong and fit in, and they want the pastors to visit them when they are sick, or help out with finances when times are tight. But people generally don’t want to test their convictions in a community, the don’t want to submit their discernments to a community, or let the community be a mirror by which to see themselves as they really are, beyond the self-protective delusions in which we all engage.
But when a serious dispute arises, all that wonderful talk of community disappears and people just want to kill each other, at least in their hearts, but usually also in their words, and actions (although hopefully not extending to physical harm, but I’m sure it sometimes does!). When conflict arise we stop submitting our discernments, we stop testing our conviction, we begin to feel justified and pious, and often always attempt to bring in the pastoral cavalry, the Authorities, to make a judgment on our behalf. Has anyone else experiences this?
But Jesus leads us into a new community, a community of reconciliation where there aren’t just winners and losers in a conflict, where there aren’t merely those who are right and those who are wrong, but where restoration of relationships can occur. In Matthew 18 Jesus give us a process for church reconciliation, not a process of church discipline. And in this process the ecclesial authorities come in last. This process is what John Howard Yoder calls “reconciling dialogue” where each person commits to continue talking to each other (“just between the two of you”). If that doesn’t work, then broaden the conversation with a mediator (“so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.'”). If that doesn’t resolve the dispute, the offense, the sin, then bring it to the “town-hall meeting” (the meaning of ecclesia, not “called out ones”), so that it, the community, can decide (“binding and loosing”) the issue. And the entire purpose is the reconciliation of those involved, not the public shaming of sinners, or an example for youth about the consequence of sin!
To sum it up, here are three ‘P’s. The purpose/product of Matt. 18 is the reconciliation of one to another when there has been an offense. And this reconciliation is lived as peace in love for each other and God. But this product of peace, of a loved unity-in-diversity cannot come about through the pronouncements of various leaders or authorities regarding the disputed matter. Pastors can’t just jump into a dispute and pronounce the virtues of tolerance, of diversity, of loving acceptance at the beginning because these can only truly be a result. So instead of making pronouncement for/against the people involved, which inevitable creates a class of victimized losers and righteous winners, we must all commit to the process of reconciling dialogue, submitting fully to this Christ-ordained process so that we can become a real community which lives into and between all the diversity, differences, annoyances, and blessings of each other. So the product of reconciliation can’t be short-circuited by authoritarian pronouncements, but must enter into the Spirit directed process of where care and clarification can occur.
So can we just stop killing each other and/or stop playing the victim, and get to the work Christ has put before us?
Things still to cover:
1) In more concrete terms, what is this reconciliation we are after?
2) How does this not turn into a tyranny of the community (group think)?
3) How does the larger community of God relate to a local community?
4) What about 1 Cor. 8, 10, and Rom. 14?