In a previous post, I believe I've at least made a case that churches ought to use Matthew 18 for reconciliation and church discipline whenever they've got a case of one believer--member--sinning against another. As I recall a situation from when I was young in Christ--where a known unrepentant adulterer was serving as an usher--I really have trouble imagining a case in which I would not want known sin to be confronted in this way. We can quibble over who is the victim who ought to confront, ask whether we ought to start in verse 15 or 16, and finally pray that church leadership learns what they need to do, but if we trust church leaders and members to serve on a jury, we then ought to require them to use the same kind of discretion in church discipline.
So back to the point; in what cases would the early church have reported sins to the state, and how can we apply their logic today? Let's start by noting that the early church would not have referred every crime against Rome to the state. Christianity itself was illegal, most believers had no access to the courts, and even if a sponsor could be found to bring the matter there, the case might end up throwing the entire church to the lions.
I would therefore guess that they would only do so if the crime was such that the risk to the church was exceeded by the risk of the criminal to society. Let's apply that standard to the kind of cases that often scandalizes churches; where adults physically or sexually abuse children and teens.
For starters, we're not being thrown to the lions these days, and much of our civil and criminal law actually follows Biblical principles. So we don't have the element of fear that the early church did. We do, however, have a danger to society; the average child molester molests eight girls or up to 240 boys, creating lifelong damage that is almost as significant as killing that child.
Using the logic of the ancients, we learn that the question is not if we ought to report them, but rather when and how. One more fact; physical and sexual abuse leaves evidence that the police can collect if we approach them in time. They may or may not be smarter than we are, but they have the tools.
What then is our role, given that we do not face the Circus Maximus for reporting a heinous crime? It would seem that we therefore fulfill Matthew 18 by providing an advocate for the accuser, encouraging the accuser to go before authorities, preparing them for what they will face, and supporting them during that process--while following through on the rest of the Matthew 18 process as the allegations do, or do not, wind through the courts.
The last part is key IMO, as the central point of Matthew 18 is not church discipline, but rather a ministry of reconciliation. Instead of appealing solely to Romans 13 and casting the sinner loose and trying to patch things up later, why not use the Matthew 18 process to persuade the defendant to make things as easy as possible on the accuser by making a full confession?
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