Using Matthew 18 Properly: Trespasses, Gossip, or Heresy?

When controversial discussions arise, frequently someone states that the discussion cannot continue because Matthew 18 has not been followed. The verses in question—verses 15 through 17—state:

Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. (KJV)

In these discussions, the first phrase is often ignored—”Moreover if thy brother shall trespeass against thee.” Against thee. This oft-overlooked first phrase is essential to understanding the context in which this passage is to be applied.

Personal Trespasses against you

Matthew 18 specifically applies to trespasses committed against you. The passage appears to assume the context of both individuals being members of the same local church. However, it would appear to be within the bounds of orthopraxy (correct practice) to attempt to follow this approach when a personal wrong has been committed by a Christian attending another church—likely involving leadership of both churches if it must get to that point.

Personal Trespasses not involving you

Let’s suppose a personal trespass has been committed that does not involve you in any way. You’re not the person who did the wrong, the person wronged, or part of the local church leadership adjudicating the matter. Isn’t there a word for jumping into this discussion? Might it be six letters long, beginning with a “g” and ending with a “p”?

Public Statements of heresy

When a wolf in sheep’s clothing—or a misguided and misguiding sheep—proclaims heresy, it is the Christian’s responsibility to proclaim truth. Matthew 18 applies to personal wrongs—but heresy is a sin committed against the entire Body and Bride of Christ.

Context alone should be sufficient to make this clear. But lest there be any doubt, let’s look at a few passages.

  • In Matthew 23 (and elsewhere), Jesus spoke against the sins and excesses of the scribes and Pharisees in detail, going so far as to call them “hypocrites.”
  • In Galatians 2, Paul spoke out against Peter and Barnabas’s hypocrisy in acting one way with Gentiles and another with Jews. He referred to a past situation, where he spoke to Peter “before all men”—not one on one.
  • In 2 Timothy 4:10, Paul stated, “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica.” Paul had listed Demas as one of his co-laborers in Col. 4:14. Yet Paul here implies that Demas was no longer with him because of his love for this present world—and thus this is less a personal wrong and more a matter of apostasy. Flip the situation around; if Paul had remained silent and Demas presented himself to any of the churches in which the epistle to the Colossians had circulated, they would have assumed that he was speaking for Paul and followed him astray.
  • In III John 9, John publicly stated that Diotrophes would not receive him as an apostle. Honestly, in this case, we do not know whether John approached him one on one first, but since the issue was not accepting John’s authority, there is a reasonable presumption that he did not.
  • In Revelation 2:20, John conveys Jesus’ warning to the church in Thyatira, calling out Jezebel the self-styled prophetess by name.


The timing of this column was inspired by two controversies over the bookends—a speaker denying Genesis / creation and an author denying Revelation / Hell.

Yet it has its applications to Southern Gospel. When a sin of a personal nature has been committed by an artist, it is indeed appropriate to follow Matthew 18—if you are personally involved in the situation. (Naturally, there are no Biblical grounds for believing that buying a CD or ticket gives you standing to get involved in a matter of a personal sin, where you were otherwise uninvolved.)

Please do not misunderstand this; I am not using this to condone any sin. I Timothy 3 gives qualifications for church leadership; while the Bible does not specify that these are also to be applied to those who minister in multiple churches on an itinerant basis, group managers could find no better checklist in the process of hiring co-laborers. While it may be appropriate for a church issuing an invitation to a group to share their platform to inquire whether its members meet the Bible’s qualifications for local church ministry, these issues are rarely matters where it is appropriate for an observer to step into the situation!

On the other hand, when an artist or other public figure publicly proclaims heresy—or a song lyric intentionally or unintentionally proclaims a heretical teaching—it is quite appropriate for Christians to proclaim truth.

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26 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. That’s good Bible teaching, Daniel! I nodded my head at every sentence.

    • Thanks, Brian! I love writing/teaching the Bible every bit as much as I love writing about Southern Gospel. I’d write posts along this style even more here if I could think through appropriate Southern Gospel connections.

  2. I keep hearing bits about the revelation controversy. Who was it?

    • Mark, I think that’s Rob Bell, although he’s cutting across a lot more than just Revelation in what he says!

      • NSGFYGG is right – I was referring to Rob Bell. It just seemed appropriate to tie it to Revelation, since the other controversy right now is tied to Genesis.

  3. Here’s a very clear and helpful post addressing the “Bell brouhaha” in the context of Matthew 18, as Daniel is here:

  4. Regarding Rob Bell, everyone should check out the interview with Martin Bashir where Bashir absolutely grills him. can be found here…
    Check out yankeegospelgirl’s link too, also very helpful.

    Regarding Daniel’s last sentence –
    “On the other hand, when an artist or other public figure publicly proclaims heresy—or a song lyric intentionally or unintentionally proclaims a heretical teaching—it is quite appropriate for Christians to proclaim truth.”

    That is the only reason I could be “deemed critical” at all towards southern gospel. But I’m not…i love it. I look at everything with the same value of critique/analyzing. I think with song lyrics (which seems to be a big topic), most heretical/theologically incorrect statements are done unintentionally. But if we want the best in our genre, then it does become our place to help within the realm of “preserving doctrinal truth” in our music. That should be every Christian’s heart, not just in our music.

    Besides, I can be much more critical of song lyrics than a person’s life. Being on the road so many days throughout the year, people fail. We are fragile, unrighteous people. Those things hit close to home.

    • I saw somebody describe that interview as “bullying and unlistening.” Rubbish. Although I thought the false dichotomy about the problem of evil at the beginning was a little odd. Of course, Bell completely flubbed it, but since Bashir himself is also a Christian it’s just a bit puzzling. I suppose he wanted to see how Bell would react.

    • IBSR – I suppose I could sometimes be deemed critical in that aspect, too.

      After all, this site’s mission statement on our about page is (and has been for quite some time):

      “ exists first, to promote the spread of the Gospel through Southern Gospel music with accurate, incisive, and timely news reporting, reviews, and commentary, and second, to promote solid theology and orthopraxy (theology applied) within Southern Gospel.”

      In light of that second half, I’ve been known to take on a theologically bad lyric on occasion.

      • Ah, that would be “theologically bad” according to Daniel. Whether it’s objectively so can be a matter of debate. 😉

      • Whenever I’m making the case that a lyric is theologically bad, I cite abundant Scripture references, to that to the greatest extent possible those who take an issue with it can argue with the Bible instead of with me! 🙂

      • Actually, you haven’t always. Besides which, logically speaking your statement isn’t true. 😉

      • To clarify, your argument looks like this:

        Premise one: I think a particular lyric is theologically bad.

        Premise two: I am quoting a lot of Scripture and saying that it supports my position.

        Conclusion: I’m in complete accord with the Scriptures, and anybody who disagrees with me is also disagreeing with God.

      • Incorrect.

        If I give Scriptures that clearly prove a certain point – such as, say, that God does not approve of witchcraft – if someone continues to argue the point they are, at that point, arguing with the Scriptural proof I have offered.

      • And here’s to hoping there aren’t any moral relativists hanging around here – “it can mean to you whatever you want it to mean to you, and it means to me whatever I want it to mean to me.”

        There are points upon which God’s word is quite clear and not open to multiple interpretations. (Of course, there are also points upon which genuine Christians can honestly disagree.)

      • Ah, but I didn’t say there could never be a case where you in fact were in accord with the Scriptures.

        I simply said that it does not necessarily follow that simply because you are quoting Scripture, you’re right.

        That was all. And like I said, you haven’t even always quoted Scripture to support your points.


      • Ah well, if you had just said that (namely, that in your view sometimes my interpretation is incorrect) instead of making the categorical assertion that my statement was not true, I would not have had to make the categorical rebuttal. 🙂

      • Actually, your statement wasn’t true. This is what you said:

        “Whenever I’m making the case that a lyric is theologically bad, I cite abundant Scripture references, to that to the greatest extent possible those who take an issue with it can argue with the Bible instead of with me!”

        I was saying that a) You don’t always cite abundant Scripture references, but also that b) It’s not true that whenever we disagree with you, we’re also disagreeing with God because you always understand the Bible perfectly.

      • Daniel,
        I agree with you on the method.

        However, I think it’s easy to jump to the conclusion without connecting all the dots along the way. If the bible is clear, and you point that out, it may have been a matter of context rather than a biblical disagreement.

        The “Come Ye Sinners” debate over the word “charms” is one example.

        I’m sure we completely agree that a gospel song shouldn’t promote witchcraft. The disagreement I had with you was over whether the word “charms” must be viewed only as a reference to witchcraft.

        That, in and of itself, is not an opposing biblical stand, but a matter of how the word is understood when it’s used in the song.

      • I will agree that in that particular song, etymology was part of the question at hand.

      • David, precisely. The whole witchcraft thing was completely moot in that context.

        (But don’t take my word for it. Just ask Dianne Wilkinson. :-D)

  5. This was a good article… Read it on my phone (!) last week and didn’t have the patience to comment.

    • Thanks!

      I don’t have patience to do anything on a cell phone! Land lines are another story, though! 🙂

  6. I have now made myself familiar with the Genesis debate, which was new to me before this article brought it to my attention.

    Clearly, Ken Ham wanted Peter Enns to be disinvited from the conference, but unfortunately it backfired. Myself, I think it was completely unacceptable for Ham to be disinvited, but I probably would have allowed both writers to come and speak as long as they promised not to hit each other. 😉

  7. Speaking of Southern Gospel/artists, you should also mentioned those like Joel hemphill, of the hemphills who deny/attack the deity of our lord jesus Christ, and the Holy trinity. Joel’s new book is full of attacks on these two cardinal teachings of the historic christian faith. I now see his BLASPHEMOUS material on 4 anti-Deity of Christ sites. there are other Souithern Gospel artist who along with Joel, deny the deity of christ, and the Holy Trinity. One is on one of the anti-Deity of Christ sites that Joel is on. How one can write books, make tapes, attend conferences that attack the Deity of my Lord jesus Christ, and perform/teach in Christian churches is a real shame. There are still some fine exposes of Joel Hemphill on the web. Joel Hemphill and Jerry Bennett do-not proclaim what the historic Christian faith, and the millions of Christians today proclaim, that Jesus Christ is God.

    • I decided to approve this comment, since it is regrettably true that Joel Hemphill openly denies and attacks the divinity of Christ. However, since it is not specifically on topic, please move any further Hemphill discussion to an open thread.