To properly exercise church discipline, an understanding of the difference between private (secret) and public sins, and how each is to be dealt with, is necessary.
A private (secret), sin is one that is witnessed and known by only one or a few other members. Secret sins must be dealt with according to the "Matthew 18 Principle" as printed below.
THE MATTHEW 18 PRINCIPLE
The Scriptural Method For Dealing With Private Sins
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.
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
- Matthew 18:15-18
The Matthew 18 Principle teaches the following three steps:
1. Speak privately with the fellow member about his sin. This must be done wisely, carefully, sincerely, and with genuine care and concern.
2. If the member will not listen but continues in the same sin, take one or two respectable, trustworthy, confidential witnesses with you to speak with him again.
3. If the member would still not listen, but stubbornly refuses to break with his sinful practice, then you must bring this matter to the attention of the consistory. Your motive should be one of genuine concern for his well-being.
The following example provides a practical illustration of the Matthew 18 Principle put into action.
Is the distinction between private and public sins based upon a human or divine perspective? Why?
Which displays true care and concern for another, ignoring the dangerous sins of another or warning him of them? Why?