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The “Witness” of

Matthew 18

Please have Rev. Daniel Kleyn complete his article [“The Neglected Admonition,” Standard Bearer, Dec. 15, 1999]. Don’t “neglect” to explain exactly what is meant as “witness.” It cannot necessarily mean witness to the sin against the brother. I was involved in a situation like this and accompanied the offended brother as a “witness.” To make a long story short, I left the PCA because of what transpired. I am very interested in what the author has to say about the “witness” and his responsibilities.

Emmett O’Donnell

Fulshear, Texas

Response:

The Standard Bearer article referred to spoke of the calling one has to speak to a brother or sister who, in his judgment, has sinned against him. This is, according to Matthew 18, the first step of discipline.

The question, however, concerns an aspect of the second step of discipline. This step involves speaking again to the accused. But this time one is called to take along “one or two witnesses, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matt. 18:16).

The questioner asks about the witness (witnesses) who is (are) involved in this second step of discipline. Who is he? And what must he do and say?

The witness, as the questioner correctly points out, is not necessarily one who witnessed the sin. If this had to be true, there would be many cases in which it would be impossible to find a witness, and thus impossible to deal with sin beyond the first point of discipline. For quite often one who has been sinned against is the only one who is aware of and who has witnessed that sin.

The witness, then, is a witness, not of the sin, but of the fact that the accuser has spoken to the accused about the sin. This means that before anything else is done the witness must first be sure that the accuser has already spoken to the accused privately. If this has indeed taken place, they then together visit the erring brother.

The witness is first of all an observer. As an observer, the following matters are of concern to him. Has the accusation been presented properly and fairly? Has this been done in the spirit of the love of Christ? Is the accuser sincerely and lovingly seeking the repentance of the sinner? And also, is it definitely the case that the one being accused remains unrepentant with regard to the sin?

Of all these things he must be a witness. And thus, if the matter goes beyond the second step of discipline, he is now a witness to the fact that the first and second steps have been correctly carried out. He must be present so that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”

However, the witness does more than simply observe. As Matthew 18 indicates, he also has the responsibility to say something. This is clearly implied in the first part of verse 17: “And if he shall neglect to hear them.” The one accused of sin must hear, not just “him” (the accuser), but “them” (the accuser and the witness). Obviously the witness also speaks.

But what may and what must the witness say?

The witness does not automatically say the same thing as the accuser. It is very well possible that the accuser is the one who is wrong. For that reason the witness must not come to the meeting already convinced that the accused has indeed committed the sin. He must come with an open mind. Before he says anything regarding the sin, he must hear out both sides. He must determine whether the accusation is true. He must determine who is right and who is wrong. He must make a judgment. And on the basis of that judgment, he speaks.

If the witness is convinced that the one who is being accused of sin is indeed guilty, he must say so. He must lovingly admonish the sinner. He must point out to him, as the offended brother has, his sin. Lovingly, remember! He is to be motivated by the desire to lead the sinner to repentance. He ought to do all he can to turn the sinner from the error of his ways. If the sinner repents, the matter is finished and forgotten. But if this does not happen, then, and only then, is the matter brought to the church (the consistory).

It may happen, however, that the witness determines that the one who is being accused of sin has not really committed the sin. In this instance, too, he is called to speak. But now he must show the accuser that he is wrong in accusing the other brother of sin. The accuser must be called upon to confess that sin and to seek forgiveness from the brother he has accused. In this way too, through the work of God’s grace in His people, reconciliation takes place.

— Rev. D. Kleyn