Pancho and Poncho Fell Out


Falling in love …, falling out of love … It happens all the time. Also with brotherly love among Christians. That first love mentioned in Revelation 2:4 surely included a tender love and care for the “brothers and sisters”. But it was receding, and coldness, censure and criticism took its place. The first one to know and feel it was the Lord himself.

Once Adam and Eve had fallen out of God’s loving will for their lives, they must have had plenty of squabbles even before their firstborn son ever came along. Adam probably reminded Eve now and then of how dumb she had been to even listen to that ‘old serpent’. Eve would then retort that if she was so dumb, then he was even dumber in doing the same thing she had done … Their sons and daughters have been squabbling ever since. The squabble of the first two sons was fatal, with Abel paying the ultimate price of being a God-lover, and so becoming the first martyr.

Many centuries later Ishmael mocked his little (half) brother Isaac. Isaac’s twin boys, Esau and Jacob, had a falling out before they were even born! Jacob’s beloved son, Joseph, when just a 17-year old, was nearly a victim of fratricide. His brothers’ wrath, when he kept on telling them about the dreams God was giving him, didn’t in the end kill him, but led to his being sold into slavery.

Do brothers quarrel nowadays? The Corinthian brothers-in-Christ were jealous of each other and quarreled (1 Cor. 3:3). They had disputes and even went to law against each other (6:1-8). Among the Galatian brothers there were those who kept on biting and devouring each other (Gal. 5:15). Paul had to exhort the Ephesian brothers about getting rid of their bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander (Eph. 4:31). He also had to plead with two sisters, Philippian co-workers of his – Euodia and Syntyche – to agree with each other in the Lord (Phil. 4:2). Sound familiar …?

As itinerant workers among modern New Testament churches in a number of countries, what do we find? We find that the “I.Q.” levels can be pretty high, that is, the ‘Intractable Quarrels’. The potential, at least, is always there. What an amazing plethora of ‘church denominations’ do we have today, much of it the fruit of those brotherly (and sometimes bloody) IQ’s of history.

Not long ago, in one small church with no more than about ten members altogether, I discovered that the only two men in the congregation, Pancho and Poncho, are just keeping up appearances. They have not been on speaking terms for years. It was a sobering experience, to say the least.

To think that any modern New Testament churches should, or could, be an exception to what NT churches have been throughout the centuries, is to delude ourselves. If the original ones manifested the life of Christ, and had serious problems, we can hardly expect ourselves to be doing better than they. The realities just aren’t all positive, which is what our Lord was pointing out in a number of those amazing Kingdom-of-Heaven-which-is-still-on-earth parables in Matthew 13. The life of Christ (the new man) may be reproduced in all love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), but you also get old Adam reproduced. That is the opposite stuff. The parable of the mustard seed, for instance, exemplifies dynamic, spiritual growth in lives and congregations, but growth and expansion are no insurance against demonic and worldly influences, which is what the “birds of the air” stand for. Jesus declared that they will settle among its branches (Mt. 13:31-32, with verses 4 & 19, and 1 Tim. 4:1-3; Rev. 18:2).

By its very nature a NT church cannot have a central Moses figure, a Solomon type of problem-solver, sorting out the disputes and the complaints of the brothers; a kind of high priest or professional pastor – paid to keep everybody happy, well-fed, busy and out of trouble. What is it a NT church has at its center?  All it has is Christ ..!  Nothing more, nothing less! Move away from that NT model, that simplicity in Christ, and sooner or later all you have is an empty shell. It is only too easy to squander the right to call ourselves a “New Testament church” …

So are NT churches the worse for not having “a professional pastor”? No, the Good Pastor of John 10 is infinitely more than even a Solomon or a Moses! He is the Head of his church.

Poncho doesn’t often attend the meetings now, but when he does, he and Pancho sit in opposite corners. They may manage a handshake, but there is NO brotherly love, no brotherly care, no brotherly fellowship. A sad quarrel gone sour. The Word says that we must not let the sun go down on our anger. Pancho and Poncho let it go down a thousand times. Yet, even though things seem to have gotten out of hand, who would say they are beyond God’s amazing grace and mercy? All that is really needed is to allow HIM to break the hardened hearts.

A wise pastor, experienced and with some ‘psychology’ under his belt, would soon have sorted them out, but there is no ‘pastor’ … No trappings, no trimmings, no human traditions; all they have is the Head of the church, the “Good Pastor”, and … they have not allowed him to do his work. Does God’s Word address a situation like that?

In Matthew 16 our Lord pictures himself as the Architect-Builder of his church, his universal church, the company of all the redeemed. But in Matthew 18:15-20 He mentions the church in a local setting and He is not speaking of a stone building. In fact, his total silence about the place of meeting, whether it would normally be the house of one of them, or a barn or a field or whatever, shows that it is a secondary matter, relatively unimportant. Nor is He referring to a denominational set up. He is speaking of a group of disciples, who might be as few as ‘two or three’. Not very impressive.

One fact though should impress us profoundly: the fact of his intimate involvement with them. He is right in the midst. If He wants to be that close to his beloved, so intimately involved with them (see also Zeph. 3:17), it is obviously for great blessing and in order to transform these lives and the local church progressively. Even when things are not going well, when sad and negative things happen among brothers, it does not necessarily indicate that He is not present anymore. Rather it is in times like these that his guidance, care and grace can be more wonderfully experienced than ever. He is still the One building his church. That church must be at his feet though, taking his Word seriously and obeying every command of its Lord.

The preceding verses of this passage in Mt. 18 are all about the falling out of two brothers, and … what to do about it. The precious reality of verse twenty doesn’t only show us the ideal ‘family situation’ with the King of heaven, the resurrected Lord, drawing close to his beloved, it also gives us the basic solution to every problem, however serious. The same Lord, who tells us not to let the sun go down on a relationship that is injured, broken or shattered, here tells us what steps should be taken before the sun is down. All of them are based on that verse 20!

The incident must not become an instrument in the hands of the enemy. The guidelines He gives – showing what to do when his children have fallen out – are clear and simple. In a denominational setting the congregation gets preached at about these things: they must be morally and ethically on a high level! But in fact anything may quite easily happen in the big crowd and pass virtually unnoticed. Often no measures are taken. An offended person may stop attending. He may start going elsewhere, taking his family with him, or he may just turn his back on ‘religion’, possibly carrying a grudge for the rest of his life. We even know of a case of suicide.

Before there was any church, even before the Cross and the resurrection, our Lord was well aware of that Adam-nature. He knew it would seek to reassert itself among the redeemed, trying to cause havoc in the local church family, and he made sure that the “brothers” (and the “sisters”) would also be fully aware of the gravity of such a situation, and of how to see it solved. The situation could be so grave that the one causing the offense might have to be considered by all as “a gentile or a publican”. That is the Jewish equivalent for “separating him from fellowship”. It is grave, it is sad, it is radical, it is very unpalatable, but it must be faced, and without delay!

What are the guidelines of the HEAD? As we have said, they are clear and simple; they are also logical, and designed to win back the offender:

1.      (v. 15) If the offender doesn’t want to recognize and confess his sin, seeking forgiveness for the pain, grief and harm he has caused, and pretty soon, then the “victim” (or simply the one who has been a witness to some serious sin) takes the initiative. He goes to the offender, not to “get even”, rather to see him restored (compare Gal. 6:1). Without telling anyone else about it, he confronts him with the facts, but in a spirit of love, patience and prayer.

2.      (v. 16) There may not be any positive response. In that case the ‘offended brother’ is instructed to go a second time, this time with one or two others. They again seek to restore the one who has stumbled and fallen. The other “one or two” are now fully ‘in’ on the matter, and if their effort is rejected, all ‘two or three’ are witnesses.

3.      (v. 17) So, in the case of a negative response, all is reported to the rest of the believers. The congregation then, for one last time, seeks to lead the ‘offending brother’ back to a position of humility and repentance, which means they may visit him, or talk to him at the outset of a prayer meeting.

4.      (v. 17) He still doesn’t want to take heed? That must now lead the congregation to decide to ‘separate’ from him (see also 2 Thes. 3:6-15). In practical terms, such a separation usually means that, from now on, if he is present in any meetings, he will be barred from actively partaking. That includes the “breaking of bread”, public prayer, ministry, giving, evangelistic activity, etc. But in some cases, all according to what the ‘offense’ is, he may have to be asked to stop attending any meetings. Also there are ‘cases’ when the preliminary steps can-not be taken. Things have already gotten completely out of hand, i.e. the extent of the offense and the public knowledge of it is such that the offender must be immediately separated – see 1 Cor. 5. If not, serious damage to the testimony of the whole congregation will result.

5.      The congregation must not stop praying for the separated offender. His eventual and full restoration is what his ‘brothers’ long for. They should be able to find many ways to show him their loving interest and help, even as they are careful never to give the impression of compliance with his sin  (see 2 Th. 3:14-15). He may then be expected to return to full fellowship sooner or later. That is what we see in the parable of the prodigal son. His father never stopped loving him and looking out for him. Once the son had learned his lesson, a terribly painful one, he did come back.

In verses 17 and 18 our Lord confers on the whole congregation, not on a priest or some other cleric, the responsibility and the authority to act. Nor can the church-planter do this for the congregation. As the church is planted and ‘initiated’ into the New Testament way, the church-planter will teach them that, in communication with the Head, they are the ones to act. The c.p. might be, so to speak, a Timothy, a Titus, an Epaphras, a Silas, or a Paul; he might be near or nowhere in the vicinity, but the congregation in trouble must have learned to look to its Lord alone and to be faithfully guided by him through the Word.

When the church acts, it will not be easy. Often strong emotional reactions are aroused one way or another. But nothing sentimental can be allowed to influence. All look to the Lord alone for his will to be carried out perfectly. And He will enable, even when the offending member is a dearly beloved relative, when family ties want to assert themselves. If  Mat. 10:34-39 is carefully and prayerfully kept in mind, the Lord will lead on in victory.

It is interesting that the original words, penned by Matthew, really show that heaven acts first; then the tiny group of mortals on earth humbly follow suit. They bind, or unbind, on earth, but only that which has already been “bound”, or “unbound” in heaven. This is the grammatical sense in the Greek, though difficult to translate. It is a reference to the separated believer, who has lost his ‘freedom’ in Christ. His experience is comparable to David’s sad sense of ‘dryness’ and ‘sterility’, when God’s hand pressed heavily upon him after he had sinned and before he confessed – the Psalm-32-syndrome. Humiliation and confession eventually led David to a new sense of freedom. He was wonderfully released, or ‘unbound’.

If such binding and unbinding is to be done in perfect harmony with God’s will, it is obvious that the congregation’s times of prayer must not be of a superficial quality. Verse 19 speaks about that prayer-meeting. Jesus shows that the agreement and harmony with God also lead to agreement and harmony among those who pray. It is the only way to pray effectively and experience the Lord’s answers. In that prayer time (sometimes correctly called the church’s business meeting) his children on earth advance by faith. Decisions are taken, obviously not through a democratic “show of hands” or something of the sort, but by praying a matter through until all are clear about God’s will and can decide unanimously. The decision may be about the ‘binding’ or ‘unbinding’ discussed before, or about anything else that the Lord has for them. The important thing to remember is that no such decision can be taken by the church without the necessary time(s) of prayer, which lead to the members’ unanimity in Christ.

The following verse then, verse 20, the “in the midst”  verse, begins with “For”, which means it is the ‘foundation’ verse for the whole passage. There can be no dealing with sin and all its sad consequences in a congregation if there is no real discernment between right and wrong, and if the spiritual faith and courage to tackle sin are lacking. For that to be possible the prayer-meeting must be characterized by a truly living contact with their Lord, a deep dependence on him and his Word, and an ever growing vision of what He is doing! If and when He is in the midst, all this becomes real experience. If and when He is so allowed to actively manifest his presence, there is blessing, guidance, correction and building up. All things become possible! Most likely the ‘bound’ Christian will soon wish to be ‘unbound’ again, surrounded as he is by the love and prayer of such (‘normal’) Christians. His having been bound will in most cases have on him the Psalm-32-effect of the Lord’s hand pressing heavily upon him. It will get him to long for his Lord’s forgiveness and renewed fellowship, and for the moment when he can be a living part again of such a company of his children.

In other words there is hope for all of the church’s Panchos and Ponchos. God holds the key to the solution of the IQ problems. And that is: simple, sincere and total submission to the HEAD of the Body and his Word, by the individuals involved and by their congregation. No other key fits. And until this key is used, the life and power from the Holy Spirit, grieved as He is by the situation, will be ebbing away. At last the “candlestick” will be removed and his light in that local setting is extinguished for ever (Rev. 2:1-7). It is what our faithful Lord wants to prevent happening to his children.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way in which you should go. I will guide you with my eye. Don’t be like a horse or a mule without understanding, which will only come near you if controlled by bit and bridle” – Psalm 32:8-9.