Great Article on Matthew 18 and Public Discourse

D. A. Carson weighs in on theological controversies and the consequences of blowing the whistle, and why people are often wrong in positing a necessity to “follow Matthew 18” before publishing. In the PCA’s Book of Church Order, we have clear distinctions between personal and general offences, and then a further distinction between public and private offences.

The first distinction is between personal and general offences. A personal offence is something that is committed against nameable people, whereas a general offence has no such reference (BCO 29). The distinction between public and private is equally important here. “Private” means an offence known only to a few, whereas “public” means an offence known to the public.

These distinctions are important when it comes to the accusations of Ninth Commandment violations that are constantly being thrown about in the PCA these days. It is often assumed that because person A didn’t go talk personally to person B about person B’s public teaching, that therefore person A violated the Ninth Commandment. As Carson says, this is a methodological question, not a question about Matthew 18. When Peter was violating the gospel by his practice in Galatians 2, Paul did not go to him privately, seeking to make sure he fully understood him. No, he rebuked Peter to his face without any sort of preamble whatsoever. I might also add here that if it were necessary to talk to a theologian to ensure that one understood him, then we could never understand dead theologians. One’s teaching is, as Carson notes, a general thing. It is not private, and it is not personal. Therefore Matthew 18 does not apply. One could, out of mere courtesy, go to the theologian to seek to make sure one understood him, but this is not required either by the Ninth Commandment, or by Matthew 18.