Matthew 18:15-18 (DRB) But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican. Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.

According to the understanding of ecclesiology among those Protestants who don't admit of any kind of 'Magisterium' with excommunicatory power or authority over a persons's belonging in the Body, how does 'two or three witnesses' from the church in fact differ from 'the church?'

  • Great question and direct to the point verse narration, clear example on Church Authority.Godbless Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 3:09
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    May I just clarify your question to ensure that I have understood it. If the body of the church has no power to excommunicate, then there is no difference between two or three witnesses and the whole church as witnesses, since there is no further tribunal at which excommunication can occur. Have I stated your question correctly ?
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 1, 2018 at 11:47
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    Many Protestants have entities that represent the church, and have "excommunicatory power or authority over a person's belonging in the Body." Is the issue that such entities do not claim other powers, as in Catholicism? Regardless, the answer to this question will probably vary significantly between "high-church" denominations like Anglicanism and Presbyterianism and "low-church" congregationalists and independents. Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 12:11
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    I see where you are both coming from but my question's focus is on the concept of the church being in some sense just the assembly of believers—two or three or more—and yet in some other sense distinct (the focus of my question) an authoritative body akin to what we Catholics call the magisterium or 'teaching body' of bishops, which is not just a few members, suggesting an authority I don't find even claimed let alone excercised in Protestantism more generally. Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 15:45

2 Answers 2


As a baptist we refer to this as the Authonomy of the local church. We don't believe as the catholic in a hierarchical universal church, but we see the church as an assembly of saved and baptized bible believing based on the pattern of the family. We believe that the purpose of every local church is to evangelize (Acts 2:47), teach (Tit. 2:1-5), pray (Acts 2:42), ministry (Eph. 4:11-16; 5:19-21; Tit. 3:8, 14), worship (Acts 2:47), baptize (Acts 2:41) and disciple members (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:5-11).

Every Local church is independent following the teaching in 1Pet 5:1-3 and Acts 14:23 In which it is suggested that the pastor should look out for his flock.

In conclusion we don't believe in a higher up institution that will apply discipline but we believe that every local church apply discipline to its own members. As a family: You would not discipline the sons and daughter of your neighboor would you?

  • "You would not discipline the sons and daughter of your neighbor would you?" I think the world might be better if we did.
    – user3961
    Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 22:48

"Two or three witnesses" is literally two or three people. For example, if a home group leader finds out that an unmarried person in their home group is sleeping with their boyfriend/girlfriend, they might confront them with the home group co-leader, a minister of the church, and an elder or two.

"The church" means the whole local congregation. Now I've never seen any church discipline get to this stage, and it would be incredibly complex from a pastoral care perspective, but the idea is that the whole congregation would be told that person X is unwilling to repent of sin Y (probably explained just in general terms), and until such a time that they do, are prohibited from any leadership roles in the church, and probably also from participating in communion. It is the church minister(s) or elders (depending on the church polity) which have the authority to do this. Some churches make people sign a church covenant in order to become members which explicitly confirms that the members submit to this church discipline process.

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    As a member of a church where this process is written into the rules (though never used to my knowledge) the stage involving "the church" would mean the person was spoken to by the church leaders, and at their discretion removed from leadership or other roles. At no stage of the process is there a public announcement, even if they are removed from church membership (although someone enquiring might be able to find out that this person was no longer a member, if that was the sanction applied). There would be a public announcement if the person was paid staff. Commented Jul 3, 2018 at 15:11

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