Rules of engagement

by Jaynan Clark Egland (President, WordAlone Network)

September 6, 2002 pm

While preparing to preach on the Matthew text for this week, I found myself pondering the phrase, “Rules of Engagement.”

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:15-20, NRSV)

My frame of reference for this phrase has always been a military context. I recalled hearing it was a movie title so I went to the video store and, sure enough, “Rules of Engagement” is a recently released movie. It is about the military, confrontation, conflict and lawful pursuit of justice.

The movie witnessed to the need for such “rules” to engage people in a step-by-step process that attempts to disarm the conflict and find peaceful resolution. It focused on the open warfare that sometimes results regardless of the rules and who is following them.

My children returned to school this week and each came home the first day with their own “rules of engagement.”They are to review these school, classroom and bus rules with us, and then we sign them together. Each set of rules witnesses to a policy of discipline that step-by-step became more invasive and confrontational. Like the military “rules of engagement,” they clearly show a process for disarming the unacceptable behavior. Unlike the military rules they result not in “open fire,” but rather expulsion from school. (Thank God!)

Jesus gives us our “rules of engagement” within the church. Step-by-step we proceed, one-on-one, bring a witness or two, take it to the church, etc. Practical and doable. Yet, our history and our personal experience as sinners reveals that we repeatedly do and end-around or run straight to the parking lot with our woes, complaints and false witness. So much for the rules . . .a broken engagement!

Now we have an electronic arena that makes it possible to bypass the parking lot, sit on our bottoms at the keyboard and slam-dunk Matthew 18 with one push of the “send” button.With email and the Internet there seem to be no “rules of engagement” functioning. Some hit the “respond to all” button before they confront their neighbor. Others choose to post a personal issue of confrontation to the worldwide web without so much as a simple conversation with their perceived adversary. As sinners we go straight to the electronic airwaves with our woes, complaints and false witness, ignoring the Word alone as it confronts and engages us in Matthew 18.

Though WordAlone Network has the Internet to thank for its beginnings as a “virtual” movement, we are real people in a real movement for reform based on the real Word.

As we proceed into the future of God’s making, let us proceed according to the “rules of engagement” that Jesus sets before us. If you feel that sudden urge to push the button . . . make it the “delete” and start over with your neighbor in private.

In Christ and His Word,

Jaynan Clark Egland