The Aroma of Matthew 18
June 7, 2017 by Jason Farley
Bill Stutzman, Jason Farley and Kent Young sharing music (above) at the summer 2016 staff retreat
When I first arrived at the The Oaks last summer, I joined four other new teachers for employee orientation. Since all of us had prior teaching experience, we spent much of our time discussing the things that have made The Oaks what it is. This was reinforced during the staff retreat held at the end of the summer.
"We want to be a Matthew eighteen community," Mr Dowers explained. “This is central to our identity.”
I spent the decade before coming to The Oaks as a pastor. Amongst pastors, the question as to whether a church practices Matthew comes up for frequent discussion. For Mr. Dowers, and Mr. Williams before him, Matthew 18 — Matt. 18:15 in particular — has become a particular focus:
"Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother." (Matt. 18:15)
Instead of talking about someone whom you (we) believe has sinned against us, we should go to the person and speak with them directly in a way likely to keep the situation as small as possible. We involve as few people in the discord as needed and then only if it turns out our neighbor refuses to hear our concerns.
“Gossip, backbiting, and fellowshipping around a grievance are destructive to community life,” Mr. Dowers continued. “Living out Matthew 18:15 has become a foundational principle that expresses the collective personality of our school.”
A Recognizable Odor of Death
Singing together at the staff retreat (above)
Our family once lived in an apartment that developed a rodent ‘problem’. Since we lived by a creek, mice, voles, small rats, large rats, and river rats considered themselves our close neighbors. We were generally pretty good at keeping the rodents outside, though a raccoon once strolled into the house while we were watching a movie and helped himself to the tortilla chips. But, over time, the house exhibited an unpleasant smell: the smell of death.
The smell of dead rodent is a distinct funk. Once you have smelt it, you always recognize it. I looked everywhere I could think of without finding the source. Since the odor was not dissipating, but increasing, I called the landlord. His inspection revealed that the rats had found their way into the crawl space under the house, attracted by a 25-year old brick of rat poison, freshly discovered by a myriad of rodent species. The years that the poison had been hidden only strengthened its impact. Dead rodents were piling up in the crawl space. They couldn’t even escape from under the house before the poison had its way
A community that does not respond to sin with confession and forgiveness becomes a society that acquires a certain smell. Sin inserts itself between people and creates distance. Because we are sinners, fellowship requires regular confession and forgiveness. And because God has forgiven us in Christ, we are called to return God's forgiveness to those around us.
"And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you." (Eph.4:32)
The Fragrance of Freshly Baked Bread
Enjoying sunset at the lake (above)
These instructions lead to the second principle that Mr. Dowers, supported by Miss Mewes, introduced: "We want to be a community that smells like fresh baked bread.”
Who among us doesn’t enjoy sharing and lingering in the fragrant presence of newly baked bread? The Oaks wants to cultivate an aroma that draws and knits souls together. This aroma comes from fellowship. Such fellowship cannot be manufactured. It grows, and receives protection, by confession and forgiveness.
Mr. Dowers did not encourage us to look for offense where none has been given. Love covers a multitude of sins and transforms many things that might cause offense into minor incidents that can be gracefully overlooked. Still, any group of God’s people in close proximity, not being an invading force of angels, will sin against one another. Keeping short accounts, offering simple but sincere confession, and extending forgiveness enriches fellowship in exactly those places where fellowship normally breaks down. This is the point at which gospel yeast develops the aroma of fresh baked bread.
New teacher orientation and the summer 2016 staff summer retreat was followed by a semester of staff meetings with a devotional focus on the eighteenth chapter of Matthew. Modeled first by those of us called here to teach, The Oaks seeks to be a community that addresses sin in a spirit of humility, repents sincerely when needed, and forgives one another without reservation.