What did Jesus mean when he said to treat an unrepentant sinner as a “pagan or a tax collector” (Mt 18:17)?
The following quote from the commentary by Craig Keener helps explain the attitude implied in this verse: “Neither outsiders nor the sinner should continue under the delusion that this person is truly a follower of Jesus. One should treat such a person as a tax gatherer (cf. 9:9; 21:32) or a Gentile (cf. 5:47; 6:7; 20:25…)—unclean and to be avoided. Although lesser forms of public discipline existed (e.g….2 Thess 3:6…), the discipline urged here was full excommunication, implying spiritual death (1 Cor 5:5; 1 Tim 1:20; Titus 3:10-11).” Recall that Jesus reached out to the “tax collectors and sinners” specifically because “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Mt 9:10-12). If a church reaches this stage in disciplining a member, it must be asked whether the errant brother or sister really understood the gospel to begin with. He or she is now the target of outreach as much as pastoral ministry.