I was happy to see you and listen to your speech when you came to Russia. My question is about Mathew 18:17. What does it mean -- to treat a sinner as a pagan or tax collector? Should we ignore him, refuse to talk to him, etc? If so, until when? Is it the same treatment as in 1 Corinthians 5:11?...  My husband was disfellowshiped not long ago for smoking cigarettes, and is now treated this way. It's very painful for me. I am suffering. I think Jesus had different approach towards pagans and tax collectors. Maybe there's a misunderstanding here?

In Matt 18 there has been interaction between (1) you and the brother in sin, (2) you and him and another witness or two, and (3) all of you as well as the (house) church. Everyone weighs in who needs to. It's not an announcement before the church, but a process for reaching reconciliation and repentance. My 1994 paper on Church Discipline explains further.

I don't think smoking qualifies as a 1 Cor 5 situation -- expulsion for those insisting on persisting in egregious sin. Swindlers, drunkards, and others are in a different category (I think) than people who struggle with overeating, talking too much (unless they're slanderers), rudeness, etc.

Well, as it seems you have concluded, there are two ways to look at the teaching about how to relate to the brother or sister who has been excommunicated:

  • We should keep our distance from him.
  • We should reach out to them as we would to the lost.

A case can be made either way. I have thought one way, then thought another way, and even now I am not totally sure. Of course being spiteful or unkind is always a sin, so we ought never to forget that we are to relate to others as Christ would relate to them. But it's not the possible ambiguity of our interpretation that concerns me.

Certainly I'm sorry about your husband. Situations like this are always painful. Now while I support the right of local church leadership to exercise church discipline, I myself would probably not bring discipline to bear on things like smoking, being late to church, overeating, etc. There may be more serious sins. The Spirit helps us to overcome, and that's a good thing, since we all struggle with one sin or another; no one is perfect!

Having said that, I believe smoking is extremely rare in Bible-centered churches. For example, our church here in Atlanta has over 1000 members. I have never seen even one member smoking, nor have I noticed "tobacco breath" or nicotine-stained fingers. Maybe I'm naïve. But my conclusion is that the Spirit empowers us to change bad habits, overcome sin, and succeed where all our lives we may have failed.

Of course I don’t know the facts of this specific situation, so I can only offer my opinion provisionally. I wouldn't want to cause ill feeling in your local church as an outsider -- worse, as an uninformed or presumptuous outsider. But those are my thoughts. I hope they will help you think this through.