How sad when the Church fails to reflect Christ… and by “Church”, I mean the collection of people that make up the universal church, not a specific person or denomination. Without going into a lot of details, shortly after I started getting more involved in my local church, I discovered that the church could be every bit as exploitative as the world. I found out that oftentimes:
- a person’s value in the church was proportional to the time, talents or money that they contributed
- it was okay to gossip so long as you put it in the form of a “prayer request”
- in practice (or should I say “malpractice”), accountability and submission to authority were often control techniques
- freedom and grace could be used to excuse a rebellious attitude
In reading Scripture, I’ve noticed that the only words of criticism Jesus had were for religious authorities. But I also see that one of His ending prayers was for these very same people: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” So as I think about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest problem with God’s people is that we get some healing and then we think we’re all done. It’s so much easier to see the speck in someone else’s eye than our own, and it’s very self-affirming to notice how someone is less healthy than us in certain areas.
I’ve also observed it’s so much easier to get angry at the people “who should know better”, than to figure out our role when God’s people act less than godly. Sometimes, we’re called to simply observe and learn so that we can apply this new understanding in our own lives. Other times we’re called to demonstrate love to the person in the wrong. Yet other times, we’re led to lovingly confront. Or perhaps we are placed in a position to take authority over a hurtful situation, boldly end the hurtful behavior, and hopefully use the incident as a teachable moment that changes lives and hearts, bringing reconciliation. Still, at all times and all situations, we are called to pray and forgive. Regardless, of our role or the circumstances, our prayers should reflect Jesus’ on the cross (Phillipians 2:5), and we should be promoting His Kingdom of grace.
Is it less important to forgive our brother than a stranger? Of course not, but I can honestly say it’s much harder! A stranger can’t hurt us as deeply, and our trust can’t be betrayed where it hasn’t been given. Jesus understands this: He was ridiculed by His brothers (John 7:2-5) and betrayed by one of His closest friends through a fake expression of love and respect. He understands our pain.
But Jesus didn’t come to save the healthy (Matthew 9:12)… He came to bring reconciliation, so that we can have a deep relationship with Him (John 15:7)… a relationship that changes us! In that relationship, we live as children who continue to grow… being changed from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). A Christian walks through this world with the realization that we are ALL still sinners in need of a Savior, and the realization of that need is an important part of our calling… especially when we enter into conflict with other believers. If we are mindful of our need for forgiveness, it’s much easier to forgive others.
We forgive them by relinquishing our right to hold them accountable for the wrong they have done. We don’t dismiss it as “okay”, because the reality is: it’s NOT okay. It WAS wrong. But we relinquish the right for justice to God, remembering that He has replaced His justice against us in favor of grace and mercy. And we remember with humility that He has retained justice by taking the punishment for us.
Now, I don’t have this forgiveness thing down completely, and even if I understand it a little, that doesn’t make it any easier to live it out, but I try… which causes me to consider this reality about myself: that my words and actions don’t always reflect the desire of (or conflict within) my own heart. This self-realization makes it easier to understand that others could be going through the same internal conflict and that their external behavior doesn’t necessarily reflect the turmoil or well-intentioned desires that are inside.
So I begin to understand that my forgiveness needs to come before their repentance. In fact, repentance may never come. But if I can learn to relinquish my right for justice, I escape the bitterness of the offense. By forgiving, I’m freed from the event. It only takes one person to forgive. No one needs to come to my door saying: “can you forgive me?” With God’s help, I have the power and responsibility to forgive anyone, regardless of their response after the initial offense.
But it takes two people to be reconciled, and reconciliation requires trust. Foundational to any relationship is trust, so if there is going to be a continued relationship, trust needs to be built into the reconciliation process. Like forgiveness, trust is a decision. We can choose (with God’s help) to forgive and we can choose to trust. But they differ in this: wisdom dictates that we do not trust everyone in everything. The fact is: not everyone is trustworthy, and when trust has been broken, it needs to be earned back.
It’s been my experience that many people believe that forgiveness requires trust, and because of a godly desire for reconciliation, trust can be given prematurely which can lead to even deeper wounding. And in some cases, this leads to the false belief that forgiveness is foolishness. But forgiveness is healthy, and when coupled with a trust that’s earned back, so is reconciliation.
So that’s where “the church” is today. Because the pain is always greater when it’s been inflicted by the one who was supposed to be “safe”, the Church has huge undertaking. Who should have been more “safe” than the Church? So many people have been hurt by church that we find ourselves apologizing for what others have done, hoping that we haven’t been one of the perpetrators… and wondering how we to earn back a trust that’s been broken.
But the part of the Body that has been hurt and chosen isolation also needs to do its part, forgiving people who may never admit their wrong-doing nor desire reconciliation. As a people, we need to mature into a Body that can love without expectation, having grace for others… in response to the great grace that has been shown to us.
copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)