August 7, 2009

When the Church has to Forgive & Restore

Recently the issue of moral failure has been personally in my face. Several people close to me, that I care very much about, have ignored or missed that sin was "waiting to attack and destroy" them. They by all means did not "subdue it". (Gen. 4:6-7) These are not just acquaintances or friends from long ago - these were partners in ministry. Their choices - their decisions - not only had consequences for them but for many others. Sin isn't like a laser - it's more like an atom bomb. There is never minimal destruction or casualties.

But this raises another issue for the church to deal with: How do we "restore" those who have fallen? What does forgiveness & restoration look like for the church?

While there is no way to develop one set of criteria or "rules" by which we go through this process, I believe there are certain scriptures & biblical principles to guide us.

Matthew 18:15-20 is the first place to begin - confronting the person(s) who has sinned. I'll let you examine the process presented by Christ in those verses. But I find it interesting that immediately after Christ shared these guidelines for confrontation & restoration, he gives the Parable of the Unforgiving Debtor. "Shouldn't you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?" Restoration has no chance when mercy is absent.

Galatians 6:1-3 exhorts us to "humbly help that person back onto the right path" and to "share each other's troubles...." We have to come to the realization that if this is going to be our heart - if we are going to follow this exhortation - most of the time it is going to be messy, dirty, and by no means "comfortable". Why do you think the story "The Scarlet Letter" was even written? Because, as humans, we have this natural tendency to want to isolate and ostracize those who have "gravely sinned" among us. We feel we need to make an example - to make clear that everyone with conviction and sense knows that we absolutely do NOT condone this kind of behavior. This is why we stand on street corners with bullhorns!

We fear for our children's lives - "What will they think?" We assume that those who are "young" (as Solomon and Paul describes them) are too inept or immature to be able to handle truly processing and learning from the mistakes of someone else. Here it is bluntly: It's just a lot easier to remove the problem!

If we think that someone's sin is grave enough to "cast them...out of the church and into Satan's hands...", then we need to have the guts and courage to do it! If not, we need to ask God to break out hearts and give us the courage to "forgive him and comfort him. Otherwise he may become so discouraged that he won't be able to recover. Now show him that you still love him." (see 1 Cor. 5 & 2 Cor. 2)

Without a doubt we have to keep in mind that for those of us who are "called to equip the saints" there is a higher standard. Being placed in a position of spiritual authority - holding the trust and respect of those who are your "sheep" - comes with much responsibility. There is no question of this or argument against it. But even for those in ministry and in leadership, where & how do we restore them? Do we have the courage to walk them down that path? Or will we let that be someone else's burden?

A great number of people that I love dearly are faced with this burden and these questions. The subject is ever-looming. It's the "Elephant in the Church" as we speak. My prayer: That you call the "elephant" out, wrestle it to the floor, and painfully tame it. That you have the courage to restore. And that each of us remember the question posed to us by our Savior: "Shouldn't you have had mercy...just as I have had mercy on you?"

Restoration is not easy. It never has been and never will be.
If you're waiting on it to get a little easier, my advice is that you get out of the way of those who have the clarity & courage to see that NOW is the time. Never will there be a time that leaders will more clearly rise to the surface. They will be the ones with the courage to show compassion.

And if you find yourself in a conversation about one of these who have fallen - and they aren't present - my advice is you close your mouth, get on your knees, and intercede for them. If not, you will be the one in sin.

Paul told the Corinthians, "When you forgive this man, I forgive him too. And when I forgive him...Satan will not outsmart us." May we never be found being outsmarted by the enemy because we couldn't figure out how to forgive AND restore!

1 comment:

Godbepraised said...

Good thoughts. I think it takes time to rebuild trust. Forgiveness should seek restoration. Trust regained is a whole other aim isn't it? This seems to be the painful burden to bear and inevitable consequence.