Sometimes, Scripture is used sadly out of context. When God’s instructions of how we are to live and conduct our affairs are wrongly applied the result can be disastrous. In recent times problems which are coming to light within the church are amplified by such distortion of truth. I am motivated to write this blog after seeing the resulting devastation.
What first comes to my mind is a perception of forgiveness that overlooks the consequences of sin.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are the essence of the Gospel. Without the same, mankind is hopelessly lost. Yet salvation is not given to all who have sinned. It must be received by the conditions which God has determined. First, its seriousness is portrayed by the price of redemption – the sacrificial death of God’s Son. It is received by repentance followed by faith in the validity of the Sacrifice. The evidence of salvation is a life lived to please the God Who was once offended but now has cancelled the debt of sin.
Another level of forgiveness involves releasing one who has personally wronged us to God, desiring their wellbeing rather than seeking revenge. This is where our Mennonite view has been dangerously skewed. The fact that the offender has been forgiven by the offended does not mean that he is off the hook from taking responsibility for his sin. Nor is everything just the same as if the offence had never happened. Our error has been most damaging to victims of sexual, emotional or physical abuse.
Being forgiven does not free us in this life from bearing some of the consequences of our sin. Someone who has committed a moral crime against another or inflicted pain will invariably have created wounds that leave lifelong scars. The offender needs to recognize that the victim may never be able to see him again without having a traumatic involuntary flashback to the abuse. Depending on what the circumstances are, if the offender is truly sorry he will make sure that he keeps himself away to avoid triggering such painful emotions. This may mean to attend another church or even moving to another area. Relocating is never the responsibility of the victim.
Secondly, some crimes require that the perpetrator be removed from situations which would tempt him to repeat the crimes he has committed. This could mean finding another career, avoiding certain social gatherings where he would have access to potential victims, being accountable to someone etc. The community is responsible to carry out these protective measures.
Trust is something else which cannot immediately be restored with forgiveness. To expect the same is dangerous and wrong. Trust can only be earned. Releasing someone to God and seeking their wellbeing is is on a totally different level than trust.
Finally, nobody exhibits perverse behaviour in a random act. Such deeds have a history in the person’s life. It is important to locate other potential victims in order to help them experience healing. The history needs to be investigated independently from the testimony of the perpetrator. This is crucial for his potential restoration. A church confession or discipline will never suffice to enable him to find deliverance from the sin. A thorough program of counselling coducted by a qualified and Spirit-filled individual must follow. Whether he is actually sincere in repentance is shown by the level of his willingness to receive help.
Some of the events of the the past which have recently been exposed reveal our shameful ignorance in these matters. Victims have been further traumatized and crimes repeated which ought to have been prevented. This is a direct result of a legalistic understanding of Bible teaching without possessing the Spirit of God to show us how to apply it in real life.
There is a prime example of peversion of Scripture by the scribes and Pharisees in John 8: 4,5. “They said unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultry, in the very act. Now Moses in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” It takes two to tango – where was the other partner in the sin? According to the law of Moses he also ought to have been brought before Jesus in order to properly present the question. The “leaven of the Pharisees” has contaminated the Mennonite “lump”!
To be continued. David Jantzi