“Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
– Corrie ten Boom
Jesus was oppressed, persecuted and betrayed by the religious leaders of his day – those who said they represented the very God who stood in front of them. Corrie ten Boom was imprisoned, tortured and nearly starved to death by an evil empire ruled by a hate-filled despot. What’s the difference?
Who is more difficult to forgive:
• Those who have served God alongside of you for many years who then disrespect, betray and shun you? These would be fellow Christians who have been your spiritual leaders, your friends, people who you’ve shared meals with, traveled together, taught together and even looked up to. Pastors, family members, band mates and mentors.
• Evil people who you’d expect to act this way? Dictators, thieves, criminals and money-hungry bankers, mortgage lenders and politicians.
Does God allow us room to withhold forgiveness from those who have been our closest friends and spiritual leaders? Jesus certainly didn’t wait to forgive those who betrayed Him. He hung on that cross and asked the Father to forgive them, to refrain from judging them. Does He understand the depth of betrayal we feel from those who name His name? Of course He does. Jesus was also persecuted, tortured and put to death by an evil empire – those who did not name the name of God – and it didn’t make any difference to Him. He extended forgiveness to all.
I’ve talked to many people who’ve left churches for a variety of reasons – many of which are legitimate and understandable – who feel judged, shunned, “unfriended” and betrayed. In almost every case, they’ve found it very difficult to forgive and forget, to move away from the deeply held hurts and wounds, and to get a sense of freedom from the pain they feel.
I also know a lot of people who have been victims of crime, or treated unfairly by those who are not Christians, those who don’t necessarily follow the Golden Rule. Mostly, I’ve heard that it’s easier for them to move on from these violations, and to forgive those who have wronged them.
It seems that it’s a matter of expectations.
We expect fellow believers to walk in love. We expect pastors and Christian leaders to treat us fairly and to remain humble. We expect pastors to be faithful to their wives and families, and to resist pornography, adultery and other sinful behavior. We expect our brothers and sisters in the Lord to defend us when we are wronged, and to love us when we differ in theology or when we resist the latest wind of doctrine blowing through the Church.
On the other hand, we really don’t expect evil people to act righteously. When they steal from us or harm us in any way, we’re not surprised. Forgiveness seems easier to give because we fear for their souls, and we want them to know the Lord. We love them quickly because we desire for them to sense the love of God and come to Him. We can even see God’s hand in allowing their actions, because it gives us an opportunity to love the evildoer and shed God’s love into their hearts.
But judgement, mistreatment and arrogance from another Christian – especially a pastor? Boy, does that wound go deep! I’ve spent time with that wound, and can speak from painful experience. And I’m not alone. It’s very difficult to “forgive and forget” when we’ve been hurt by another Christian, and only the love of God, working in our hearts and minds, can free us and help us to extend that kind of forgiveness.
When we finally reach that precious milestone, though, it’s freedom. No longer are our minds bombarded with thoughts of “righteous anger.” No longer are we held captive by resentment. No longer do we hold God accountable for the actions of a few weak people. No longer can the devil use other people’s sin against us.
When we forgive – no matter what the offense has been, or who has carried it out – we’re free.
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
Now, now my friends – I understand your strong and emotional feelings for matters of the heart, like salvation, sin, forgiveness and grace. But we can all do a better job of exercising some love toward one another, don’t you think?
As with any interchange of ideas, there will be disagreements – but that’s the whole point! You should not enter this discussion if all you want to do is foist your opinions as total truth on someone else.
You should only take part as you open yourself up to new ideas, explore fresh ways of looking at old ideas, empathize with your brothers and sisters who write opposing points of view, and prepare yourself to respond in the love of Jesus toward one another.
Is that possible? Yes. Let’s do it.
Let’s not see this debate slow or stop – there’s something good happening here and I would love all of you to share this blog with your friends and families and invite them in.
Ask your unsaved friends to read and comment. Encourage your relatives who’ve always gone to “traditional” churches to take part. Please find a few atheists and open the doors for them to have a part! How about former church members who have been hurt and are disillusioned with the whole organized church scene?
Do we just write everyone else off as being in error, or do we take our time and calmly listen, then reason together until we all gain understanding?
How did Jesus handle this type of situation?
Wouldn’t it be beautiful if this became a forum whereby we could be honest with one another, grow together and become “fitly joined together,” as the Bible says?
Gee whiz, saints, the world might even see this and be impressed!
OK, everybody, let’s just take a breath here and pull it back a notch.
Obviously, the response from the article “IT’S BEEN A WHILE” has been overwhelming but revealing, to say the least. What it shows me is that there are plenty of wounded people out here – mostly people who used to get along with one another.
What’s going on?
Let me say right here that any nasty comments will be edited or deleted because the object of this debate is not to hurt each other – it’s to debate, to discover, to provoke, to rethink, to reveal truth. Yeah, truth. But we must do it in a loving way.
Let’s speak the truth in love, OK?
I’ll start by saying that I was personally offended by comments about my wife and I that weren’t true. We stand accused of “tearing down our brothers and sisters,” “taking off and abandoning friends,” “being petty” and carrying out our ministry as a job or looking for a job, when none of those things could be further from truth or reality.
We have faithfully worked in local churches and overseas for more than 34 years, never expecting nor taking anything in return. Anyone who really knows us knows that we have always wanted only to serve God, our church and our brothers and sisters, here and around the world. That’s the truth, and we’ve given the best years of our lives exemplifying that truth. No one can take that away from us.
However, there came a time when we saw things coming in and taking root in our church that we felt weren’t scriptural, that were out of balance and that we had to speak up about. So we did.
The reason people think we abandoned them after 16 years is that we left quietly. We had no desire to cause a disruption in the body, because we love the people we served with for so long. The last thing we were going to do was start a campaign to defend ourselves or try to turn people against one another.
We spoke our peace behind the scenes, to the pastors and elders, and were pretty much ignored or dismissed. As an elder, I shared my heart, my dreams and my God-given vision with the pastor for more than two years – several times to the point of tears. It was very frustrating not receiving any encouragement or direction, even after asking for it, directly, eye-to-eye.
In the midst of this we saw doctrinal error and danger, and were told there was none. We saw imbalance, and heard that everything was fine. We witnessed the loss of a vision, and were instructed that the original vision came from naivete and a youthful arrogance.
We kind of liked that naivete. It smelled of faith. Of dreams. Of multiplication. Of working together toward a goal that would stretch us all to the limit, but one that would bear fruit.
So we had no choice but to leave. No fanfare. No thanks. No goodbyes.
And the explanation was left up to the pastor.
So if any of you got the impression that we abandoned you, or that anybody was blindsided, you got bad information.
Let me ask you this: If any leader of a local church leaves unexpectedly, shouldn’t that arouse some curiosity amongst those who think they’re sensitive to the Spirit of God? Shouldn’t those same people ask their leaders why these people left? What’s the real story? What’s really going on, because something just doesn’t smell right?
I think some smellers are off, because it appears that most – almost all – of our friends just believed what you were told, and didn’t bother to check with us to see if it was true. A few of you called and asked, so we told you why we left.
But it hasn’t made a difference. The error is still in the church, and it’s because most people don’t want to see it, don’t care enough to speak up or are too afraid to do so. It seems there’s so much apathy few truly care – either about us or how the church is run. And when people like us do say something, we’re misrepresented or worse.
Some of the recent comments on this blog have been harsh, and that’s because good people have been hurt by other good people. Feelings run deep, and that’s OK. I pray the discussion continues and grows, because there’s a greater discussion that demands attention, and it’s not about one local church in a small suburb of Detroit.
It’s about the condition of the Body of Christ in the western world, and the model we’re supposed to be following. It’s going to take courage to look at ourselves honestly, admit our mistakes, correct our errors, forgive one another and ultimately let the world see Jesus through our love for one another.
Maybe that love starts right here, in the midst of a painful argument, just like families sometimes do. Maybe God will use this as a starting point for aiming us all in the right direction.
Or maybe nobody will read this blog again. I don’t know.
It’s up to God, isn’t it?
What do you think?