Last night our group talked about forgiveness. The consensus view was that the Christian community has become known for "shooting its wounded." Rather than being a place of healing and restoration, the church is often seen as being unforgiving, rigid, and very judgmental in its quest to stomp out sin.
Sandy brought out a good point, "Forgiveness ~ Something every Christ-Follower has received yet most take it for granted." In America we are an unforgiving people. Our entire social mythos elevates the lone individual. In a culture of individuals, forgiveness is often in short supply. The church as it is commonly thought of is no exception.
After someone in the church commits a "visible" sin, the rumors start and we isolate that person like a cancerous tumor. This should never be! We should seek their restoration rather than adopt a false piety of words while our actions separate us from the person in need of forgiveness. We maintain our "Church unity" while the hurting person becomes more isolated and may fall away from the faith. Our false piety is simply evil and contrary to The Way we are to live.
Forgiveness is a hard attitude to embody without the presence of God. After all, our society teaches us that we have rights and if those rights are violated justice should follow. In the community of Christ we have no rights only privileges granted to us by our master. If a member of the community sins against us, we should not hold a grudge or champion our right to be angry. We should follow the example of Christ who forgave those who sinned against him.
Let's face it. Christianity in American is known for its judgmental attitude and general lack of forgiveness. Who wants to be part of a community that is unforgiving? Not me. I find it strange that some of the most forgiving people I know would not claim to be Christ Followers or even to be spiritual people. Yet they embody a Christ like forgiveness in ways that is almost spiritual in itself.
It is easy to forget that the grace and power of God is manifested as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Forgiveness does have one requirement though.~ repentance.
I'm not advocating a sloppy forgiveness that makes us everyone's doormat. An easy "I'm sorry" without a real change of heart does not cut it. In a community our relationships are to be reciprocal. If the offending party is honestly repentant, then it becomes our duty to fully enter into relationship with them. We can't wall ourselves off and hide behind our own hurt and lack of forgiveness.
Why do you think Paul talks so much about the unity of the Church in his epistles? Honest unity is a sign of forgiveness within the community and the presence of God's Spirit. I've heard it said, "Show me a Church with lots of factions, strife and general discontent and I'll show you a people who need to be less selfish and learn how to fogive one another."
If community life were easy, we would not have need for a New Testament to instruct us about how to live in a community as Christ-Followers. Yet the requirement of a Christ centered community is to live together in a way that manifests the spirit of Christ. It is to embody the forgiveness of God in our relationships.
A community that truly embodies forgiveness will be a place of transformation and growth. It won't be a place that is prefect and never makes mistakes. They will have problems but they won't become entrenched in their culture, as honest forgiveness is the rule rather than the exception. I'm sure we would all want to be part of a community that is forgiving. Forgiveness has already changed our world through Christ. Dogmatics, apologetics, and our theology will not change the heart of the person outside our community. Their hearts will soften as they see the grace of God manifested through our acts of forgiveness.
As James said, it is our actions that demonstrate our faith. Likewise, our acts of forgiveness demonstrate the very presence of God in our lives and in the world. To forgive is to be the hands of God.