I want to begin a several-part series entitled: “Being the Embodiment of Christ.” I want to explore ways that our church can overcome past mistakes, the mistakes of our church as well as the mistakes of the Church (and that is Church with a big “C”). There is no doubt that many of these mistakes have not only wounded the church’s witness, but they have actually wounded the faith of many. I believe we simply must accept responsibility for some of the reasons that people are all but giving up on organized religion these days.
Therefore, I would like to begin this series with a confession and with an appeal for forgiveness. As part of the Body of Christ, we confess that we have not always modeled the life and teachings of Jesus. We have been selfish, self-righteous and judgmental. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, we have often been purveyors of bad theology. We have neglected the poor “at our gate” (Luke 16:20). When God has called us to speak out for justice in our world, we have been silent. When God has called us to stand for peace, we have taken a stance for war. Although we say we believe we will go to heaven to one day to worship with every race and tribe (Revelation 7:9), we prefer a worship that is segregated.
This is by no means a complete list of our sins. However, we believe it is a good start. And we choose to start this process of reconciliation within community. Instead of giving up on the church, we commit ourselves more fully to the church. As Rev. Lillian Daniel has said, “Community is where the religious rubber meets the road. People challenge us, ask the hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It’s where we get to practice all the things we preach” (Going Solo). As we ask to be forgiven for our many trespasses, we recommit ourselves to being a community of grace and forgiveness forgiving the trespasses of each other.
One of my favorite preachers and authors, Frederick Buechner, has written some of the best words on the subject of forgiveness that I know:
To forgive somebody is to say one way or another, “You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us. Both my pride and my principles demand no less. However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done, and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend.”
To accept forgiveness means to admit that you’ve done something unspeakable that needs to be forgiven, and thus both parties must swallow the same thing: their pride.
This seems to explain what Jesus means when he says to God, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus is not saying that God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiving others. In the first place, forgiveness that’s conditional isn’t really forgiveness at all, just fair warning; and in the second place, our unforgiveness is among those things about us that we need to have God forgive us most. What Jesus apparently is saying is that the pride that keeps us from forgiving is the same pride that keeps us from accepting forgiveness, and will God please help us do something about it.
When somebody you’ve wronged forgives you, you’re spared the dull and self-diminishing throb of a guilty conscience.
When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride.
For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each other’s presence. ~originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words
Being a community of grace and forgiveness–I believe it is a great start to begin overcoming the mistakes of our church and of the Church. The truth is, we have to start being such a community if we ever want to welcome back those who have left the church or welcome for the first time those who have never considered being a part of the church. And we absolutely have to be such a community if we want to ever come close to becoming the church that God is calling us to be.