The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church” (I Corinthians 14:26 NIV).
“Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the churcch to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:13-16 NIV).
I have a bone to pick with Pastor Rick Warren. I like him a lot and I promote his daily devotionals on my facebook page and read all of his material. He is a wonderful Pastor. I’ve read his books and I would normally say that he is “dead on” in his ministry. But not this time.
A couple of days ago, he published a post about reconciliation that he called, Requirements of Restored Relationships in the “You Make Me Crazy” Series. Basically he says that Restoring a Relationship Requires Repentance, Restitution and Rebuilding Trust.
Most of the post was very helpful but the last part brought in some very popular but unbiblical material. Let’s go over what he says together…
Forgiveness is not resuming a relationship without change. In fact, forgiveness and resuming a relationship are two different things. Forgiveness is what you do as the offended person. Resuming the relationship is what the other person does in order to get back into your good graces. Saying “I’m sorry” is not enough. In fact, the Bible teaches three things that are essential to resume a relationship that’s been broken — and the offender has to do all three of these things – Pastor Rick Warren.
So far so good. And let’s not go too quickly here. This is deep and penetrating stuff that he is saying and it is “dead on.” Too many people think that it is only about forgiveness and that’s it. Just forgive and forget and move on. There is no talk about confession of sins, repentance or the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. They are two different things. If we are following the way of the cross…..there must be change. It isn’t just about forgiving someone and going back to the status quo. No way. He is exactly right when he says that forgiveness and resuming a relationship are two different things.
He is absolutely right when he says that saying “I’m sorry” is not enough. But I am a bit uncomfortable with his statement that resuming the relationship is what the other person does in order to get back into your good graces. What’s that all about? That’s a strange thing to say. We were just talking about the grace of forgiveness and the need for reconciliation which is also a means of receiving grace (a ministry of grace) for the other person who has sinned.
But for some reason, Pastor Warren went in the direction of a performance-based concept of reconciliation. He talks about three things that the Bible says that the offender has to do to resume or restore the relationship. Only two of them are biblical and the third is entirely worldly.
And since when is it only about the offender. The Bible is clear that there is sin on both sides and that a broken relationship is the responsibility of both parties even if one is the offender and the other the offended. It isn’t about the sin but about the relationship.
1. Restoring a relationship requires repentance. In other words, you’re truly saddened about what you did. That’s not just saying, “I’m sorry.” It means saying, “I was wrong. Please forgive me.” You can be sorry that the weather was bad or something like that, but repentance is admitting wrong and being truly sorry.
I know people don’t like to hear the word “sin” anymore but just calling it “wrong” isn’t strong enough and isn’t oriented toward God. Sin means missing the mark (consciously or unconsciously) as well as rebelling against God’s authority (consciously or unconsciously). When we talk about missing the mark, the mark is set by God. The mark is the perfection of love which is a virtue, consistently and always in every situation. When we talk about rebelling against God’s authority, again the authority is God’s not just what society says or what is considered morally right or wrong.
As the prodigal son said to his father, “I have sinned against heaven and against you” (Luke 15: 21 NIV). Until you have first of all dealt with your sin before God, there is no point in going to deal with it before man. Repentance is not about admitting wrong and being truly sorry. That is confession. Repentance is taking concrete steps to correct the sin, to do the opposite of the sin, to turn around and go in the other direction, the direction of love. I call them acts of reconciliation which are usually the very opposite of the acts of rebellion or sin.
2. Restoring a relationship requires restitution. Sometimes you have to do some kind of physical or material restitution. Even when you’re forgiven, it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. You still have to pay a debt to society or to someone for what was damaged or destroyed by your actions.
But who cares if Pastor Warren gets some of the terms mixed up. He makes repentance sound like confession and restitution sound like repentance. The problem is that the concept of restitution really comes from the Old Testament and can only be applied to situations that can be quantified by money or some sort of physical thing. Normally this is handled through the courts but Paul tells us that it is a bad witness to go to court against a brother or sister in the Lord (I Corinthians 6:7). So, in this case, restitution is necessary. It is an act of repentance, an act of reconciliation. It is an attempt to reverse the effects and consequences (at least to some degree) of your sin. But it is a very limited application of the idea of acts of reconciliation/repentance. Most of the time it just isn’t possible.
If you destroy someone’s reputation, how do you make restitution? A front page news item may get a back page retraction but the damage is already done. If you kill someone, how do you make restitution? If you embezzle funds and someone can’t pay their health care and they end up in a worse health situation, or perhaps even die, how do you change that? There are a lot of things that we do in our sin that cannot be undone. That is why sin is so terrible. If we believe that a reconciled relationship is a relationship with spiritual unity which brings the anointing of God, we need something more than the Old Testament concept of restitution to make that happen.
But it’s the last one that really got my goat. It is a very common misunderstanding of the concept of reconciliation. Pastor Warren calls it Rebuilding Trust.
3. Restoring a relationship requires rebuilding trust. That, friends, takes a long, long time. When somebody hurts you, you have to forgive him or her immediately. But you don’t have to trust that person immediately. Forgiveness is built on grace and is unconditional, while trust has to be rebuilt over a period of time.
Now nobody is going to say that rebuilding trust is not a good and necessary thing to do. Obviously it is. But the question is when and how do you rebuild trust. And what are we rebuilding trust in? Let’s break this down a bit more….
First of all, yes, we need to forgive him or her immediately (whether or not they have confessed and repented of their sin). Forgiveness is a given. Pastor Warren seems to be assuming that the person has confessed and is repenting as well. That is certainly optimal but not all that common.
You, as the one sinned against, are now in a position to apply a ministry of reconciliation process to the one who sinned against you. This is not because you have not forgiven them. You have. This is because God calls us to more than forgiveness. He calls us to restored relationships through the way of the cross. And yes, that is your job to facilitate that as the one who has been sinned against. It is a ministry. And the ministry is one of prayer.
I believe that when you are sinned against, God listens very closely to your prayers about the situation. First of all, you need to be right with God for your prayers to be heard. You need to truly forgive before anything else. Part of that is to search your own heart for anything you might have said or done that wasn’t helpful to the situation or that you might have done in reaction to the sin of the other. Most of all, you need to really go deep in your own heart to evaluate how you feel about the person who sinned against you to find out if their sin was a reaction (perhaps not even consciously) to some distance or dislike or disunity between the two of you. If any of those things are true, then you will need to deal with that before God first. Then it’s time to pray.
When you pray for someone who has sinned against you, God listens very closely. You have power in prayer for that person. No one can pray for your wife, like you can (her husband). No one can pray for your husband like you can (his wife). Who is better equipped to pray for their children than their parents. God is relational. He died to heal relationships. You have power in prayer when you are right with God and you are praying for people with whom you have a relationship. That is true for your Pastor and other leaders in the church. For your small group leader and other members. But it is especially true for those who have sinned against you. God is waiting to hear what you want to do with this person and this situation.
You have a ministry of reconciliation. So first you pray and then you go and talk to the person and confess your sins and your shortcomings and reassure them that you are very interested in a good relationship with them. You don’t bring up their sin at all. You have forgiven it and it is forgotten and gone as far as you are concerned. At the same time, you know that it would be good for them to confess and repent of their sin but that is something that the Holy Spirit needs to do (perhaps through another person like your small group leader or Pastor) in response to your prayers. So far so good.
But that is a very different picture than what Pastor Warren is sharing with us. He makes it sound like reconciliation is a one way street and it is finally performance-based rather than a two way street in which you (as the one sinned against) have a ministry of reconciliation toward the other. And we aren’t done yet. It starts with prayer and continues with a heart to heart discussion and acts of reconciliation and restoration of the relationship on your part before you ever get to the confession and repentance on his part that is so necessary for him to get right with God (and then with you).
And that’s the goal, isn’t it? Spiritual Unity. True and full reconciliation. Working together and praying together with open and transparent hearts for the kingdom of God by using our spiritual gifts. That is what brings the anointing. The favor of God.
How in the world would any of that be possible if the other person has to repent, make restitution and rebuild trust over a long, long period of time before you will let them back into your good graces? You build trust together. Building trust is a ministry. Building trust is building a relationship. It is grace-based not performance-based.
But, even so, we aren’t done yet. Pastor Warren actually says that you don’t have to trust that person immediately. Forgiveness is built on grace and is unconditional, while trust has to be rebuilt over a period of time. That’s true but it isn’t the point. What he means by building trust has to do with the actions of the person, not the relationship. But the relationship comes first, the actions are a result. Everyone knows that.
I have to admit that I am in shock. I’m not sure that I would ever trust someone never to hurt me again. I don’t think that is realistic. I think it is bloody dangerous to make any relationship based on someone’s actions. If the relationship is good, then the actions will generally follow. My wife and I love each other. My actions generally follow that love but sometimes I have a bad day, I get angry, I am upset about something and my flesh gets the better of me. Sometimes I am insensitive and I screw up. I say the wrong thing or don’t say the right thing. Sometimes it is even on purpose. We generally hurt the people we love the most. Love is like that. Love gives the other person the power to hurt you. Because you care.
But I don’t need any guarantees that she will never hurt me (and the same is true for her). She just wants to know whether or not I love her. The rest we will work out together. Love covers over a multitude of sins (James 5:20). And that’s the way it should be.
That’s one of the ways we know whether or not somebody loves us. If they are offended by every little thing, there is a problem with the relationship. The action (or inaction) is usually only a symptom of something deeper. A lack of love, care and respect. That is what needs to be dealt with.
I have to say this as strongly as I can. I don’t trust anybody not to hurt me. Period. That includes my wife and my kids or even God. Yes, even God. Sometimes he hurts me. He disciplines me. It doesn’t matter in the moment whether or not it is ultimately for my good. It hurts. But the relationship with God, with my wife, with my kids is strong so we can deal with it. My point is that they don’t need to work hard to get back into my good graces after a long, long time. That’s just crazy. I don’t trust my wife never to make a mistake. I trust that if she makes a mistake, she will apologize and make it right. I trust the relationship. I trust the love.
Now, even that isn’t really enough in this dark and dangerous world. The truth is that neither my wife nor I (nor my kids) have enough love to deal with all the hurts and disappointments in life. Husbands stop loving their wives and have affairs with their secretaries. Divorce happens. Wives stop loving their husbands and spend all of their emotional energy on their children. Kids grow up and can simply ignore their parents for years while they are busy building their kingdoms of affluence and success. It happens all the time.
So, in general, I trust the relationship with my wife and kids but that isn’t quite enough to really deal with the flesh, the world and the Devil (the three enemies of our soul). Yes, it is true that to the degree that my wife (and myself) are dedicated to God and his truth and following him in the way of the cross, to that degree it will help solidify and strengthen our relationship as well. No doubt. That is my whole point here.
I call it Spiritual Trust. If someone comes to me and confesses their sins and follows it up with acts of repentance/reconciliation and truly demonstrates their dismay at the brokenness of our bond as brothers and sisters in Christ, I would trust them right away. They don’t need to earn my trust with their actions. They have my trust immediately because they have demonstrated a very rare and very precious thing. The conviction of the Holy Spirit and the evidence that they are in union with Christ and are humbling themselves in the process of the way of the cross.
I value that process so much that I can do nothing else than what the father of the Prodigal Son did, which was to rejoice that his son was home, the relationship was restored (immediately). It was time to put a ring on his finger (which usually symbolized his authority to act on his father’s behalf in the running of the farm) and a robe on his back (which symbolized the father’s favor) and a killing of a fatted calf in a celebration of the restoration. The son had not done anything yet. The older brother was jealous and resentful because such a response from the father was not fair (and it wasn’t). It was an act of grace. An act of love. A grace and love that, apparently, the older brother did not feel toward the younger son (like the Pharisees toward the sinners and tax collectors).
I don’t need a long time of performance to prove that “the younger son” had learnt his lesson, was now once again a mature person able to fulfill his duties in the kingdom of God. He demonstrated true repentance and confession of sins. He demonstrated the presence of the Holy Spirit within. He demonstrated the humility that can only come from the ministry of reconciliation that the Holy Spirit has done in his heart. We don’t need anything more. That is Spiritual Trust and it is the only trust that we need. I don’t trust the flesh of “the younger son,” I trust the Spirit within him. That doesn’t mean that he won’t screw up again, but it does mean that sooner or later he will once again confess and repent. Not once. Not twice. But seventy times seven. And I will forgive him as many times as well. My job is not to expect maturity but to help create it. Even in leaders. Look at what Pastor Rick Warren says about leadership…
No! You must forgive that person immediately, but you don’t have to trust that person. The Bible says trust is built with time. Credibility is what a leader leads with. All leaders must have trust; it’s the currency they live in. If you lose trust, you have lost your right to lead at that moment. You may have the title, but you’re not the leader until you rebuild trust. And that isn’t going to happen instantly.
Credibility is what a leader leads with, he says. True. But what credibility? The credibility of not sinning? That’s nice but simply not realistic. We have an epidemic of leaders who sin (and sin greviously) but simply hide it. This kind of thinking simply sends the sin underground and it is never dealt with until it explodes into public sin. This is the product of a culture of shame not a culture of grace.
I, for one, would rather have a Pastor who admits his sin and deals with it in a biblical manner than a Pastor who pretends that he is “squeaky clean” when the Bible (and our own experience) confirms that we are nothing but “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
Does that mean that we ignore sin or just forget about it or pretend that it never happened? Of course not. Jesus died a horrible death to deal with that sin and we must treat it seriously. But it is a ministry of reconciliation. It is a ministry of rebuilding trust. It is a ministry of grace, a channel of grace, a means of grace when we pray for one another, suffer with one another, rejoice with one another and especially encourage one another along the road to Jerusalem, the way of the cross.
Credibility is what a leader leads with. All leaders must have trust; it’s the currency they live in. If you lose trust, you have lost your right to lead at that moment.
Actually, I agree with those words. The issue is what we mean by trust. Pastor Rick Warren is clear that what he means is that we have to trust that they won’t do that particular sin again. That’s not very realistic. Sin is an addiction after all and addictions are usually compulsive and the only way to deal with addictions is NOT to isolate yourself but get others involved in the healing process.
What I believe is the greatest disease facing the leadership of our churches is the disease of unrepentant sin. Pornography, spiritual pride, gossip and backbiting, politics, broken relationships that have never been healed. These underground sins are never dealt with until the Lord brings them to the light. Then, in our culture of shame, we take their leadership position away from them and force them into a performance based reconciliation process – not out of gratitude but rather to prove that they are safe, they are cured, they are better and won’t do it again.
A pastor or church leader (or anyone else) who does NOT follow the way of the cross, who never confesses his sin, who is not transparent, who does not get involved in the ministry of reconciliation, that kind of Pastor (of which there are many) is someone I do not trust. That is someone that has no credibility, that has no business leading.
But give me a sinner who knows that his righteousness is in Christ and shows some maturity in the ministry of reconciliation towards others and towards himself, now that man has my trust, but not really him, rather I trust the Holy Spirit who is obviously at work in him. That is Spiritual Trust and that is one of the most important sources of power in ministry that you can have within (or without) the church.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, I want to learn how to trust the Spirit within others and also within me. I sometimes have a hard time trusting myself. I get confused because I think that there is such a thing as myself without you, and there isn’t. There is only me in union with you. I trust you, Lord. I trust your work in me. I need to forgive myself because of the cross and then work with you and the Holy Spirit within to get better every day. Teach me how to minister the power of reconciliation with myself and with others. In your name I pray. Amen.