Recently I posted something about Mark Stibbe and his fall from grace and was amazed at the polarised positions taken (not all of them posted to protect the writers) for whilst many would seek restoration for the fallen person another (perhaps larger) would seek to exact revenge (whilst portraying it as justice).
The problem is that invariably everyone I encounter tells me why what they have done and where they and been is covered by God's Grace and how this means that they are forgiven. Sadly though, not many live in that reality but look towards dollop after dollop of forgiveness to cover their repeated failures - but that's fine because as they also often tell me, 'God is in the business of forgiveness'. Sadly what more often than not follows the first statement is the highlighting of someone else's failures and follies which are then suffixed with all the reasons that God cannot forgive them.
Now in Stibbe's recent happenings there are a number of people who feel betrayed and rather let down. Some talk of the bloke as having lied to them, conned them and worse. But that is rather subjective for no one forced them to go and listen to him, buy his books, CD and mugs (well OK - books and CDs) or decide to follow him - after all he is supposed to merely be a signpost not Jesus Himself - and signpost can sometimes be wrong (I know because our bishop followed the one to our church and since it's been turned the other way, he got well lost!).
What is sad is that we are all too ready to impose our morality and judgements on people without understand the full details. So often I find people vilified on the account of some incident from just one person (usually the 'wounded' party or a friend thereof) and I take great pains to tell them that whilst things sound bad this (as the Bible tells us in Proverbs 18) might sound very different when they hear the other side. Not only that but I have encountered so many 'offended against' people who, when one scratches the surface, are merely trying to support a friend, position or misconception by portraying things as they aren't (and this isn't consciously telling lies - it's misrepresentation by misunderstanding or misplaced loyalty).
We are told that when there is a problem:
i. We try to discuss it with the person/s involved and try to resolve it face to face. If this isnot possible then voice to voice and if this is not open to us we do it with written words (which is dangerous because words don't always say what they are supposed to).
ii. If we cant resolve the issue then we are called upon to take 'two or three' with us - not to beat them up (and the danger of 'ganging up' must be avoided at all costs - 'witnesses' not heavies [Deu 19:15]) but to be be 'honest witnesses (for the law at the time considered anything less to be of no witness); these listen and act as witnesses should wrong behaviour continue (or an impasse be found).
iii. If the situation continues then it needs to be taken to the congregation (I prefer the witnesses to be the Wardens and the next stop after this to be the church council - then the church itself) and the decision of the church canvassed.
iv. Only then can the 'immoral' person be excluded (and this has to be the very last and most drastic stage to have reached - something I'd regard as a failure on my part as much as theirs).
v. Having reached this place, all we can do is pray for them to be be 'restored' and to turn from their behaviour or attitudes.
Matthew chapter eighteen tells us:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector."
1 Corinthians chapter five also has something to say on the matter:
"But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler.
Do not even eat with such people.
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?
Are you not to judge those inside?
God will judge those outside.
“Expel the wicked person from among you.”
So a plea (from Galatians chapter six):
"Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions."
First, when we come across wrong behaviour, we must seek to restore that person (and stop the behaviour) gently. Too often I find heavy-handed, hard-hearted responses to situations where listening to both sides and a bit of love and intelligence would have mended what subsequently becomes broken.
Next, it is too easy for our response to be disproportionate or to deny the very beliefs and attitudes that we claim to live by. Righteous anger is never righteous and those who seek to stand up for God often find themselves trampling Him underfoot!
Finally, test what we do by the Bible and the example of Christ. Those who seek to put the world to rights often have lives full of wrongs and judge in ways that they wouldn't like to be judged.
So before you point the finger or pull down someone else - be sure of the facts and make sure your feet are firmly placed on the rock so that reason, gentleness, justice, humility and mercy are present at all times.
And remember, as in the Mark Stibbe situation, that behind it are hurting family members, colleagues, former parishioners, followers and the man himself - pray for restoration and healing. It's all we have the right to do!
Let's stop shooting the wounded and let us never excuse the wrong.
(sorry for length - tea drunk and waited for telephone call so you got a full ten minutes of splurge!)