“I do not want you to use my shame for your gain,” I told the missionary who hosted us in his home. I thought he had generously offered his home to my family and me when church overseers required us to move from our home in Colorado Springs in 2007. After living there a couple of months, I learned that our host was marketing the fact that he was helping us. As a result, he received favor from his donors and denominational leaders. When I learned that I was his project for gaining notoriety, we moved out. I needed a place of safety.
Paul writes in Galatians 6:12 – 13, “Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others . . . They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples.” Sometimes I wonder if God is conflicted. He wants to work through people, but the New Testament solution to our sin problem works best through those who are willing to let God get the credit. In verse 14, Paul writes, “As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.” I believe one of the greatest hinderances to effective ministry for those who need to be healed, as I did, is that the healers have to struggle with who gets the credit . . . which is why most restoration attempts fail.
No, that’s not true. Most restoration attempts don’t fail, but very often the restorers say they have failed. It’s because these restorers have their sights more on the process than the end result of restoring. The Word of God doesn’t fail, it does its work, and the Holy Spirit does his work. But if God’s restoration path does not fit the design of the restorers, they typically say the sinner was unrepentant, not adequately submitted, or that he or she did not complete the prescribed process. I have come to believe that in these situations, Jesus insists on being the head of the church, and he is unwilling to forfeit that role to those who want to use it for their own promotion or gain.
It seems as though we have a fundamental misunderstanding. Jesus said “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Luke 5:32). Paul reminds the Christians at Rome that, “No one is righteous -not even one” (Romans 3:10). So when people in the church are dealing with the fallen, it’s not the righteous who are working with the fallen, but the fallen working with the fallen. To presume that the “sinner” designation does not include the restorer is a major misunderstanding of the New Testament. The first of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses says, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” This acknowledges the pressure of sin in every believer’s life. Was Paul lying when he wrote, “. . . God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone” in Romans 11:32? No doubt, we as believers are free from any obligation to sin. I know that we are righteous and saints by faith, but to lord over others as though we are perfected before we see Jesus face to face, is negligence.
Our Reformation fathers wanted to end the abuse of the Roman Catholic Church and establish authentic New Testament expressions of faith and worship. Interestingly, in just about every Reformation movement, the reformers felt as though rigid church discipline was necessary in order to maintain integrity. Since the New Testament does not say much about the need for or the practice of church discipline, Reformation leaders filled in that gap with historical church practices. As a result, our Protestant churches regularly fail to apply New Testament solutions in our response to Christians overcome by some sin. Today, it appears our attitudes and actions are just as random and ungodly toward sinners as that of many of the reformers who successfully applied New Testament life to much of their theology and practice, but failed to do so in this area.
But this is our generation. Though it is 500 years later, maybe it’s time we build on the revelation of the Reformation and let the Gospel inform the way we respond to those we consider “fallen.” Every application of the Gospel requires courage, because Pharisees always demand punishment instead of grace, typically under the banner of “integrity” or “justice.” They seem to forget that we are not prosecuting attorneys or journalists, but ministers of the Gospel, ministers of healing and restoration. In forsaking the Gospel when its application is most needed, we might actually become the enemies of the Gospel.
Many Christians who claim to embrace the desire to be Christ-like seem to neglect two fundamental questions: 1) How did God initially respond to us as sinners? And, 2) How does God respond to us as Christians when we sin? The answers to those questions demand contemplation of two additional questions for all who want to be Christ-like: 1) Do I respond to sinners the way God did to me? And 2) Do I respond to other Christians who sin the way the Holy Spirit responds to me when I, as a Christian, sin?
No doubt, all Christian leaders can preach the necessary sermons and write articles trying to convince the Christian market that they believe in God’s restoration. But the proof is in their actions with the fallen. Do they respond to them in the same way Christ does? Do they protect their dignity as fellow human beings and brothers and sisters in Christ? Is their aim to restore them so they can continue on in their God-given gifts and callings? Or do they negate the work of God in them, shame them, and embarrass them? Would the person submitted to them say the leaders helped them heal, or added burden to their lives?
I can answer these questions because I have heard from thousands of believers who have stumbled and been subject to ministry restoration. They all point to the Word and how it addresses and strengthens them. They all marvel at the faithfulness of God and how he draws closer to them in their crisis. But only a few of them will say the Christian leaders responsible to help them actually assisted.
Are too many of our leaders only in sales? I suggest we not sell the ministry of restoration, let’s just do it and let the restored tell the story.
It’s time we see the fallen as an opportunity to help, which demonstrates that we are, in fact, Christian.