There is a tension as local churches try to effectively carry out the mandate to see people restored in their relationship with God. There are some local churches that seem very harsh, inflexible, legalistic, and create apparent roadblocks to repentance and restoration that go beyond the Scriptures. On the other hand, there are some local churches that seem to be very loving but are liberal and lack standards so that restoration is offered without a clear biblical understanding of prerequisites. We want to balance the tension by being a church that manifests an attitude of grace. All our doctrinal orthodoxy and understanding of Scriptures are of no value without love [1Cor. 13:1-8]. If we love one another as Jesus loves then the world will know that we are His disciples [Jn. 13:34-35]. Biblical grace manifests Christ’s love as follows:
If we love one another as Jesus loves then the world will know that we are His disciples.
- Compassion without compromise: Grace is more than politeness or some nebulous emotion. Grace relates to an attitude of unmerited favor that flows from recognition of God’s grace towards us as sinners. Compassion without compromise requires you to avoid legalism and liberalism. This is the example of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” [Jn. 8:11]; and Peter’s restoration following his denial of Jesus [Jn. 21:15-17]. It is also the attitude we are to show one another in light of God’s forgiveness of us [Eph. 4:32]. Compassion and grace help to reduce hypocrisy and create authenticity, as people will be less afraid to receive restoration.
Compassion and grace help to reduce hypocrisy and create authenticity, as people will be less afraid to receive restoration.
- Restore with a spirit of gentleness: We are to restore others with a spirit of gentleness and humility [Gal. 6:1-3]. The whole message of Scripture from Genesis 3 to Revelation is God’s desire to restore fellowship between God and man. Minister grace by creating an environment where people know that God accepts them in Christ. Once they yield to God in Christ they need to seek to apply the truth of Christ to their lives. Apply the truth as a soothing balm, not an explosive bomb. In seeking to be gracious don’t compromise the integrity of the Word or you’ll bring reproach to Jesus.
Imagine Jesus washing the disciples feet [Jn. 13]. They had engaged in ceremonial baths in Jerusalem to prepare for the Passover but walked in open sandals on dirt roads to the Upper Room. The water was not too hot or cold and Jesus did not rub their feet so hard that He began to remove skin or so soft that He left dirt on their feet. The right amount of heat and pressure for the situation is our goal.
3. Church discipline and grace: Our God is the God of second chances [and sometimes third, fourth, etc.]. Jesus admonished Peter that extensive grace and forgiveness was available so that relationship with God and others could be restored. The rabbinical view of Jesus’ day was to forgive up to three times. Peter thought he was being gracious when he suggested forgiving up to seven times, however Jesus urged seventy times seven. He wasn’t setting a numerical limit of 490 but rather implies don’t bother counting. If someone repents let them be restored into fellowship [Matt. 18:21-22].
a. Grace is balanced by discipline and the need for repentance [Mt. 18:15-18]. If someone refuses to repent of their sin after being confronted by the one they have sinned against and other witnesses then you’ll need to consider informing the church especially if the sin is threatening to the spiritual health of the whole. The ultimate sanction of excommunication or removal from the church [Mt. 18:15-18, 1Cor. 5:1-8] should never be used capriciously and should be used judiciously. Removing someone from the church implies that as a pastor in a position of spiritual authority you are asking God to withdraw His protection from that person until they repent.
b. Grace and restoration of authority: When someone is removed from a position of authority because of moral failure the issue arises as to when and if the one disqualified can be restored. Preliminarily, don’t remove someone without evidence to support the charges, and don’t assume someone is either guilty or innocent without considering the evidence – be impartial [1Tim. 5:19-21]. Once someone is removed, the Bible gives no clear time limit re restoration [any guidelines suggesting 6 months, one year, 2 years or never is man-made and suspect at best]. Paul urges us not to lay hands suddenly [1Tim. 5:22]. In context it appears that the passage deals with restoring authority more than the initial conferring of authority.
I believe the best guideline is uttered by John the Baptist, “therefore bear fruit worthy of repentance” [Mt. 3:8]. In essence, you need to wait long enough to ensure that genuine repentance has taken place as evidenced by the fruit of their life. At some point, you’ll need to make a decision regarding timing and I suggest you err on the side of grace. Certainly, there will be times that you’ll discover that you were wrong but generally you can’t “go wrong” in seeking to be gracious.
c. Grace and boundaries: Grace doesn’t mean an absence of boundaries. Reasonable boundaries are essential to the Christian life and a healthy church. For example, if someone was convicted for a sex crime against a minor it is likely reasonable that they can serve in the church but not with children or youth. Furthermore, the greater the person’s influence the greater the need for caution. Thus, a lead pastor who has committed adultery likely needs to be proven while serving under the authority of others for an extended period.