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ARE WE FALLING INTO THE TRAP OF ‘SELECTIVE FORGIVENESS’? EN

This months Evangelicals Now article 

ARE WE FALLING INTO THE TRAP OF ‘SELECTIVE FORGIVENESS’?

In May I wrote about the danger of neglecting Biblical church discipline and instead replacing it with the world’s methods.

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image: iStock

It seemed to me an entirely non-controversial article and yet it turned out to create more of a stir than most things I write! The irony was that an article which suggested we should avoid doing church discipline through social media – was condemned and critiqued on social media!

It is clear to me that worldly methods lead to worldly results. The world knows how to destruct, but struggles with construction. One aspect of this was pointed out by Douglas Murray in a short but brilliant chapter in his book The Madness of Crowds. The modern world does not do forgiveness. ‘We have created a world in which forgiveness is almost impossible’.

Think about how this is done in today’s culture. First, there is the public shaming. Someone has to be ‘called out’ in public. Their sin has to be widely publicised. Then it must never be forgotten. And – thanks to the internet and search engines – it will never be forgotten. The public shaming of people for their present and past sins (we haven’t as yet got on to predicting their future ones, although doubtless that will soon come!) has led to an increase in ‘schadenfreude’ – the delight in the trouble of others – as those we don’t like or agree with, get their comeuppance.

All of this is profoundly anti-Christian. There is a place for naming and shaming in public (witness Nathan’s rebuke of David, or Paul’s writing to the Corinthians about a case of sexual immorality in their midst), but the notion that we should publicly expose every sin is not only impractical (how long would it take?) but also cruel. Do we really want to bring back the penitent’s stool – the practice of getting a ‘sinner’ (usually someone guilty of adultery or some sexual sin) to sit on a stool in front of the whole church? There are some sins which should be publicly rebuked, but the trouble with today’s culture is that anything anyone has done which is known, can, and will, be brought up. I have written hundreds of articles – which undoubtedly contain wrong, harmful, and sinful things. If we were all to be cancelled for any wrong thing we have said or done then who would be left? ‘If you Lord, kept a record of sins, who should stand?’ (Ps.130:3). If the Lord does not keep a record of sins – why should His people?

As for never forgetting. I think of those who have written things that they now regret but, rightly, fear that their name will be mud in some circles from now on – because every mistake or sin from the past can be brought up at the push of a button. In my first church I came across an elderly man who told me that under no circumstances would he come to church – because of the hurt it had caused him. Thinking this was some recent event I asked him what had happened. The great sin he had experienced? He had been given the wrong Sunday School prize some 60 years earlier! Love keeps no record of wrongs?! When we say that we will forgive but never forget, then we are being ungodlike. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us (Ps.103:12).

In an insightful passage, Murray says: ‘Nietzsche foresaw that people could find themselves stuck in cycles of Christian theology with no way out. Specifically, that people would inherit the concepts of guilt, sin and shame but would be without the means of redemption which the Christian religion also offered.’ That is true of the world. It also seems as though the church has forgotten. We have our own version of cancel culture.

Where this ends is not in no forgiveness – but in selective forgiveness. We forgive the people we like, or those whose views or tribe we like; we condemn those who we don’t like. We pass on juicy gossip about those we want to see brought down a peg or two, we pass by the sins of those who are on our side. None of this is to argue for ignoring, excusing, or covering up the sins of others, or even our own. But it is to say that we should deal with sin in the Biblical way – not the world’s unforgiving and unforgetting black and white brutality.

All of this surely shows the importance not only of having Biblical church discipline, but also the necessity for us to have a good Biblical theology of humanity, sin, and redemption. If we all had the self-awareness that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’, perhaps our dealings with one another would show a little more humility and grace? It’s a simple but profound prayer. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Lets Not Tear Ourselves Apart – Evangelicals Now

7 comments

  1. I wonder if our human ecclesiastical tradition has a significant part to play in the challenges you mention in the church David. If everyone primarily is considered to be a “sinner” then it’ doesn’t take a genius to figure out where the focus is going to be. So let’s consider biblically where people were identified as sinners. Well, it was the Pharisees, the so-called righteous, that like to point to people being sinners – those that Jesus ate with. And what did Jesus do with that? He shared a parable about a so-called sinner being righteous and a so called righteous person to be sinful.

    The point being all are part righteous and part sinful – and it was those that welcomed Jesus and listened to him that connected with him. Perhaps therefore if the church stopped with it’s obsession with sin and instead welcomed and listened to Jesus, then sin might of it’s own accord be addressed? The way to drive out the darkness is simply to turn on the light.

    When the local church is a light to the surrounding community it will do that. When it is unable to or chooses not to then there is no difference in principle to that and a bunch of Pharisees meeting up and is actually worse than what you say with the “world knows how to destruct, but struggles with construction.” Worse because the impression many people from of God is what they see of the church.

  2. Another hard hitting article David which surfaces the darkest recesses of my own heart.

    December 2016 my son phoned my wife with the news his (now ex) wife was having an affair.

    It totally destroyed both him and us with a good few sleepless nights.

    Two young children of 1 and 4 years and a son who was in pieces. It was a difficult time not to think ill of her. In fact if I’m truthful I did do so.

    Anyway she moved out a month later in January 2017. He was worth nothing. He was so besotted with her he would have taken her back at any cost and wouldn’t hear a bad word said against her.

    This continued for another two years. At times he nearly fell out with us in defence of a woman who didn’t want him.

    Then in 2019 he met another young lady who had been through the same thing. Her ex were was a serial adulterer and they were divorced.

    She had two daughters around the same age as his boys. To cut a long story short they all get along like a house on fire.

    They married in December last year and I have never come across a happier bunch of people.

    Now, for the crunch of the matter. It is difficult to think of his ex graciously. I don’t wish her ill and I leave her with God and I like to think I have forgiven her but having said all that, we are now strangers and have nothing in common and also it’s still in my mind. I can’t unforget it.

    Not only did she commit adultery but then followed the usual other sins associated with it, lies and deceit. All this coming from someone who professed to be a Christian.

    So that’s where we are now. I like to think I have forgiven her, I think I have, but I still have the problem of its in my head and daily I can’t forget it. Any comment or advice you have will be appreciated David. Yours in Christ,

    Ulsterman51. 🙂

    1. Dear Ulsterman51,

      My heart goes out to you & your family, as but for the Grace of God there goes I. 45 years ago I wanted to divorce my wife & set up home with another man’s wife & 2 young children, this shortly after my wife had been gloriously saved & born again.
      My wife was advised by everyone, including the Minister through who she was saved, to forget me as there was no hope for me. Amazingly, for a new & young Christian, she got on her knees & asked God to show her what to do, and God made it clear if she stood by me she would eventually see me saved & everything restored. That took a further 13 years of mess & misery as I became an alcoholic & suicidal, until God broke through & gloriously saved me & delivered me.
      Much damage was done in these years, and some still leave their scars, but we can honestly say we now love each other far more than we ever did, and with Jesus in the center “the third stranded cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
      Much as I appreciate the comparison is different, because Jesus healed our relationship, the principle still applies. Jesus is not just the Savior. He is the Healer too. God bless you & your family, and we hope & pray Jesus heals your memories as well as your lives & relationships; so much so if we forgive as we have been forgiven, and realize the cost of our forgiveness by God through Jesus & the Cross, so we can leave not just our sin at the foot of the Cross but also our wounds (Isaiah 53:5).

  3. Amen, David. Before I was saved, my Mum regularly commented if there was a problem or hurt, “Forget it David”! When I was saved, she would still say this, and I would reply, “You can’t forget it Mum, such is the memory; but you can forgive, and once you’ve truly forgiven, the memory no longer matters or is relevant. It doesn’t hurt any more, and there’s no need for resentment or revenge”!
    As for the problem with Evangelicalism, sadly so much of the world has entered in to Christians & Churches that God’s Word & the Holy Ghost can no longer be effective. Like all Denominations it’s in the “Downgrade Controversy” that Spurgeon confronted with the Baptist Union. It started with minor Doctrinal issues, and quickly escalated into major ones to the point Spurgeon had to break with them because they refused to address the issues. See what Martyn Lloyd Jones & A.W. Tozer warned would happen to the Evangelical Movement, and realize their warnings are being fulfilled in our days & times.

  4. Are you asking for people to never properly hold you to account? Or to never critique you on social media?

    Or do you just want a clean slate, where we forget all the “hundreds of articles – which undoubtedly contain wrong, harmful, and sinful things”?

    1. No – thats not what I’m asking. Read the article again….and feel free to comment on what it says….not on what it does not say…life is too short..

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