I think there is a great mis-understanding about this in the church and recently I’ve seen it rise to the surface again. Where I’ve seen it is in the removal of a pastor from a prominent church. Last year, a pastor of a church was removed from their position amid a moral failure. It wasn’t sexual in nature, but it was a lack of submission to authority around a moral issue in their life. I don’t know all the details, and while the human side in me is curious about all of that, it’s probably good that we don’t know all the details. But that’s beside the point.
[Tweet “Just because someone has been forgiven does not mean the relationship is completely restored.”]
In the midst of watching this church walk through this from afar, I’ve noticed a couple of things that caused me to think about forgiveness. I was on this pastors Facebook page when he made it public that he would not be returning to pastor this church. In his announcement he was incredibly supportive of his former church and even asked people to continue supporting that church. He was not angry or divisive, in fact he was quite the opposite. But as I read the comments from people it broke my heart and it made me think.
I read comments like, “I’m never going back to that church again. They preach forgiveness but they don’t live it.” “I thought our church was about grace. Where is the grace in this?” “I can’t believe they aren’t letting you be our pastor. I’m not sure I can ever support them again.” On and on and on. Now, I understand the heartache. Many of these people, God made a profound impact through this pastor in their lives. I know for them it felt like their spiritual mentor was ripped from their lives.
Now, this is not a blog necessarily about this pastor or about this church. It is a blog about forgiveness and restoration. As I was reading the comments and following this story unfold, I was reminded of some differences between forgiveness and restoration.
1. Forgiveness doesn’t necessarily mean “The way things used to be” — When I forgive someone, I am releasing them from my desire for revenge, their obligation to “pay up” for what they did, holding a grudge or anything that keeps them trapped in my heart. But just because I forgive someone doesn’t mean things have to go back to the way things used to be. I know I’m using an extreme example, but a moral failure in spiritual leadership is also pretty extreme, but follow me here. Because of Jesus, we have the ability to forgive someone for anything in my life. Anything! What if a family member or friend sexually abused one of my children? Could I forgive them? Because of Jesus, the ability is there. But, would things go back to the way they used to be because I forgave them? NO! They would probably never be allowed around my children again! Just because I forgave the person doesn’t mean I automatically give them back every privilege they had before. They may not ever get that back.
2. Forgiveness doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences — My heart broke when I read the comments from people about this church. I know people who lead in this church and I know that their hearts broke in making the decision they made, but just because they wouldn’t give this pastor his position back doesn’t mean they didn’t love him, weren’t offering grace or didn’t forgive him. The plain truth is, sometimes, even when there is forgiveness there are still consequences. For this pastor, one of those consequences was losing his position and not getting it back. God does the same thing with us. There are some things I can be one hundred percent forgiven for that might still have social, mental, physical, political or legal consequences I still have to pay.
3. Lack of restoration doesn’t mean you don’t love someone — Sometimes the best thing to do for someone you love is the last thing they want you to do. I don’t know for certain, but I believe this pastor would have wanted his position back. I can’t speak as to what was best for this pastor or the church he led, but I know that great amounts of prayer and tears went into this decision. It wasn’t made with any heart of anger, bitterness or resentment. If anything, this very difficult decision was made with what was best for the church and the leader in mind. Love was at the center of the decision.
It breaks my heart that this situation has caused some people to turn away from the church, but sadly, that’s what sin does. We are called to be people of forgiveness but not always back into full restoration. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that things have to be the way they were. Forgiveness doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. Lack of restoration doesn’t mean you don’t love someone.