A pastoral colleague of mine a few years ago felt convicted that his congregation needed to repent for how the church handled a difficult situation in their church family. The event took place at the beginning of the pastor’s tenure, and in fact was already ongoing before he was hired. When the difficult event actually took place, my pastor friend was essentially involved in a decision that had already been made before he started. Now years later, knowing the ongoing reverberations the event still had in the church family, he proposed a worship service of repentance. Numerous members of his congregation balked harshly at his suggestion, to the point that the church leadership team made the decision to postpone the worship service. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit in early 2020, leading to the quarantine, which made it impossible to hold the worship service. I confirmed with him this week that thus far they have not held the service of repentance because people were so upset. What would you do if you were that pastor?
We have been studying Colossians 3:12-17, where, in verse 12, Paul has listed numerous articles of “clothing” that Christians are to wear. Now he continues with more in verse 13. “Bear with others and forgive, just as God forgave you.” This is very similar to the items of clothing he already talked about. If we are people who have compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, we will bear with people and forgive them. Paul is not saying that is easy. He is simply saying that is what we do. It might mean we have to work hard at it. It might feel like a struggle, but that is what we do.
Husbands and wives, bear with each other and forgive. Parents and children, bear with each other and forgive. People in a church family, bear with each other and forgive. Consider the people in the church I mentioned above. People were so overcome by their emotion, they could not face the past. That is a sign of immaturity, and it is the opposite of, “bearing with one another, forgiving one another.”
My family and I have been a part of the family of Faith Church for long enough to have heard about some of the grievances of the past before we started here in 2002. Additionally I have to admit that sometimes over the past 19 years, people have had grievances with me, and I’ve had grievances with a few of them. It is hard to talk about, isn’t it? What about you and your church family?
Does it feel uncomfortable that I’m mentioning this? People leave churches because of grievances with one another or because of grievances with the pastor. It has happened my church too. We have not always practiced, “Bearing with and forgiving one another.” Brokenness in a church family has resulted. And it just might be due to us not wearing the clothing of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience Paul lists in verse 12.
I sometimes wonder if we ought to have a time of public confession to address these grievances. I sometimes wonder if hurts from the past linger; if the wounds have not been healed. I wonder if we have allowed immaturity to fester. Have we? The general human tendency is to sweep grievances under the rug, saying, “Time heals all wounds,” and while time definitely helps the emotions simmer down, it doesn’t automatically heal the wounds.
I ask that because of what Paul says next. Love! We put on the clothing of Love. Love is the epitome of how we are to relate with one another. This doesn’t mean that we all need to be best friends with one another. I don’t think it is physically possible to be best friends with more than a couple people, and we shouldn’t expect everyone to be best friends. But sometimes I hear people say that there are cliques in the church. In particular I hear that classes or small groups are cliques. I think we need to be cautious about making those kinds of claims. We can love one another and still have closer relationships with some people.
If we want to be welcoming in love, then we will need to be flexible with our relationships, opening up space in our hearts and minds for more people. That means relationships which were once very close might need to change in the level of their closeness. There is nothing wrong with relationships changing levels. How many of you are still as close with all your high school friends as you were in high school? When I was in high school I couldn’t imagine ever not being close with those people. Today, only a couple of them are distant acquaintances, and the rest of I have no contact with. My close friends now are people I didn’t know when I was in high school. Do I miss my high school friends? Of course. I made those relationships in some very formative years of my life, and I wish we could have remained as close as we were back then. For most people, though, we simply won’t be close with all our high school friends. That’s okay.
Of the eight guys in my wedding party, I only get together regularly with three of them. I miss them, and I wish I could be closer to all of them. Relationship levels change. That is okay.
What is not okay is when we do not show love to one another. Love is not emotional feeling, but instead love expresses itself in the actions of intentional care. Last week in a Sunday School class, the teacher was talking about 1st Corinthians 3 and unity in the church. In nearly every Christian church in the USA there are people who are Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives, old and young, men and women, and we should love one another despite our differences. Take a look back at verses 10-11. We are the people who have put on the new self, and we are part of a new family that is defined by Christ. We are in Christ. Nothing divides us, not ethnicity, not skin color, because we are all in Christ. And we love one another.