You and I both know the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is a unilateral act that we must repeat, according to Jesus, “seventy times seven,” precisely because we have been forgiven of our sins by God in Christ on the cross, and precisely because it is a hallmark of following Jesus. We forgive whether or not the person who has offended us recognizes their offense, or repents, or expresses any remorse at all. We forgive because Jesus first forgave us.
Reconciliation, unlike forgiveness, is neither a unilateral act nor a one way street. 2 Corinthians 5:18 reminds us that the primary and central context for biblical reconciliation is God’s reconciliation of himself to humankind through the death of Jesus Christ and his blood shed for our sins. From this, all people may be at peace with God through Jesus Christ. It is this reconciliation that the Christian primarily offers. Whatever other ministries of reconciliation we may have to offer are always shaped in every way by this God-initiated, Christ-effected process of reconciliation.
I wish to commend the Rev. Patrick Ware’s new website, unifyanglicanism.org, and specifically the article he recently posted “What is Biblical Reconciliation?”
Patrick is the Rector of Winchester Anglican Church in Winchester VA, Anglican Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic and a graduate of our Clergy Leadership Training Institute. There’s a lot of great material on this website but two things in particular struck me in his article on Biblical reconciliation.
The first was the basic understanding of the context in which we must understand the definition and practice of Christian reconciliation within the church:
It’s vital to remember that as we examine this primary relational context where God defines and patterns reconciliation for mankind, repentance plays a vital role. Man is in the wrong and must admit it. Without this, there can be no reconciliation or renewal and restoration of relationship between God and mankind.
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:3
This is no less true between spouses and people when they are at odds. When one person has hurt the other, in order for them to reconcile, the offending party must apologize, admit their guilt, and make amends.
We must also say that this is no less true within the Anglican Communion, where there are deep divisions over fundamental Christian doctrine, discipline and order within the church.
If there had been genuine repentance in the Anglican Communion, those who insisted unilaterally upon innovations in blessing same-sex unions and the consecration of non-celibate gays and lesbians as bishops would have stood down and ceased their actions in deference to biblical teaching and standards. They would have followed the guidelines suggested by Archbishops Gomez and Sinclair in To mend the Net which I have written about elsewhere. Perhaps this would have slowed the departure of hundreds of clergy and thousands of parishioners who felt in good conscience that they had no other way than to leave The Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada in order to express their faithfulness to Christ, the Bible, and Anglican formularies.
Instead of repentance, there was defiance.
Patrick goes on to quote from Pastor Steve Cornell writing in TheGospelCoalition.org on “How to move from forgiveness to reconciliation”
There are seven signs that indicate the offender is genuinely repentant:
- Accepts full responsibility for his or her actions. (Instead of: “Since you think I’ve done something wrong . . . ” or “If have done anything to offend you . . .”)
- Welcomes accountability from others.
- Does not continue in the hurtful behavior or anything associated with it.
- Does not have a defensive attitude about being in the wrong.
- Does not dismiss or downplay the hurtful behavior.
- Does not resent doubts about their sincerity or the need to demonstrate sincerity-especially in cases involving repeated offenses.
- Makes restitution where necessary.
We do not have biblical reconciliation in the Anglican Communion today. From the See of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office we have “facilitated conversations.” We have “continuing Indaba.” We have peace-making- really peace-keeping if truth be told-with many crying “peace, peace” where there is no peace. But there is no repentance. Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1998) continues to be violated in regards to the prohibition against the blessing of same-sex unions and the consecration of non-celibate homosexuals as bishops. As others have noted from the Pastoral Statement of the Bishops of the Church of England to The Pilling Report, pastoral blessings of same sex unions are now permitted in the mother church. We do not have accountability- welcomed or otherwise. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury admitted in his sermon in Nairobi on the eve of GAFCON 2013 that the Anglican Instruments of Unity have failed. The hurtful behavior not only continues but is accelerating.
We are far from any place of reconciliation within the Anglican Communion. For that we need genuine, Biblical reconciliation. To move from forgiveness to such reconciliation we need genuine repentance that “will not continue in the hurtful behavior or anything associated with it.” For as John Stott observed in Confess Your Sins, “If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love, but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which by-passes the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality.”
God save us from shallow and sentimental substitutes for genuine reconciliation, rooted in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is CEO of the American Anglican Council.