Our lives are built in, on, and around relationships, and some are meant to be closer than others. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Jesus had many followers, but twelve disciples who were closest, and three in the innermost circle. What then of other relationships, where do we draw lines, or do we let everyone have the same level of fellowship with us? For us, considering the marriage covenant, we can easily see that not all relationships are to be the same. There are levels of association that we must consider when thinking of these matters.
For simplicity’s sake we can categorize levels of association as Retaliation, Toleration, Cooperation, and Participation. Of course, for a Christian, initiating physical retaliation is never an option (Romans 12:17-21), and spiritual warfare in apologetics and defending the faith are matters where God determines the parameters (2 Corinthians 10:5). We are talking primarily about individual relationships, and also to an extent church cooperation between fellowships. What we want to do is have our relationships advance to the furthest point advisable.
What do we do when someone wrongs us, and then repents? Or when they do not repent, what then? “I’ll never do that again!” How many times have we heard it, or said it ourselves? You can forgive someone but still not be able to trust the person; and that can be wisdom, not unforgiveness. What does forgiveness look like, though? What about those who knowingly take advantage of our "HAVE TO" style of forgiveness (notwithstanding Luke 17:3-4)?
Regarding forgiveness and Christians, let’s paint a picture for your consideration.
Lets say you and I are roofers, and we own a roofing company. One of the members of our small church desperately needs a job, and tells us what a great roofer he is. He is known by us to be a "great guy", and a true Christian, as far as we can tell.
Well, we give him a job. Lo and behold, he is a terrible roofer, he messes up several jobs for us in just a week’s time, and we now doubt if he even had any roofing experience in the first place.
He comes to us and says "sorry, I really needed this job, but I can't do it. But you HAVE to forgive me, right?"
Of course we forgive him. But the question is, would we now say "okay, we forgive you, now you can go right back and get on that roof, we love you."
No, we wouldn't. That would be stupid.
What would we say, then?
Perhaps something like, "yes we HAVE to forgive you, but that doesn't mean that we have to let you keep on ruining our business. Tell you what; go and get some training, get a license, do an apprenticeship with another roofer, and then, maybe, we will TALK to you about coming back to work for us again." "Of course we love you, but we can't let you roof anymore."
Forgiving but not forgetting? Is this right or wise? Where is the line: 70 x 7, or what?
It is what we mean by forgiveness that comes into play here, and what those who know just enough of the Bible to try and justify his or her bad behavior will use to wear someone out with.
Consider this food for thought. I have used this "roofer" example a few times with people who are being used but feel guilty about having to stop someone from using them. It is applicable if they are not trying to get out of "going the extra mile", but that they recognize the other person is in the fold and they don't want to do the wrong thing. You wouldn’t retaliate, and you most certainly would have to tolerate, and you will cooperate in witnessing endeavors or other church activities, but to participate with them in doing a roofing job, now that would be a different matter. Of course, you could do their roof for them, as a way to show your forgiveness, without having to let them ruin your business and your fellowship.
This applies to everyday life, for sure. And church life also. Minor doctrinal differences ought not to divide us completely. We should be at least in the cooperation level, for example regarding disaster relief, let’s say, when talking of Baptists and Presbyterians. Just because we have a disagreement about water (baptism) doesn’t mean we cannot pull together to pull someone out of a fire (physical or spiritual)!
Yes, participation in other matters will be more complex, such as what to do with each other in communion and defining church membership. These issues cannot be dismissed with a simple “let’s just all get along”. Still, if we would understand where we are at regarding the cooperation level, we might not have to have so many exclusions. It is good to have strong convictions, let’s just make sure we don’t take our convictions and then convict others of like precious faith.
What say you?