My brief post on the reversal of the turnaround at World Vision generated some questions and comments, so let me chase them here.
Start with the central thing — and that would concern our duty of not being the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son. If the subject is sin and repentance, it should go without saying that we should never sneer at a broken and a contrite heart. How many times do we forgive someone? Jesus dealt with this famously when He said the right number was 70 times 7. And that does not mean that once the sinner gets past 490, then pow, right in the kisser. Our forgiveness for others should imitate God’s forgiveness of us, and it is obviously impossible to outshine Him.
Jesus taught that someone could sin against us seven times in a day, and that upon a profession of repentance we should forgive him each time. Now, along about the fourth or fifth incident, I might begin to suspect that my friend is not dealing with the root issues — but I am still to forgive (Luke 17:4).
So, how does this relate, if at all, to World Vision? Our problem is that we have confused two categories that must never be confused. In the church, we must learn to maintain an understanding of a fundamental difference between qualifications for fellowship (on profession of repentance) and qualifications for leadership (as found, for example, in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1). The former is not based on the record at all — the publican in the Temple professed himself wretched, and went home justified. But the latter is very much based on proven character over time.
If you require that every member of the church meet the qualifications for elder, then congratulations, you’re a Pharisee. But if you think that elders don’t have to meet the qualifications for elder, then congratulations, you’re a anarchist.
If a pastor committed adultery, can he be forgiven? Of course. Can he be restored to the fellowship of the saints, admitted to communion again? Again, of course. Could this happen in a very short period of time? Of course. Could he preach the sermon three weeks later? Of course not. But the fact is that we live in muddled times, and to refuse him the privilege of the pulpit would be seen by many as a “refusal to forgive.” But it is nothing of the kind. Apples and mangoes.
World Vision is a parachurch diaconal ministry. This means that the qualifications for leadership apply, and not just the qualifications for fellowship. And this means that the leaders of World Vision cannot just announce one day that a practice that God declared to be an abomination is now all right with them, and then two days later (after their financial support started to evaporate) drop that position like a hot rock, and yet remain qualified to provide moral leadership. They blew a huge hole in their credibility. Leadership being what it is, they can receive full and free forgiveness — but the hole is still there. The hole is still there because God wants it still there.
They destroyed their credibility, not me. The first step in restoring that credibility is to receive forgiveness. The second is behave in a way that shows that they understand that destroying their own credibility is what they did. The third is to recognize that credibility is something that is built over time, in the very nature of the case. They can’t just “have it back.” The next thing they should do is start accepting resignations. They sinned in a number of different ways, but one of the big ones is that they demonstrated that they were and are untrustworthy.
One of the most important truths I try to communicate in pastoral counseling is the idea that trust and forgiveness are two very different things. Many people cannot see their way to forgive someone else because they assume that forgiveness requires trust, and they are in a situation where trust would obviously be insane. Forgiveness is required of us because it has been sought, and we give it by grace. It is grace. But trust is earned.
So, do we forgive the leadership of World Vision for this sin that they have confessed? Absolutely. Do we trust them? Are you serious?