“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sakes He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” –2 Corinthians 5:17-21
This beautiful passage from Paul, written to the Corinthian church, is about reconciliation. Reconciliation is one of the many ways in which our salvation is described. To be reconciled to another person is have the hostility and offense between the two of you removed, followed by engaging (or re-engaging) in friendship. Reconciliation is taking two warring people separated by offense and bringing them together in earnest friendship. The dividing line of hostility is removed, and peace takes its place.
This passage is clear that we do not reconcile ourselves to God, but that God reconciles Himself to us through Christ. This means that when we were enemies to God, rebellious toward His law, without any love in our heart toward Jesus – God reached out to us first. The offenses of sin that we had built up toward God by our pride, selfishness, and ungodliness were all counted against Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, who lived in perfect righteousness and fellowship with the Father, but for our sakes was counted as sinful (“made Him sin…”). Our sins and trespasses were counted against Jesus, not counted against us. With the offense between us and God removed, God the Father draws us into fellowship with Himself. This is what it means to have peace with God. Through Christ, sinful people can be reconciled to God.
The passage extends to the glorious reality that after being reconciled to God, we are given this ministry of reconciliation. We go into the world as ambassadors for Christ. As those at peace with God, we tell the world, and work to persuade the world (2 Corinthians 5:11, 6:2), that they also can and should seek peace with God. An ambassador is a chosen and empowered representative of a sovereign (monarch or government). We are sent by the King of Kings to proclaim the good news to all people that by grace alone their sins can be forgiven, and their guilt before God removed. Then from this state of forgiveness they are drawn into near friendship and personal relationship with God.
However, this ministry of proclaiming reconciliation begins with unity and peace in the local church. We cannot go into the lost world proclaiming the glorious grace of Jesus and the complete forgiveness of sin, when we ourselves harbor offenses and refuse to forgive others. To be an ambassador of reconciliation and peace, we ourselves must freely forgive and seek personal reconciliation with those around us – but especially those in Christ. We cannot remain at odds with others in the church. We must take the first move to forgive and seek peaceful reconciliation. When we realize that there is division between us and another Christian, we should do everything in our power – motivated by the love of Christ and the love of neighbor – to reconcile with that person. In the common salvation of Jesus our Lord, we will be able to find common ground with that person if we are willing to approach with humility and love.
The constant seeking of such reconciliation brings powerful unity to the church and a deep sense of earnest Christian love. May you each personally be reconciled to God through Jesus, then go out joyfully seeking the salvation of the lost and peace in the church.
In Christ we are new creations,
Caring Well Challenge
As you may recall, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Anaheim, CA this past summer as a Messenger representing Redeemer Bible Church. While there were many topics discussed at this event, the main focus was determining how the SBC was going to respond to the findings of the Guidestone Solutions Report detailing years of improper handling of sexual abuse cases by cooperating churches and SBC leadership.
What I will remember as one of the most meaningful moments of my life took place on the second day of the vote when I raised my ballot in support of the recommendations of the Sexual Abuse Task Force.
Throughout the weekend I had the chance to meet with survivors and those who have been working to make churches a safe place for survivors and a place safe from predators. These experiences caused me to realize that merely raising my hand was an empty gesture without working to implement change on a grassroots level.
Upon my return, I drew up a list of recommendations for our elders which included implementing the Caring Well Challenge here at Redeemer Bible Church––a recommendation with which they unanimously agreed.
To address the issue of abuse in the SBC and its member churches two things need to happen. One, there needs to be a systematic change of policies and procedures. More importantly, we must change the culture that has allowed predators to flourish.
Here are a few staggering statistics from the SBC of Virginia:
- Child check-in systems are good, but only 4% of cases result in abductions.
- Background checks are important, but less than 10% of abusers encounter the criminal justice system.
- Policies are beneficial, but they must be contextualized and take into account how sexual predators commit their crimes.
But prevention is just one part of addressing abuse in the church. We must also meet the needs of survivors. One in four women sitting in our pews and one in six men have been victims of abuse.
For those of you asking how the Gospel fits in with all of this, I will share survivor and advocate, Rachael Denhollander’s words, “Trauma survivors are the unreached people group of our time. We expect missionaries to contextualize their people groups. We must do the same for the one in four and the one in six.”
The gospel calls us to champion the dignity of all people, including the vulnerable in our midst that have experienced abuse.
You will be hearing a lot about the Caring Well Challenge over the next year. At last Sunday’s Business Meeting, I gave a brief presentation explaining the history of the program and what it means for our church going forward.
At the 2018 Southern Baptist Annual Meeting, a motion was made to form a presidential task force to address the issue of abuse. In the fall of 2018, SBC President J.D. Greear, in partnership with the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission (an SBC entity), appointed a Sexual Abuse Advisory Group with the purpose of evaluating needs in this area and addressing opportunities to strengthen and enhance churches’ care for survivors, prevention, and response to abuse.
During the first phase of this process, the SBC Sexual Abuse Advisory Group interviewed hundreds of survivors, advocates, outside experts, and pastors to hear their stories and learn from their viewpoints.
From this, the Advisory Group sought to develop resources and recommendations to equip SBC churches with the tools, strategies, and partnerships to more effectively care for survivors and to prevent abuse before it occurs. It was out of this effort that the Caring Well Challenge was birthed.
The Caring Well Challenge is a unified call to action on the abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Convention. It provides churches with a simple, adaptable, and attainable pathway to immediately strengthen their efforts to prevent abuse and care for abuse survivors.
Committing ourselves to being a part of this initiative provides our church an opportunity to link hearts and arms with, and to continue to learn from, other churches as we strive to be vigilant in caring for one another, particularly those who have been or are being abused in our church.
Over the next year, we will be implementing the eight steps of the Caring Well Challenge. The first of which will be building a Caring Well Team that will coordinate this ministry. They will lead our efforts to equip our leaders to care well for the abused and to enhance our policies, procedures, and practices related to abuse. This team will be introduced to the entire church body on The Caring Well Challenge Launch Sunday and will be available as a resource for our members.
I’ll close by sharing the words of Immediate Past SBC President Ed Litton. He began by reading Matthew 9:35, “‘Jesus continued going around to all the towns and villages, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.'”
He continued, “The word for compassion translates to a ‘moving of the intestines.’ Jesus experienced what we would call a ‘punch to the gut’ when he looked upon the crowds. If you see someone who needs something, don’t let your eyes look away. If we are not moved to action we will become indifferent. We need to also see the harvest of those that are burdened and broken down by their past trauma. We need to bring them to the only One who can truly heal their pain.”
I am honored and humbled to be able to serve our church body by coordinating the implementation of the Caring Well Challenge at Redeemer Bible Church and look forward to sharing more details in the weeks and months ahead.
Heather Ablondi–SBC Messenger