The gospel is a message of reconciliation to be reflected in our local church life and wider Church unity, yet we sometimes burden ourselves with unbiblical views of what forgiveness means—so said Dr. David Guretzki at the EMC ministerial retreat held on Nov. 28-30, 2015, at Wilderness Edge Retreat and Conference Centre in Pinawa, Man.
The retreat started with a welcome and an outline of events. Beyond the worship sessions, there were periods planned for relaxation, friendly competition (table tennis, crokinole, Scrabble), a talent show, and to watch the Grey Cup.
Vern Knutson, who with his wife Lana was on the planning committee, hoped retreaters would fix their eyes on the one who redeemed us.
To say Jesus died for our sins is only a halfway gospel, said David Guretzki, professor of theology, church, and public life at Briercrest Seminary. The goal is reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:14). God’s primary business is reconciliation and we are to be involved, with our motive being that Christ’s love for us compels us. Guretzki also cautioned against cheapening reconciliation by confusing it with other concepts. Forgiveness and reconciliation are related, but not the same. The Bible never says to forgive your enemies, but to love them and pray for their repentance. Forgiveness has today become an umbrella term, yet biblically has a narrower focus.
Forgiveness is an intentional act of the will to remove obstacles between people, a refusal to let barriers inhibit reconciliation. Our forgiveness reflects God’s forgiveness of us (Matt. 18:24-35), and part of the reason we don’ t forgive is that we don’t realize how much we’ve been forgiven, he said.
The professor cautioned against unilateral forgiveness. Forgiveness in Scripture is dependent upon the conditions of confession and repentance. When asked about Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness on the cross, Guretzki said that Jesus did not speak a word of forgiveness directly to the soldiers and crowd, but prayed to the Father on their behalf. A hidden one-way forgiveness is worthless for reconciliation, he said.
In Matt. 18:15-17 the instruction is for disciples, peer-level relationships. The principles can be applied more widely, but the original context matters. Where “power differential relationships” exist (abuser/abused, employer/employee), they must be dealt with differently. The passage isn’t dealing with a major abuser; nor is it about “how to win your case,” but “how to heal a relationship.”
Guretzki cautioned against sending people back into the situations where they are likely to sin. An abused person is to be removed from the home; an offer of counselling can be given to the abuser.
People enjoyed visiting over meals, while solving puzzles, playing pool, being involved in minor sports tournaments, or watching the Grey Cup game. Late on Sunday night was a talent show.
On Monday morning David Guretzki said that the sad history of the Church is the creative ways it finds to divide itself. Paul in Eph. 4:1-13 reminds us that we do not create the Church’s unity; Christ has done that. What we can do is to seek to maintain the unity of the Church through humility, patience, and forbearance.
There also was a time to bear each other’s burdens. A communion service followed.
The ministerial retreat is held every second year. It’s open to all EMC ministerial individuals and couples. If you attended this year, you’ll want to come back. If you missed out, the deer and the Board of Leadership and Outreach will welcome you in 2017.