Reconciliation (Stephen Dray)
Over thirty years ago my wife Anne and I attended a Christian meeting where the theme was reconciliation and forgiveness. We were invited to reflect upon whether we should seek forgiveness from anyone present. Sitting in the row in front of us was someone who I and others had publicly criticised and my conscience would not allow me to ignore its promptings. I leaned over, tapped on my fellow attendee’s shoulder, and asked for his forgiveness. Tears flowed from his wife’s eyes while he responded, ‘It is forgiven and forgotten.’ We have remained friends ever since. I am referring to R.T. Kendall and his wife Louise.
I have known others in ‘high places’ who have shown a similar gentle and forgiving spirit; but, tragically, they have proved exceptions to the rule. Many of those who claim to have, undeservedly, been reconciled to the Father in the cross of the Son, have failed to reveal their paternity as both reconciled and reconciling.
I have in mind, for example, being invited to be part of an attempt to effect peace between an archbishop and other clergy and the Church’s synod. He was only prepared to be reconciled on his terms and threatened to throw the toys out of his pram unless others acquiesced in his bullying. His denomination remains tragically divided.
I have also been involved in seeking to effect reconciliation between a very dear friend of mine, a priest within the Church of England, and the hierarchy within his diocese. Despite repeated attempts, the diocesan authorities preferred to ‘throw their weight around’. Using their network of contacts they preferred to manipulate them so as to get my friend convicted in a court of law and leave him penniless and reduced to using a mobility scooter.
Then there is the letter I recently saw from a former moderator of the Baptist Union of Great Britain with whom a restoration of fellowship had been sought. He made it explicit that he was not into reconciliation. Another initiative of which I am aware with a view to seeking reconciliation with another bishop within the Church of England was met with a tantrum.
I am well aware that others could repeat similar stories from around the world – certainly throughout Europe.
All of this raises questions about the reality and / or depth of the experience of God of too many in leadership today. It should prompt questions about the effectiveness of our mentoring of those who end up in high office. It might, even, prompt one to be so disillusioned as to doubt the reality of the Gospel. I certainly know those of whom this is true.
For myself, I am grateful that there are others like R.T. Kendall, who have revealed to me the transforming work of the Spirit as shown in their own lives – people of humility and grace. I have in mind (among others) Jean Darnall, the early charismatic leader and J.I. Packer and J.A. Motyer, my former tutors and friends. I also feel privileged to have known many within FEET (including the Executive Committee) who have demonstrated the empowering and transforming Spirit in their own lives. I cherish such friendships and encounters and am reassured that the message of Christ is, indeed, life for the world.