"True righteousness has compassion, false righteousness is indignant." by Gregory the Great, quoted by Martin Luther, quoted by David Yeago...
The context for this quote was a discussion about reaction to the ELCA decision to depart from Christian tradition, Scripture, and the Lutheran Confessions and embrace homosexuality as equal to marriage between a man and a woman and to extend the privilege of ordination to gay and lesbians in committed, monogamous relationships... I am not going to talk about the ELCA but about this compassion which is the mark of true righteousness.
It seems to me that the world, the devil, and the sinful flesh are enough to throw stones at the Church and seek her downfall. We do not need Christians doing that as well. Whenever we glory over the pitfalls and failings of specific church bodies, we show forth a false righteousness. I skim many blogs and read many journals and many of them are not very nice. Beyond the obvious mark of Pharisaical indignation, there is a dangerous glee that some have over finding fault with their own church body or that of others. It is as if we think we gain by gloating when the truth is that such only diminishes us and does not advance the cause of orthodoxy that we champion.
This is true of the local congregation and the Church as a whole. There are voices within my own congregation who delight in complaining about the inadequacies of me as their Pastor, of other staff members, of lay leaders, of the choir, of the organist, and of most folks in the pew. It can be as simple as a typo in the Sunday bulletin or "righteous" anger over slights that are taken for this reason or that, but it can be downright nasty.
If I have done so, and I know I have, I take this opportunity to beg forgiveness from those who were the objects of my unkindness as well as those who heard it. I urge repentance of all of us when our false righteousness displays and unkindly indignation that delights in finding fault. This is not the way of Christ.
That does not mean we must stay silent when we encounter such errors and failings -- no, by no means -- but it does mean that we approach them with a compassionate heart that seeks not blame but renewal, not condemnation but reformation. True righteousness is compassionate. We can think for a moment on the log and speck in the eye, in the adulterous woman who finds no one left to condemn but the encouragement to go and sin no more, or a hundred other passages where sin and error are identified but the goal is not tearing down... the goal is rebuilding.
The fact that congregations and the Church are filled with sinners who think and act and speak in sinful ways... well, it is fact of life this side of glory. When we encounter it, we need to be armed with more than indignation. We need to meet these things with compassion. I cannot tell you how many times people have said to me "I never thought you would find....(insert sin/fault/failing here)... in a Christian Church!" Hrump! Big Sigh! Pained Expression! "I might have to find another church home." Good luck.
In contrast I have apologized for failing to address people in their time of pain, to visit them when sick, to ask them about this or that, to remember their family member's names, and on and on... only to find them not indignant but forgiving. They addressed me with the compassion that seeks not to wear the wound but to find healing for it. These folks have taught me much and still teach me.
“Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matt. 6:34) There will be many battles yet to come in the Church and many failings... in each congregation, too... in each Pastor and church worker, also... and don't forget lay leaders. Wrong decisions will be made, errors will be hidden, faulty choices made... about many things (including sex)... We are called to point them out and address them up front -- not in judgment or condemnation only but so that they may be righted, forgiven, and the path of orthodoxy, love, and community restored.
When we delight in finding error, we manifest the very thing that the innocent heart of our Savior came to redeem... so let us stand for Truth and righteousness, for orthodoxy and faithfulness... but with a compassionate spirit and a loving heart whose goal is higher than shame and more noble than embarrassment... but repentance, renewal, and restoration...