“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
There was once a time when people who were concerned about their souls asked the question, “How close can I get to Christ and still not be converted?” In his insightful book, The Almost Christian Discovered, Matthew Mead answers that question based on the life of Judas who went forth to preach the gospel, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons—but was still not saved.
In the present generation another question is being asked: “How far away from Christ, and His gospel, can a person get and still go to heaven?” Among those who are interested in the answer are members of the homosexual community, and pedophiles.
Ignoring the first commandment of Christ to, “Repent”, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, the assumption is made that heaven is assured, and so the Church must forgive individuals without judgment.
In July, 2019 at the Holy Spirit Church of Munster in northwest Germany, the Rev. Ulrich Zurkuhlen encouraged his congregation to forgive others, including pedophile priests. If the news reports are correct, 70 people in the audience were so alarmed at what they were hearing, they immediately left the service, visibly upset.
Faithful German Christians have a reason to be upset for at least 3, 677 minors were abused by 1,670 Catholic clerics between 1946 and 2014. More than half of the victims were age 13 or younger (German Bishop Conference Report).
Was the minister right to preach a gospel of forgiveness, even for pedophiles? The Biblical answer is this.
Divine forgiveness is always contingent upon gospel repentance which is a turning away from sin, disobedience, and rebellion, and turning back to God.
The Church has always declared that there is no sin too great for God to forgive. In fact, the “chief of sinners” has already been saved. “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15).
Paul looked upon himself as a sinner. This is a state of mind that many homosexuals, and pedophiles are determined not to acknowledge. Many insist that they are not sinning, and the lifestyle they practice is not wrong. God made them as they are, and so they want to be accepted by the Church, and treated with grace, dignity, and respect. In fact, many are not even asking for forgiveness.
When the German pastor told his congregation to forgive others, including pedophile priests, perhaps he was speaking about men who have sinned, confessed their transgressions, and sincerely repented. Certainly, the grace and mercy of God is extended to the person who has a change of mind, a feeling of remorse or regret for past conduct, and experiences godly sorrow. Such a person will turn around and walk in the opposite direction, as David did after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. David was accused by God’s spokesman of killing Uriah the Hittite, and committing adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. For a long time, the heart of David was hard. He continued to live and work as if he was right with God. But his heart was far from God. Then the Lord broke David. He changed his mind. He repented. His repentance is recorded in Psalm 51.
Should a pedophile priest be forgiven by the Church, and by Christians? Only if there is authentic repentance and a turning away from sin, and a turning to God. Repentance is God’s will and pleasure, as well as His royal command. The ability to repent is also a gift of His sovereign love, without which no one can be saved. May God give true repentance to us all.