I have been asked to contribute a weekly column to our local newspaper, The Nebraska City NewsPress, my goal is that people are reminded that they are loved, they are not alone, and that we can do positive things together as a community. Here is this week’s column, it’s called “Mutual Forbearance”. This week I wanted to take off my “dad” hat and put on my “pastor” hat. I know that I’m always wearing both but this week I wanted to focus on a foundational principle of the Presbyterian Church. It is a principle called “mutual forbearance”.
The Rev. Dr. Carlos Wilton describes it like this, “It’s a biblical concept — although it’s a little hard to locate in most English translations, because the word “forbearance” is something of an antique. Scrupulous readers of the Authorized (“King James”) Version will recognize it in Ephesians 4:2. In the face of persistent church conflict, Paul’s prescription for good health in the body of Christ is “forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The New Revised Standard Version renders it “bearing with one another in love.” (http://monmouthstatedclerk.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-marriage-amendment-and-mutual.html)
The Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order helps us to put it in to practice this way, “we think it necessary to make effectual provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith, we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which [people] of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.”
A lot of that language can be confusing. The Rev. Dr. Wilton does an excellent job of speaking plainly about what mutual forbearance looks like in his recent blog (monmouthstatedclerk.blogspot.com) about issues in the PC (USA) and in an upcoming book about Presbyterian Polity.
“The essential feature of the biblical concept of mutual forbearance is the presence of a third party in the relationship: God. Whether the opposing parties are facing off across a kitchen table or a Session conference table, two individuals in conflict have little chance of permanently resolving their differences unless they first acknowledge their mutual reliance on a higher authority. Such is the message of the Ephesians passage as it recommends, “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Note that unity in the relationship does not come from the parties themselves. It is unity of the Spirit. Further, the peace that reigns over the two opponents is not something that appears automatically, requiring little effort. The scripture speaks of the “bond” of peace: literally, a chain or fetter. A lifelong commitment to living and working with one another, despite our differences, means sacrificing something of the freedom we would otherwise have, were we not accountable to another.
It’s not unlike living through change as a family. Change does not typically happen, in families, in slow and incremental ways. It happens by leaps and bounds, often driven by the passions of the younger generations, to which the older members eventually learn to accommodate. The younger generations, for their part, come to accept the likelihood that they will never fully convince their elders.
What happens, then? Does the family splinter, its unity destroyed?
Sadly, in some cases this is what happens. Most observers, though, would describe that as a failed family. Its members have failed to do the one thing they were expected to do: to stick together through thick and thin.
What keeps any family healthy and strong is mutual forbearance. It must be intentional, and it must happen on both sides. We bear with each other because we love one another in Christ. That’s the bottom line.”
It seems as if in our town, our state, and our country we have forgotten the concept of mutual forbearance. We have forgotten how to be in relationship with one another. That doesn’t mean that we all have to be best friends or even like each other, but it does mean that we owe it to our neighbors to bear with one another in love. It’s not easy, but nothing worth doing is.
At dinner every night, my family goes around the table and shares their high points and low points of the day. We call it “Favorite” and “Not Favorite”. Here are my “Favorites” and “Not Favorites” of the week.
Favorite: The sunshine and the ability to go play a round of golf with my two kids.
Not Favorite: My house has been sick for the last week and a half. Hopefully, we will finally get better as the nice weather approaches.