Consider the potential impact for peace of a religion whose founder promoted a wide-spread and unconditional forgiveness at the moment of his death—a tortured and undeserved death. Consider the testimony of one of the followers of this religious thought whose final words while being stoned for that very religion were, “Lay not this sin to their charge” [Acts 7:60] ..forgive them. Some critics tend to get swallowed up in the word “sin” as if in a philosophical black hole and never see the record for what it really is. Here was a christian wanting God, in keeping with his faith, to let go any retribution, any punishment, any vengeance, on the perpetrators of this vigilantism.
Modern day christians teach an eschatological forgiveness from God who, in their understanding, promised to leave them out of it when He returns to judge the world. They see this “no condemnation,” this acquittal, [Romans 8:1] from heaven’s court as forgiveness …and understandably so; since, they maintain the message of Calvary as documented in the Gospel record.
A brief overview of Judaism and Islam, the two other forms of monotheism, betray an absence of this central christian theme …for an obvious reason: In the historical development of religious thought, Judaism and Islam pulled up short of the Christian New Testament message of forgiveness. The dogma of forgiveness is uniquely a central tenet of Christian thought—not only the good news of God forgiving us, but a message of peace and reconciliation that encompasses our relationships with each other—and the fellowship and unity possible by that reconciliation ..and thus, the power of forgiveness.
Yes, God’s forgiveness is proclaimed for those who adhere to the rules and practices as written in the Tanach or Quran but not as a proclamation of a divine action by His death and resurrection. As Dr. Gregory Boyd, a professor at Bethel College, St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote:
“There is no other belief which does this… Only the Gospel dares to proclaim that God was born a baby in a … stable, that He lived a life befriending the prostitutes and lepers no one else would befriend, and that He suffered firsthand, the .. depth of all that is nightmarish in human existence.” [Boyd, Gregory A. Letters From A Skeptic (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communication Ministries, 2004), 151.]
Christians should practice this message more faithfully if they want a solid testimony to their world. Gibbons in his work on the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire made singular note of Christian community and love as the reason for its growth in its beginnings. And I can easily see how this alone argues for its reality and distinction in this current time of religious skepticism.
The message of Calvary, ultimately, is not simply being reconciled to God but being reconciled to one another. [I John 1:7] Christian fellowship, then, should display a level of unity that has no racial, gender, or ethnic element. “Fellowship” affectionately known also by its Greek term, koinonia, is the term found in Acts 2:42 at the birth of the church which even an English dictionary defines as “intimate spiritual communion.” There is no such fellowship without forgiveness as a tenet of a faith that unites not just us with God but us with each other. We should be one as Christ and His Father are one. [according to the doctrine: John 17:11 ]
We are believers?! Forgiveness is our term! Forgiveness is our doctrine! Forgiveness is the central theme of our faith! We need to proclaim it in our actions. We need to recognize that christian love, [“deeply, from the heart” I Peter 1:22] is capable, without breaking, of stretching to cover a multitude of offenses. [I Peter 4:8]