It’s a huge understatement to say that the days we’re witnessing at the moment are bonkers! After a series of monumental events over 12 months, Boris Johnson’s successor, Liz Truss fluffed her lines and resigned as the latest Prime Minister after just 44 days – less than it took to win the race for the title.
As I listened to the breaking news, I jokingly mused to myself ‘I wonder what the odds on Boris coming back to office are’. In that moment, that possibility seemed utterly improbable, virtually impossible, even. Just hours later news broke that Boris Johnson was, indeed, an early frontrunner to be the next PM.
A number from the Conservative party were sufficiently underwhelmed (to put it mildly) by Johnson’s leadership that they voted in sizeable number to express their lack of confidence in his leadership, and now he was potentially on the way back. The public outcry has been vocal and plentiful. Then a question began to form in my mind: What does restoration look like?
Here I part with the Boris Johnson illustration, lest it become too obviously ineffective.
Tragically in the church we experience times when people become disqualified. Their position in ministry or their area of service becomes untenable because of decisions they’ve made, a lack of teachability or unrepented sin. With heavy hearts, we see people stepped down, opportunities withdrawn and people side-lined.
I’m not debating whether this is right or wrong. For the honour of Christ in the church I believe it’s absolutely right (in most instances). People can’t carry on doing as they will with impunity. I do wonder, though, whether there’s a risk of us being less quick to seek the restoration of the individual who is stepped down than we are their being stepped down.
I understand the need for carefulness. A quick Google search reveals myriad stories of people whose actions have hurt others; they’ve been stood down only to reappear, rebranded yet unrepentant, a short time later. The ‘pendulum swing’ response, though, is potentially to the detriment of the Church – namely that we don’t seek ways to see people come through repentance and into restoration into the things of God.
Let me confess a personal angle… I’ve been in the ‘stepped down’ position. And, ironically given that I’m writing this, have known the kindness of God in leading me through repentance. Despite my own projection that I would see out my days on the back row (as a backbencher, to follow the initial illustration!), God had other plans and mercifully worked a way for me to follow His call. My stepping down wasn’t terminal.
That said, my journey up from rock bottom was not quick. The period between Boris’ ousting and his mooted return is measurable in days or months at best. People are right to be wary. Christian restoration should be different to a panic-induced Westminster decision, but it must be our goal as we see the Gospel at work.
A character named John Mark provides us with a challenging case study. In Acts 13:6, we read that he’s with Saul, Barnabas and others “as their helper” and accompanies them when they head off on mission, but “left them and returned to Jerusalem” (Acts 13:13). Whilst the Scriptures are silent about the reasons for his departure from their company, the more favourable explanations for this (he was going to visit his mother or the Apostle Peter) seem inadequate. Why? Because when Paul and Barnabas are later planning another trip, “Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.” (Acts 15:37-8). Clearly, then, John Mark’s departure wasn’t by prior agreement; it wasn’t mutually agreed – he’d “deserted them”.
John Mark messed up. Like many in the church today. But that wasn’t the end of the story.
We don’t have the details, but clearly things got put right, through repentance on John Mark’s part, between him and Paul. In Colossians 4:10, Paul writes sending John Mark’s greetings; they’re reunited in ministry following John Mark’s restoration. Furthermore, when Paul is in his final phase of ministry, facing only one outcome, he writes to Timothy: “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (2 Tim 4:11)
We don’t know all of the details so mustn’t infer too much about John Mark, but I want to suggest the following:
Repentance and restoration are two way streets
John Mark blew it, sure. For reconciliation and restoration, however, Paul’s heart had to change. The vehemence he exhibited when discussing things with Barnabas needed to dissipate and give way to the disposition – and desire – to see John Mark restored. Think back over those who you’ve seen stepped down from service. Does your heart long to see them restored? If not, why not? Maybe you’ve felt aggrieved by the conduct of someone in the church and felt vindicated when they were stepped down. That may be fair. But if you’re still in that place, you may have some Gospel work to do on your own heart.
Prayer precedes practice
Things didn’t improve overnight between Paul and John Mark. I suspect, as the Spirit convicted them both and wrought change in their hearts, that prayer for one another followed. It’s easy to see someone who has blown it isolated from fellowship and fall by the wayside. Your responsibility to those in that position is to pray for them. Regularly. Pray initially that God would grant them the gift of repentance, that He would be gracious toward them, and that at the right time he would restore them.
Restoration requires deliberate action
As we’ve seen, some of Paul’s final instructions to Timothy are to send some practical items, but also to ask for John Mark to come to him. All of the heart work and wishing in the world would count for nothing had Paul not taken actual steps to see John Mark restored. To those who blow it, the Gospel offers hope – hope of forgiveness and restoration. As those tasked with the ministry of reconciliation the Gospel challenges us to actively pursue the restoration of those who have fallen. Don’t write people off.
Grace-filled restoration goes above and beyond
John Mark fell from missionary-in-training and ruffled Paul’s feathers. Restoration, though, wasn’t confined to a return to ‘what was’. Instead, he partnered with both Peter and Paul and likely recorded Peter’s account of the life and ministry of Jesus in what we commonly refer to as Mark’s Gospel. Beyond where he fell from.
Obviously wisdom says we don’t abandon all common sense in such matters. There will be certain occasions where someone falls and it would be completely inappropriate for them to return to the place they had fallen from, or anything of its sorts, but how about we consider the potential for grace to reach, to renew and to restore far more readily than we presently do.
I don’t think Boris should come back as the Tory leader now, but if I practise what I preach, surely I have to be open to the possibility that, following repentance, restoration remains a reality.
Soli Deo Gloria.