Sunday School's topic on WLC's Q. 194: What do we pray for in the fifth petition? (Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors)
The pastor suggested different grades of forgiveness (and he preferred even different words than "forgiveness" which he solely wished to apply to post-repentant): i.e. letting go but not completely forgiving those who especially do not apologize, but letting go is a type of forgiveness. This "grades" of forgiveness is different than the two kinds of forgiveness presented by John Calvin, Matthew Henry and John MacArthur. Greg Wright wrote a good piece on this called "Forgiveness from the Heart: Are Christians Obligated to Forgive Unrepentant People". I'll paste this article in the comment section. In terms of kinds of relationships, I would differ from the pastor's interpretation, though we may use the same words like reconciliation, restored fellowship. The difference is that this is not mutual. My offender does not cause me to turn away from him, it is he who turned away from me, and by reconciling, he's the one returning, not me. I am already ready to have a restored fellowship, so it is up to him, never up to me, as I have already forgiven him. The benefit is solely on him, not on me for I lack nothing in this. Opposing sides would use Mark 11:25 vs. Luke 17:3 to defend their cases, but it can be treated as one and the same and the side that chooses not to call one of these two "forgiveness" but "let go" instead, stands on more unstable ground.
Forgiveness is simply to release the obligation of the offender to the offended and it includes the love to wish them well. Forgiveness is never giving approval to the offense itself, regardless if the offender apologizes sincerely or not.
I do differ in this as this question wasn't new to me. Michael Liu had brought this to my attention before (years ago when we first met) when he called me one day, with an unsettling tone in his inquiry because he had heard his preacher preaching about there's no need to forgive if the trespasser does not apologize. I disagreed with that preacher, as well as now Pastor Chris on this, even though our pastor does take this less extreme than Michael's former preacher. Pastor Chris even admitted that, for the second time (the first was probably last year when the similar topic was brought up) that I've heard of him, this was just his own view and he's open to disagreement @12:30 ("I think...you tell me if I'm wrong"). And it would seem that he may consider my disagreement (@41:31 also I could use some improvement in my oral as well listening to myself speaking...cringe), despite him watering down forgiveness to different grades of forgiveness, which I would have disagreed. Forgiveness is just forgiveness, there's no different grading of it. I did gave them the example of Amish Grace and other testimonies that make the case where to forgive is divine, in this case, to forgive before the other side apologizes. I could have listed: Edith Taylor, possibly Corrie Ten Boom, etc. But Jesus' forgiveness on the cross which is copied by Stephen at his own death, was what I promoted. For some reason, when "Father forgive them for they know not what they've done" was brought up before I responded, the pastor's interpretation of it was that the forgiveness was aimed at their original sin, which was strange. Perhaps it was the only out he could think of at the time. That was why I had to speak out to include Stephen, who also said something similar. Though I couldn't quote Stephen's exact phrase (Lord, lay not this sin to their charge-KJV, Lord, do not charge them with this sin-NJKV, Lord, do not hold this sin against them-NASB, Lord, do not hold this sin against them-ESV, 主啊，不要将这罪归於他们-CUV) until I looked it up later.
Of course, this time Nadia also asked a question @35:20 related to this because Eleni mentioned @12:00 "When God forgives, He forgets". She wasn't quite satisfied with the answer but was not eloquent enough to follow up with the discussion. I later gave her this great article I found on TGC: Does God forget our Sins? by Joanna Kimbrel (Isaiah 43:25, Hebrews 8:12). I believe that the pastor did his best to answer Nadia. Perhaps he needed to touch on the definition of "forget". Both Joanna and Chris quoted Psa 103:12. Joanna went further by saying "as if we never sinned", which should be good enough of a definition. The only answer to this (how God could forget), which wasn't brought up by anyone in Sunday School was, as Joanna puts it well, the cross of Jesus Christ. Thus, this is true, as a mystery, for OT Israelites.
The pastor @13:00 understood rightly that God's forgiveness is not universal but for the elects, however, he treated the concept of "we have to repent" from our perspective as it being valid for us to wait until others repented in order to truly forgive them. I think here is a misapplication of it. I think Joseph gave us a great example on this. That if I visit someone who shot my relative in prison and said "I forgive you" @14:10, pastor Chris understood that as a mere letting go the grudge and handing it over to God. Both Chris and Dirk later tied that into different levels of relationships with people you merely let go of grudges regardless of their permission and people you have truly forgiven because of their repentance. Joseph, however, had never treated his relationship with his brothers any differently, if one reads the Bible carefully. There are many movies made to show Joseph holding grudges, but that interpretation is not founded on the Bible, even though the Bible never clearly stated Joseph's state of emotion at the crucial moments where should he acted with grudges. What Joseph did in his wisdom to test his brothers were not necessarily a sort of resolving his grudge if he never had it to begin with. In fact, it would make one a better saint to forgive better. I believe when Joseph said "God meant it for good", he didn't need to wait until his brothers repented to have a "total restored fellowship of forgiveness" as the pastor called it (@19:00 & @20:00 though not about Joseph). Therefore, relationship between two men matters not in terms of repentance, that responsibility goes to wisdom and not repentance. But it does matter in terms of forgiveness. The one who forgives first always opens the door to great horizontal relationship, therefore it matters not if such great relationship is eventually realized or not, because it is already held in waiting by the one who forgives. Those who think it resulting in being a doormat, pushover, need to focus on wisdom and the right definition of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the same as God's forget of sins. However, how we treat a relationship is how we apply our wisdom from experience, from what we've learned from God. I wouldn't simply just trust a person whether he has trespassed against me or not. Or be their doormat. That is wisdom. So when I'm being careful around people who have sinned against me @17:00, it doesn't mean that it was the consequence of their sin, but a consequences of me over trusting people in general. So I disagree with the pastor that it was the consequences of the perpetrators. I could simply not press charges against that person, this is forgiveness and though it might invite objections, I think it is possible to be in my right fully to not press charges against someone who sinned against me, thereby obliterated the "earthly consequences" that the pastor spoke of. Also, forgiveness doesn't mean there's no consequences. David was an excellent example on this. He repented, God forgave, yet "the sword shall never depart from your house" said God. This is not about God not giving David a "total restored fellowship of forgiveness" for there is no such thing, but a way for David and the rest of us to learn not just of consequences but on the statutes God places in His creation.
Matt brought up Jesus' "Father forgive them" @25:00, and I shouted Amen in my heart. And I think the pastor answered wrongly with calling those charge of original sin. Of course, I am also not saying that Jesus was necessarily praying "for all indiscriminately as John Calvin puts it in Luke 23:34". Original sin is the state we are born with after the fall and that state is not corrected by forgiveness but by our regeneration and Christ's imputation of righteousness upon us. Therefore Christ's prayer was aimed towards what was done to him at the time, not the original sin. I believe Christ was praying for the elects among them. As for Stephen, his prayer was different than Christ's from a imitation stand point because Stephen has no hand in election of the saints, but he could only hope in his gospel ministry. Yet, Stephen was able to forgive this way because much has been forgiven him. "A Christian loves much after much has been forgiven him, not the reverse: that much has been forgiven him because he loves much." as Vos puts it. I don't think it is right to place forgiveness anywhere in ordo salutis (i.e. comes before or after repentance), as it is a categorical difference.
Mary brought up indirectly the matters of Matthew 6:14-15 (though the pastor quoted it later as a good reminder) @30:07, that if you don't forgive others theirs, neither will your Father forgive you yours. Calvin on this verse said it well: "...and on no other condition does he admit us to pardon, but that we pardon our brethren whatever offenses they have committed against us." I would add, in reverse, that if you cannot forgive others, it maybe that you have not fully comprehended and accepted God's forgiveness of your trespasses. So in a way, thought I wouldn't say "God's forgiveness is not contingent upon us forgiving others" because God is the active agent in forgiveness (Eph 4:32, Col 3:13), Mary would be wrong if she thinks it's okay not to forgive others. Though we are to imitate God in forgiveness, we do not go too far into confusing the difference between God's vertical forgiveness and our horizontal (with each other) forgiveness. God regenerates those whom He forgives, we do not regenerate people. God is the absolute active agent, we are the passive-active agent in forgiving because unlike God, we needed God's forgiveness first.
One asked @37:30 about judgment in the end time, the pastor erroneously defined judgment as "receiving penalty for sin". I think this comes from dispensationalists influence, by separating one final judgment into two: great white throne (Revelation) & judgment seat (Romans). Pastor: "Judgment seat = accountability seat of Christ, that's the bema seat, that's different from the great white throne". I've already done a general overview over this here. Then pastor then gave a very waterdown interpretation of 1 Corinthians 3:15 "...wood, hay & stubble being burned up..." the stuff we wasted our time with gets burned up, but He rewards us for the things that were done for God, as if there should not be any negative talk about believers. On the contrary, even Calvin would not agree completely: "...that those who have mixed stubble, or wood, or straw, will be disappointed of the commendation which they had expected...Such persons, Paul says, could be saved, but on this condition - if the Lord wiped away their ignorance, and purged them from all dross."
After another challenged the pastor's view on forgiveness @43:44, an elder interjected @45:20 in defense of the pastor by re-emphasizing the different level of relationships pertaining to different grades of forgiveness, which I think is still in error. It was great that the pastor responded with slight disagreement by saying "I don't think there's a line where I don't speak to certain people". So there's some in between the pastor was trying to get, and I hope that it will improve. The way I see it, if one harbors this kind of leveled relationships, which of course is different than the level of relationships with Christ among his disciples, I should thread carefully with this kind as I think they could be slightly shallow, and this has nothing to do with forgiveness yet again, but wisdom.
The pastor also modeled our grades of forgiveness to the fact that "God doesn't forgive everybody" @44:02. Here Rene answered perfectly with the most common answer one often uses "but we're not God". The association made by the pastor here seems to fall away from basic reformed doctrine of election and into very fundamentalism Arminian view. Here the pastor conflated grace and forgiveness. Common grace is not forgiveness when we speak of forgiveness in terms of salvation. If we are to model after anything, it would be after God's common grace in forgiving others, and not His reprobation. God's reprobation is to be modeled after hatred against sinful things. This is why it is important to apply the quote "Hate the sin, love the sinners". This is an essential key in evangelism which many reformed, especially American reformed, failed, due to fundamentalists influences (from both extremes - legalistic view & shallow-interpretation-self-righteous view), resulting in objection to that quote. So no, we cannot model our "grades" of forgiveness after the fact that God forgives some and not others because our offenders are never so bad that God couldn't forgive before their repentance. And there shouldn't be grades of forgiveness in this sense.
I finally found my response to Michael Liu on this, it wasn't in my journal, but in the email I sent him in 2011. I shall paste that email in this comment.
Now, here is what the Scripture says about it: Matthew 6:14-15, Luke 17:3-4, Matthew 18:15-35 (Calvin's commentary on Matthew 18:21), Matthew 5:23-24 (reconcile with him who has something against you before coming to offer your altar gift), Luke 23:34 (Father forgive them, for they know not what they do), Acts 7:60 (do not hold this sin against them). More supporting verses: Matthew 5:7, Mark 11:25, Luke 6:37, Ephesians 4:31-32, Colossians 3:13, Luke 6:27 & Proverbs 25:21 (love your enemies), Proverbs 10:12 (love covers all offenses), Proverbs 17:9 (covering for others).
Calvin on Matthew 18:15-35:
v.15: for nothing is more difficult than to exercise forbearance towards men, and, at the same time, not to neglect the freedom necessary in reproving them. Almost all lean to the one side or to the other, either to deceive themselves mutually by deadly flatteries, or to pursue with excessive bitterness those whom they ought to cure...[three steps of brotherly correctly: Private, witnesses, the Church - for we are too eager to publish the faults of others]...against thee = private sins as oppose to open sins which is to be rebuked publicly (i.e. 1Ti 5:20).
v.16: if we distinguish between denial and evasion He who explicitly denies the fact, and declares that he is falsely and calumniously accused, must be left alone. But...evade...towards such persons it is useful to observe this method...The Church...We know that, after the Jews returned from the Babylonish captivity, a council was formed, which they called Sanhedrim, and in Greek Synedrion [modeled after Jewish custom as the Church was yet to exist]...Let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican...that we ought to have no intercourse with the despisers of the Church till they repent.
v.21: ...It is natural to all men to wish to be forgiven...But...far from being equally gentle towards others...Luke differs somewhat from Matthew...that we should be prepared to forgive seven times [not seventy times seven, Peter asked 7 times perhaps due to Luke 17:3-4]...but the meaning is the same...But the words of Luke give rise to another question; for Christ does not order us to grant forgiveness, till the offender turn to us and give evidence of repentance...there are two ways in which offenses are forgiven. If a man shall do me an injury, and I, laying aside the desire of revenge [Pastor Chris would support this but to support the following sentences...?], do not cease to love him, but even repay kindness in place of injury, though I entertain an unfavorable opinion [The pastor would like this phrase too] of him, as he deserves, still I am said to forgive him. For when God commands us to wish well to our enemies, He does not therefore demand that we approve in them what He condemns, but only desires that our minds shall be purified from all hatred [the pastor would also agree with this phrase]. In this kind of pardon, so far are we from having any right to wait till he who has offended shall return of his own accord to be reconciled to us, that we ought to love those who deliberately provoke us, who spurn reconciliation, and add to the load of former offenses. A second kind of forgiving is, when we receive a brother into favor, so as to think favorably respecting him, and to be convinced that the remembrance of his offense is blotted out in the sight of God...But here another question arises. As soon as a man by words makes profession of repentance, are we bound to believe him? ... I answer, first, the discourse relates here to daily faults, in which every man, even the best, needs forgiveness...what will be the consequence if, at the second or third fall, the hope of forgiveness is cut off? We must add, secondly, that Christ does not deprive believers of the exercise of judgment, so as to yield a foolish readiness of belief to every slight expression, but only desires us to be so candid and merciful, as to stretch out the hand to offenders, provided there be evidence that they are sincerely dissatisfied with their sins. For repentance is a sacred thing, and therefore needs careful examination; but as soon as the offender gives probable evidence of conversion, Christ desires that he shall be admitted to reconciliation, lest, on being repulsed, he lose courage and fall back. Thirdly, It must be observed that, when any man, through his light and unsteady behavior, has exposed himself to suspicion, we may grant pardon when he asks it, and yet may do so in such a manner as to watch over his conduct for the future, that our forbearance and meekness, which proceed from the Spirit of Christ, may not become the subject of his ridicule...as repentance is a wonderful work of the Spirit, and is the creation of the new man, if we despise it, we offer an insult to God himself.
Forgiveness is an active agent, not passive. Though unlike God, our forgiveness to others is active before men (i.e. not dependent on their repentance), passive before God (Christ's sacrifice). The power I draw to forgive others comes from me being forgiven by God in Christ, not from how much repentant that other person is toward me. The offenses committed against me should only either make me wiser which I should in turn be thankful for or instill in me the sympathy for the blindness of those who fight against God at my cost. (the best remedy for over-coming temptation is, to recall to our remembrance the blindness of those who fight against God in our persons - John Calvin on Luke 23:34)