The Church through the ages has believed in redemption. Greek and Roman methods of reasoning were redeemed and employed to defend the faith and propagate its cause. Days devoted to pagan rituals and debaucheries were redeemed into Christian holidays that celebrate Christ. Time was redeemed as the Christian calendar redefined time, beginning from Advent, as sacred. The arts and humanities were redeemed and used to exalt Jesus. Modern communication inventions from the printing press to the world wide reach of the internet are redeemed to proclaim Christ. What can I say of bars turned into chapels, fields into sanctuaries, and hovels into havens all because the Church practices redemption?
But, the heart of God, and by extension the Church, beats for the redemption of lost humanity.
Among the disciples Jesus called to be apostles were some flawed individuals. Traitors, revolutionaries, deniers, power seekers, doubters, and betrayers. However, they were redeemed and became the Apostles of the Church, wrote its texts, and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ over three continents. Samaritans, despised, bastard Jews, heard the gospel and were welcomed into the fellowship of the redeemed. Peter came to understand that God was opening up redemption’s door to unclean Gentiles. Paul and other were sent as missionaries from the Church and within three generations Gentiles were the leaders of the Church. All of them, lives redeemed by the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Mary Magdalene, a woman with seven demons, was healed by Jesus and became a prominent follower among the women who surrounded Jesus. A man whose hands dripped with the blood of Christian martyrs heard a heavenly voice and became the Apostle Paul. A Manichaean academic embraces Christianity as a result of the prayers of his mother and the influence of Ambrose of Milan. Augustine of Hippo becomes a significant theologian who influences Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Wesleyan theologies and remains relevant to this day. Fabiola of Rome renounced her life of sin, put on the garments of repentance, gave away her wealth and became a beloved nurse to the poor and sick. Born into wealth, loving the finest clothing, Francesco misspent his youth and found himself a prisoner of war. He emerged from captivity to found the Franciscan order and is better known as the revered Francis of Assisi.
Martin Luther turned from the study of law to become a monk and later the leader of the Protestant Reformation. A member of the English gentry, Margaret Fell and her husband were introduced to the Bible by George Fox. She became a founding member of the Religious Society of Friends. Imprisoned, scorned, and excoriated, she held firm to her faith and provided a haven for other members the sect. Charles G. Finney gives up his law practice to become an evangelist, educator, abolitionist, and leader in the Second Great Awakening.
After eight years in major league baseball Billy Sunday becomes a world famous evangelist and leads the man, Mordecai Ham, to Jesus who then leads Billy Graham to our Savior. Born Qamar Zia in the Muslim religion Esther John converted to Christianity, became a nurse, and lived at great risk to her life in her native Pakistan ministering in Christian hospitals. She was found murdered in 1968 and was honored with a statue, along with nine others, above the west door of Westminster Abbey in 1998 as a 20th century martyr. Charles Colson, Richard Nixon’s hatchet man, is “born again” and leaves behind the Watergate scandal to found Prison Fellowship and awaken a new generation to a Christian worldview. All redeemed. All celebrated by the Church.
Christ and His Church are good at redeeming Christians who turn from walking with God, perhaps become apostate, and for years live in open sin and broken fellowship from God, but alas return as lost sheep to the fold. The parable of the prodigal in Luke 15 is one of the best known and most loved stories in literature. A son returns from wasted fortunes and a ruinous lifestyle, repents and is restored to his prior standing as a son. As a boy growing up I was always excited to see Rev. Ignatius Sawyer.* He was a dear friend and mentor to my parents and I had the highest respect for him. At some point his wife had left him for another man. For years he prayed for her to return to Christ. His church prayed; his friends prayed; strangers who became aware of his story prayed. A decade or more passed when word came that Mrs. Sawyer had been restored to fellowship with Jesus and had come back to her husband. The church and his friends rejoiced and embraced Mrs. Sawyer as though she had never left. Within weeks, it seemed, she was preaching alongside her husband and was fully restored to their life of ministry together.
God welcomes the fallen Christian who immediately repents of his/her sin and restores him/her to fellowship with Christ and standing in the Kingdom of God. But, the Church? . . . Not so much.