Mutual Forgiveness Is Critical for Healthy Churches


Editor’s note: The following is a testimony from a woman in ministry leadership in Beijing. She was formerly a house church pastor and now serves through facilitating and editing the theological writings of house church pastors across China.

Learning to Forgive Others in Our Personal Lives

The Bible says God forgives our debts, as we forgive our debtors. In this process, God actually takes the initiative to forgive us, so we can forgive others. Without His forgiveness, we cannot possibly forgive others. 

The reason we have to forgive others is that God has forgiven us. Being a sinner, it is impossible for a person to grant unconditional forgiveness, nor to expect it from another person. What a person experiences is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But with grace from God, we relinquish the intention to avenge and forgive those who offend us. 

We are empowered by God’s words when we read the Bible and know who God is. I experience God’s forgiveness when I read the Bible. The words of God are powerful.

When I am inspired by God’s words, know more of him, and understand more of his forgiveness and pardon, I gradually find out that while I forgive those who sin against me, I am actually experiencing God’s forgiveness at the same time. In other words, when I obey his command and practice what he teaches, I literally experience God’s forgiveness for me. Through my obedience, I come to an even deeper understanding of what it means to say, “God forgives me.”

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For me, the most difficult [person] to forgive is my husband. He is a good person, but he is the only one who can hurt me deeply. As a result, it is very hard for me to forgive him. However, every time I unconditionally forgive my husband in order to keep our intimate relationship, not because he is worthy or deserving of it or because he did something good to exchange for my forgiveness, but just out of my obedience to God’s command, then I realize in my heart how costly and tormenting it is for God to forgive me.  

As a sinner, I find it difficult and feel reluctant to forgive another sinner who offends me. However, the holy God forgives all sinners who afflict and grieve him. What love he demonstrates to human beings! What a precious price he pays. 

By the illumination of the Bible, and in obedience to God’s words, I deeply undergo God’s forgiveness myself as I constantly practice God command to forgive others. 

Learning to Forgive Others within the Church

The churches in China are no exception to the problem of conflict. In Chinese culture, people are very face-loving [or, honor-loving]. We may greet some people we dislike with a smile, but we curse them through gritted teeth behind their backs. We keep a superficial harmony, but we have a lot of dissension in our hearts.  

1. Breaking Through Cultural Bondage

We should pray that the churches in China are truly united in the gospel of Christ, so that we can remove our facade and hypocrisy. We mistakenly think of [maintaining a] facade as subtle politeness, an honor for people. However, it is actually an infiltration from Chinese culture. The Bible clearly states what you say should be simply ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It also says if you sense that a brother has something against you, you should go to him first and find a way to be reconciled with him. This is clearly stated in the gospel of Matthew. It is pleasing to God that we can resolve conflict this way.

It is very important for the churches in China to obey God’s teaching on this. In this way, the churches can break through certain cultural bondages and hindrances, such as face-loving and favoritism. We must pray that Chinese Christians are willing to take in and carry out God’s words.

2. Obeying God’s Commands Brings Unity

If we do not carefully read God’s words, we have no wisdom to know we are sinful and problematic ourselves. We will bicker and blame each other like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden, which was the source of all conflict. 

We should also pray that God gives Chinese Christians a heart to obey him when reading his words. The commands God gives us are for the present moment. When he makes us aware of a certain command, it means we can do it. Therefore, we can pray that God gives the churches in China the heart to obey his commands. As God reveals his word to inspire us, may we be willing to obey him and thus experience mutual forgiveness.

3. Practicing Mutual Forgiveness

When we gather to have fellowship and receive Biblical teaching in the church, we must pay attention to building up a real, unified community. When we practice biblical truth in our relationships, the pastors should encourage mutual forgiveness. In order to have a healthy church life, this practice is very critical.

The first place to carry out this teaching is in a pastor’s family, then the church elders and deacons’ families should also put it into practice. We proceed to obey God’s command and get rid of the features of a false union. We try to maintain the unity of the Holy Spirit instead of the individuality, pride, and stubbornness of each person. We experience that God is among us and feel blessed to have such fellowship with other church members. In this way, we experience real unity and live out a good testimony.

4. The Importance of Church Discipline 

If there is dissension in the church, it means there must have been some other [ongoing] sins. The church should follow the teachings of the Bible and properly administer discipline by rebuking the members who gossip and admonishing those who are involved in the disputes but unwilling to reconcile. The church pastoral team and other fellowship members must pray and try to restore those people with good church discipline in such a way that we learn it is a serious and critical issue to obey God’s command.

When a church member is being disciplined, but unwilling to obey, the church must enforce some discipline to restore that person. The discipline implies that if we refuse to repent and submit to God’s word, we may come to a much more severe penalty eventually in the Kingdom of God. 

It is critical for a church to properly administer discipline. In this way, the churches in China can faithfully practice what the Bible teaches about ministering to members. Living in a secular culture, it is especially important for the Chinese churches to govern truthfully according to God’s words. When we are willing to remove the cultural hindrances, obey God’s teachings, and enforce discipline in the church, we will clean away all the “leaven” from us, so that the church can become a holy offering presented to God.


This piece speaks of cultural hindrances to forgiveness unique to China. Are there any cultural hindrances to forgiveness unique to American culture?

Translation provided by Jane, Ryan, and the China Partnership translation team.

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