I searched the Bible for examples of repentance. There are plenty. But my focus was less on individual repentance and more on community repentance, such as those found in Nehemiah, Ezra, and Numbers. It’s not that individual repentance isn’t important; it is essential. But there is an important place for community repentance.
As Christians, we have an opportunity for humility and repentance—together, whether we agree to repent or not. As part of a community, we are rarely going to agree on the best time and way to repent—or even if repentance is necessary and appropriate. When some don’t see the need for it, we still have a responsibility. And repentance isn’t pointing out others’ faults. It’s not a blame of, “Please forgive them for all the wrong they are doing.” Sure, we can pray that God challenges and brings truth to individuals in his way and timing, but repentance is different. If it’s repentance as a community of believers—not limited to a specific local church but the faith community as a whole—it’s about “us.”
We are a Christian community, and we are diverse. We most certainly disagree on many rib issues, but the spine issues? Let’s know them well and stick with them. Every single one of us as Christians can point to other Christians and say, “What are they thinking, and how could they get it so wrong?” We are angered, frustrated, and burdened. What we do with those emotions is critical.
We have grown to excel at finger-pointing and even accusing others of not being “real Christians” because…[insert reason here]. Yes, we need accountability within the Christian faith community. I think we can all agree there are horrible, inexcusable behaviors that need to be called out and corrected. That often happens best within the immediate circles of influence around those impacted, because they have the position in which to make decisions of change and to establish the boundaries that are essential for correction. What I’m referring to in this post is more of a general posture of repentance.
Of all the things we disagree on, we can agree that we are not perfect. No matter how fervently we pursue God, we are going to have faults. We are going to focus on an issue and miss the method God wants us to take in order to stand for justice. We are going to misconstrue the responsibility God gives us for a season as the actual power to control the result. We are going to build mountains out of molehills and simultaneously get so distracted that we take our focus off the God who moves mountains.
It’s a difficult discernment. We don’t unite with fellow Christians at all costs and overlook the evil influence that is within us. We also don’t divide from fellow Christians with methods that belie an authentic faith. We humbly and constantly engage with God. We let him encourage and challenge us. We let him guide us in how we approach broader issues across the Christian faith community. We humbly repent, not just on our own behalf but on behalf of those issues he calls to our attention. We don’t ask him to fix the problems we’re most passionate about unless he’s prompting us to make it a priority of prayer. We don’t ask him to enlighten others on the issues we know we are important to him unless we’re willing to humbly follow the methods of reconciliation and accountability he might lead us into.
We repent before we plan.
We repent before we determine.
We repent before we judge.
There are plenty of opportunities for humility and repentance for the many difficult situations in the Christian community right now. Let’s repent of what we’ve let it grow into. The repentance of “we” has a huge impact on the problems of “them.”