by: Rev. Dr. Rick Jordan
When I discovered that Walter Lantz, the artist that created Woody Woodpecker, was not my uncle on my mother’s side of the family – something I had believed all my life – it made me wonder what other non-truths I had taken to be truths. Of course, finding that a celebrity is not really in your bloodline is not the kind of truth that shakes you to the core. I was surprised. I was embarrassed that I had bragged about this woodpecker-pecked limb of my family tree. But I was also amused when I realized that my German Lantzes were in no way related to Walter’s Italian Lanzas. It felt good to confess to the world that I had been wrong. It felt good to acknowledge that I am trying to learn some lessons from my error.
It is helpful when a church does that. Unfortunately, most churches are not that brave. It is easier to ignore our tacit agreement with the world’s injustice, much less to acknowledge that we were actively behaving in an ungodly, un-Jesus-y way. Yet, Christians are not called to follow the easy way. We are called to follow a straight and narrow way. There is nothing wrong with confessing that we ran off the road or took a detour. Until we admit that we were wrong, we keep dragging in the ditch, stuck in our sin. If we are moving, we are still making no progress toward our intended destination.
I know of a Southern church that fired its pastor because he baptized some Black children who made their profession of faith at the church’s Vacation Bible School. The deacons warned him not to baptize them in the church sanctuary. So, he baptized them in the ocean. He was immediately fired. This was in the 2000’s! He called me, looking for a new place to serve. I tried to help him. But I was angry that this pastor was fired for doing what was right. I wonder if that church ever reflected on this, if they ever called him to apologize, if they ever welcomed those Black children into their congregation? Or, is that sin still festering, percolating, fertilizing the weeds that choke spiritual freedom?
That a church should repent is certainly biblical. Look at the letters to the early churches in the Book of Revelation where the word repent is commanded twelve times. Here are a few examples (all the following texts are from the New Living Translation):
“Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.” (2:5)
“Repent of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”(2:16)
“Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.” (3:3)
So, communal repentance is biblical, but is it practical?
It seems that it was the best thing to happen to the church in Corinth. Paul sent a letter to the church, sometimes called the “second letter.” We do not have the letter itself, but we see the effects. In 2 Corinthians 2:4, Paul says, “I wrote that letter in great anguish, with a troubled heart and many tears. I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you.”
Paul did not enjoy calling the church to repent. Yet, it was the right thing to do.
“I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.” (2 Cor.7:8-10)
Do you know of churches that have reflected on their behavior and repented of it in a formal way? How did they do this? What has been the outcome?
These thoughts are from Rev. Dr. Rick Jordan, our partner based out of Lewisville, North Carolina. He has been in various roles from a local church level to state and national leadership roles. For more information on how he can help you, contact him here.