Corporate Repentance

The union between the Father and the Son is such a live, concrete thing that this union itself is also a Person. I know that's almost inconceivable, but look at it this way. You know that among human beings, when they get together in a family, or a club, or a trades union, people talk about the 'spirit' of that family, or club, or trades union. They talk about its 'spirit' because the individual members, when they're together, do really develop particular ways of talking and behaving which they wouldn't have if they were apart. It is as if a sort of communal personality came into existence. Of course it isn't a real person: it is only like a person.
CS Lewis from Mere Christianity
A few weeks ago I posted about the renewed cooperation among the deacons and our minister. It has been an exiting turn of events as we've continued to meet and talk about the direction of the church. I had feared that we would be starting over, rebuilding the level of trust we had acquired a year ago before we could move forward. While that's been true to a small degree, we have been making some rather significant and exciting plans, which I've been hinting at as well.

Well, for some reason, though I'm excited about what's been started and what's to come, I can't seem to write about it. Maybe it's the business of the season or the difficulty in describing what it is, but I keep coming back to tweaking the layout on my site. (Did you notice the now look on blockquotes?)

What's happening is the title of this post - Corporate Repentance. It's something new to me in practice, but makes so much sense I can't believe I haven't seen it before. Actually I've seen a version of it before, but not this version.

What it's not is the old ICOC 'reconstruction' or church wide sweep when things weren't going well. In the early days of the ICOC, entire churches were reconstructed. The theory was to make sure the church was only fully committed disciples. Actually in the day they just said 'disciples', I think. Later it was 'fully committed disciples' now some are using the term 'sold out disciples'. Whatever. The idea was to rid the church of the uncommitted, either by attrition or change. The result was if you weren't ready to bare your soul, deal with your sin and start 'being a disciple', which usually meant evangelism, you were rode pretty hard until you fell in line or left. Good riddance, they'd just slow us down. A simplistic representation, but all too accurate. Not very Christ like either.

If that's what this new Corporate Repentance isn't, then what is it? In some ways the goals are the same - restoration, revival, change - but the focus is different. Before we had identified the problem (lack of growth and baptisms) and we knew how to fix it (evangelism and Bible studies) so we just needed to get back to work. In this Corporate Repentance there's the realization, by looking plainly at the evidence in the church around us, that we've fallen short of God's desire for us. There's no presupposition that we know how we've blown it or how we can fix it. We simply acknowledge that we've fallen short, and then await for the spirit to work, leading us and revealing our sin. We've prayed individually and gathered in small groups to talk and confess. We will talk in our families about how they stand before God. We will meet in our small house churches to talk about it and get open. It will culminate in a meeting of the church, a Solemn Assembly to stand together before God to confess our shortcomings to him, to repent (return to Him) and to take communion (more on that later).

In the old days one of the goals was to weed out the uncommitted. We didn't actually state it as a goal, but it was clear that if you weren't on board, you'd be left behind. In fact, it was often stated that "you're either with us or against us" or something similar. In what we are doing now, one of the stated goals is that no one will be left behind. We are going forward, but we are mindful that the pace be set by the Spirit. Our sister church in Dayton went through this very quickly, but they were in a different place than we are. I think it will be slower for us. We are committed to listening to the God and His Spirit and giving this process the time that it needs.

This isn't just about finally dealing with the things that Henry Kriete showed us nearly three years ago. (Although, frankly, this is what those open forums should have been after the letter came out, not the attack session that too many of them became.) That must be a part of it, but it's also about what we've become in the absence of the old ICOC structure. It's not as if Henry wrote a letter and then everything was new and good. Post HKL has brought it's own problems and sins. What we must do is deal with who we are today. We are where we are today is a result of both pre-HKL and post-HKL culture.

This entire idea hinges on the concept that the church as a corporate entity has a personality and culture of its own, like C.S. Lewis said in the quote above. Just as an individual can sin, a church, due to the culture created within it, can sin too. We can set up an environment that fosters, encourages or hides sin allowing it to prosper unchecked. These kind of things cannot be fixed one on one very successfully. This is a very new concept, but one that seems so obvious now. Over the past couple of years, as the sins of our church, locally and worldwide, have been exposed, there's been a certain level of denial on the part of individuals that has been difficult to deal with. They protest that they never believed that we were the one true church or that they never lorded over their disciples or whatever else so they will not take responsibility for those things. On one level, they are right. There are many who didn't take part in the sins of our fellowship in their own lives. But the sins were there nonetheless, and prevalent. In the sense that that was the culture and personality of our church, we all bear the burden of that sin collectively even if we didn't practice it individually. The same is true of who we are today.

Looking at the Bible, Ed Anton pointed out that more calls for repentance go to groups than to individuals. I think he said around 85%. Throughout the Old Testament, Nations (primarily Israel) were called to repent. In the New Testament it's churches. A particular focus in this study has been Revelation 2-3. There God calls out these churches, some rather hard others lightly, to repent. One of the questions our minister has asked us is if God were to write us, the Columbus Church of Christ, a letter like in Revelation, what would he say? He's asked us all to write one.

Aside from the general excitement I feel about the concept and the process itself, I'm particularly excited that it is our minister that is driving this process forward. I've seen a marked difference in him over the last weeks. He's looking at his leadership and the state of the church lately quite differently. The level of cooperation between him and the deacons has been heartwarming. I've been rather frank about my disappointment on occasion with him here on my site, so I figure it's only right that when I am encouraged - and I am - that I mention it as well.

And yet, I have not been eager to write about it though I managed to, I guess). I think it has more to do with what I wrote about last week. I'm frankly not excited to change. I've grown comfortable in my life and the boundaries I've drawn for myself, and I don't want them challenged. They must be, however, and I cannot just sit by and wait to feel good about change. I feel as though, on some levels, this is exactly what I've been longing for, but now that it's here, I want to hide from it. God help me pursue you and let me stand and hear your reproof.

7 Comments

Your post does good for my heart. I am happy that you have hope and I too have hope that the CCoC can change and become something greater than it once was. I don't know but I think the corporate mentality is why most of us left.

When I was reading this, I couldn't help but think about Nehemiah. Look at Nehemiah's reaction to the devestation of the city of Jerusalem in chapter 1:4. He mourned and fasted. It hit him pretty hard. He exemplifies a godly reaction to sin, and a rare contrition. Then he decides to pray (a wise choice). Look in verses 6 and 7. He is confessing the sins of the whole nation of Israel. He is personally taking responsibility for the whole nation! Hmm, who else did that? Oh, yeah, Jesus did. Although preceeded by Zerubbabel and Ezra, they only dealed with the temple and priesthood/alter sacrifices, Nehemiah had to reconsruct the walls of the city. He took charge and made it happen. Then men had a tool in one hand and a sword in the other. They were building and prepared for battle at the same time; awesome!

Where there has been corporate sin, corporate penitence is in order. My kindly advice is to never let a massive sense of guilt blind anyone or any group from seeing the good that Christ has done through them. From fallen people He has wrought perfection; from people who didn't even know what they were doing He has done mighty works. Sometimes all we have to do is raise our arms and let Him win the battle. Sometimes all we have to do is be still and know that He is God. And other times He asks everything of us, with no guarantee that we'll receive it back in this life. Sorting it all out is part of His design, I'm convinced - to keep us in touch with Him: questioning, pondering, studying, praising - even messing up and begging forgiveness.

It's when our lives cease to be a struggle that we're REALLY in trouble.

Hey Doug,

I love the notion of "no one left behind." I guess that appeals to my shepherding instinct. The absence of that mindset is one of the most disturbing aspects of our past, and it is great to see that changing. Thanks for the good news update.

Alan

BEG - I've thought a lot about you and Paul and the things you've said about our church in the past as the events have unfolded recently. I think you would be very encouraged.

Paul - What happened with Nehemiah is the very situation we keep coming back to. The received a wake up call when the found the Book of the Law, saw what they really were. That's what we are perusing.

Keith - I think that last line has hit on the head where we are. It's no longer a struggle for our church. We're comfy, content and happy, in an oblivious sort of way. While I agree with you that we should not let guilt blind us from what good is being done, we also must from time to time stop and take a sober look at who we are. That's what this is all about.

Alan - I am totally with you. We are one body, if we are divided against ourselves we will not be able to stand. Should we look to our weaker parts and say "we don't need you", or should we treat them with special honor?

I've been thinking about you lately and wondered how some of your/church projects are going.

-How is the corporate repentance thing going? Did you do a church wide thing or is there still momentum?

-How is the marriage classes going? I can't remember if you were to have one scheduled yet or not.

-How is the discipline list going with your kids? How many times should we ask our daughter to do something before she does it?

Hey BEG.

The church is doing well. Look for more on that this week. We have not done a church wide thing and it looks like we will not. I have mixed feelings about that, but I don't think it's a bad thing that we are not. Overall, I am very happy with where things are (more on that later this week).

The first round of classes are about halfway done. We re not leading them, another couple is. We plan on having ours in the spring or summer. S&S L are taking them this time around and I think it is helping them. I haven't talked to them about it in a couple of weeks.

The kids are doing OK as long as I remember to use the list / chart and not just yell at them. It seems ingrained in my character, but I am working on it and, more importantly, God is working on me (more on that later too). But I've found if I yell repeatedly, they don't respond. When I start handing out check marks, they respond right away. It's quite convicting.

As far as your daughter, I think if you tell her once that should be enough. Of course, she'll need a lot of grace (like we do), but expect that she will obey the first time. If you don't expect it, she won't do it. It's a hard expectation to follow through with as a parent, but she can do it. Remember, God's standard is high but his grace is abundant.



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  • Hey BEG. The church is doing well. Look for more on that this week. We have not done a church wide thing and it looks like we will not. I have mixed feelings about that, but I don't think it's a bad thing that we are...

  • I've been thinking about you lately and wondered how some of your/church projects are going. -How is the corporate repentance thing going? Did you do a church wide thing or is there still momentum? -How is the marriag...

  • BEG - I've thought a lot about you and Paul and the things you've said about our church in the past as the events have unfolded recently. I think you would be very encouraged. Paul - What happened with Nehemiah is the ...

  • Hey Doug, I love the notion of "no one left behind." I guess that appeals to my shepherding instinct. The absence of that mindset is one of the most disturbing aspects of our past, and it is great to see that changing...

  • Where there has been corporate sin, corporate penitence is in order. My kindly advice is to never let a massive sense of guilt blind anyone or any group from seeing the good that Christ has done through them. From fallen...

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