Church repentance, leading to revitalization, is to be the perpetual posture and practice of Christ’s church. Therefore, as wise and humble churches mature in their understanding of God’s good Law, their not-so-good performance, and Christ’s uber-good Gospel, they will find themsleves engaged in joyful repentance more today than ever before.
Consider what we learn from biblical history:
When Pastor Adam and his “First Lady” doubted, rebelled, sinned, feared, hid, and engaged in their fig-covering ritual, God pursued them to restore them. They repented, and revitalization began.
Following Israel’s sinful worship of the golden calf, Moses called his foolish congregation to repent and recommit themselves to God-honoring worship. Repentance came first, and revitalization followed.
Upon entering the Promised Land, prophets, and judges called God’s people to see their sin, return to God, and renew their spiritual vows. One such example of good repentance is located in the sixth chapter of Judges:
The people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. And the hand of Midian overpowered Israel … and Israel was brought very low because of Midian. And the people of Israel cried out for help to the Lord. When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord on account of the Midianites, the Lord sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of slavery … And I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.” (Judges 6:1-10)
Israel’s reprobation led to some very hard consequences. However, God worked within Israel and led them to call out or repent, and the ultimate consequence of this was Spirit-led revitalization, enjoyment, and worship.
When one arrives in the New Testament, the messages put forth by John the Baptist and Jesus were identical. God’s covenant community was called to repent, rejoice, and bear forth the Gospel-fruit of Spirit-led repentance.
Consider the letters of Paul to the churches of Galatia and Corinth. Are not they a summons to understand the Law, understand the Gospel, and recommit themselves to Gospel thinking and Gospel living?
Then, in Christ’s Revelation to his seven Asian churches, he presents himself as one walking among his lamp-stands and holds his ministers in his hand. Christ is the Archbishop of his bishops, and as he stands at their ecclesiastical doors knocking, he calls them to “remember, repent, and recover.”*
Consider what we learn from ecclesiastical history:
How thankful we are for that which transpired in the period of church history called “The Reformation.” In this era, God worked tremendously as church after church focused on the Law, refocused on the Gospel, found themselves hungry to repent of their false doctrine and practice, and enjoyed ecclesiastical, regional, and national revival, renewal, revitalization, or reformation.
Let us remember God’s good Law.
His ways are holy and best, and he sets the standard. Within God’s Word, we can read his commands for his church. They are neither opinions or suggestions. They are laws, and for one to be a “good church,” one must keep every single one of them every single day. As churchmen, we are to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength. Externally, we are to be men of pristine reputation. Internally, we are to have pure character. Our minds are to be fully transformed by the Word of God, and we are to be humble after the model put forth by our Savior. We are to perpetually pray; we are to constantly keep step with the Spirit; the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are always to be evident. There are to be no exceptions in desire, thought, word, or deed. We are not to commit transgressions of commission or omission. This is the good expectation of Christ. This is the high standard put forth by God’s holy Law.
Let us realize our horrid report.
Where do we stand? We are all guilty! There is not a righteous church anywhere — no, not one. Regardless of our attempts at being creative or keeping the Regulative Principle, regardless of our being less or more formal, regardless of our being culturally loose or traditionally tight, regardless our numerical growth or decline, regardless of whether we meet once, twice, or three times on Sunday, all our churches fall short of the glory of God. In our worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and leadership development, we have not kept fully and acceptably his laws. There is no room for arrogance. There is no room for judging the toothpick in the eye of other churches. We all have telephone poles in our own eyes.
Let us realize our earned results.
As a church, all we deserve is to be snuffed out by the Divine Archbishop. By our less-than-perfect performance, in accordance with God’s Law, all we deserve is extinction.
Let us realize our gracious Archbishop.
Today … again … Christ is looking at us and in great love he is calling us to respond with Spirit-inspired repentance and revival.
Let us repent!
Leaders, let’s lead! We are our church’s spiritual fathers. As elders, we are the ones setting the pace and shepherding the flock of God. Surely, after just a moment of self-examination, we can all conclude:
- We can construct and lead a worship service without actually worshiping.
- We can counsel others to overcome sin while committing the same transgressions.
- We can better maintain a holy reputation than holy character.
- We can better shepherd someone else’s family than we can our own.
- We can preach and call people to faith while being men of faithless anxiety.
- We can consistently waffle back and forth between legalism and licentiousness.
- We can talk about humble unity while arrogantly fighting for personal preference.
- We can read and write on prayer much more than we engage in it.
- We can teach on God’s sovereignty and whine when our perfect plans go awry.
- We can give the Gospel to others and not apply God’s mercy and grace to ourselves.
- We can worship the theology, the pulpit, and the church and not worship Christ.
- And our list of sins could go on and on ….
Is there any wonder our congregation struggles to repent? Let’s do it personally, then let’s do it sessionally, then let’s do it publicly. Just as the airline attendant tells mothers to put the air-mask on themselves first before attending to their younger children, so ministers, elders, deacons, and church leaders must engage in Gospel repentance first.
Then, brothers and sisters in our congregations, will we follow suit? Christ is standing at our church doors, and he is knocking. He has given us his Law. He has given us his review. He has then given us his blameless merit and report card, and he is no longer angry at our performance. He has sanctified us, and we are the beautiful and pristine Bride of Christ. However, he still calls us to love his Law, see our sins, hate them with a godly passion, repent in prayer, and go forth engaged in sanctified worship. Therefore church family, it is our glorious privilege to engage … again … in “Semper Reformandi” which means “Always Reforming.” This has always been the posture and practice of informed, Gospel-addicted churches. Will this be the case with our church family today?