A friend asked me recently if the corporate church had ever publicly denounced and repented of the sins of its past.
I found this to be a novel idea, and I’ve begun thinking about the Christian church’s collective sins during the Lenten season.
What would it look like for the church to walk down the aisle to have Jesus impose the ashes of repentance on our foreheads? What would it sound like if the church confessed her sins in this age? How would the confession read?
I humbly and self-critically offer the following issues as a place for us to start.
We could express sorrow for the times we’ve:
â— Reduced the gospel to cold rationalism or heated emotionalism.
â— Named Jesus as Lord but refused to allow him to set the agenda, confessing the times when our issues had nothing to do with Jesus’ issues.
â— Worshipped Jesus without listening to him.
â— Turned worship into cheap entertainment and evaluated a worship service through the lens of “what speaks to me” or “what I really like.”
We can repent for:
â— The pastors who have lorded it over their congregations and the congregations who have allowed it, confessing the abuses of ecclesial leaders who have tried to lead through means other than a towel and basin.
â— The moments we’ve run from the truth rather than searched after it.
â— The times we’ve turned people into a means to an end rather than an end in and of themselves.
â— The ways we’ve politicized the faith as if the full measure of discipleship was exhausted at the ballot box, confessing the ways we’ve allowed the gospel to be manipulated by partisan loyalties and the times we’ve confused the universal Kingdom of God with national interests.
We should confess the occasions on which we’ve:
â— Privatized the faith, as if our relationship with God made no impact on how we treat our neighbor or how we strive for justice, confessing the times we’ve rounded off the sharp moral edges of the gospel to ensure it never so much as pricked our finger.
â— Placed “glass ceilings” over women, as if the first heralds of resurrection good news were not women, confessing that we’ve forgotten that “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Galatians 3:28).
â— Tolerated explicit and implicit racism, confessing the dehumanization, distance and ignorance that stems from valuing the color of one’s skin over the content of one’s character.
â— Prized profits over people and allowed the invisible hand of the market to slap the poor in the face.
We need to admit our:
â— Functional atheism, living as if God was not an active participant in this world.
â— Willingness to pay the price of war because we were unwilling to pay the price of peace.
â— Shutting of doors in the name of the One who tore down walls.
â— Complaints about the specks in other people’s eyes because we were blinded by the logs in our own.
Finally, we should communicate our sorrow for:
â— Caring more about going to heaven than heaven coming to earth, and using instruments of fear to motivate people toward a God of love.
â— Reducing the wonder and sacredness of creation to a shallow utilitarianism.
â— Overlooking the marginalized in our pews and on our streets, too often giving more attention to “The Bachelor” than Ukraine, Syria and so on.
â— Failing to speak truth to power because we doubted God’s power.
As we journey through the season of Lent, we have the opportunity to confess these and other individual and collective sins. As we do so, my prayer is: “Lord, have mercy.”
Preston Clegg is pastor of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.