Over the last few months, I have been reading through the Bible in a different way than ever before. The Bible plan that I am using this year is thematic: Genesis with Romans, Isaiah with Mark, and now Leviticus with Hebrews. I have greatly enjoyed seeing how different sections of the Bible relate to one another in ways that I had never seen in the past. I am always amazed at how God’s Word is weaved together through the Holy Spirit’s guidance and wisdom.
A few days ago, I was reading Leviticus 4 which discusses the sacrifices necessary for unintentional sin by individuals and by the entire Israelite community. I was struck by vv. 13-14 which clearly show that there are times when corporate repentance is absolutely necessary. God directs Moses and the priests:
“If the entire Israelite community sins by violating one of the Lord’s commands, but the people don’t realize it, they are still guilty. When they become aware of their sin, the people must bring a young bull as an offering for their sin and present it before the Tabernacle” (New Living Translation).
God acknowledges that there will be times when the community of faith will not understand that they have been disobedient as a group to God’s commands. This does not let them off the hook, though. Instead, this passage shows us that the people are still guilty even if they don’t realize they disobeyed God. God further sets up the expectation that when the people realize their guilt, they must atone for their sin by bringing an offering to God.
The need for repentance is difficult for many believers to accept because repentance requires responsibility for sins. Repentance for an entire group of people requires even more humility because there are few times when a community of believers agrees that what they have done or what they are doing is sin. The examples of corporate repentance that we see in Scripture are usually prompted by a prophet or king who calls out the community’s disobedience to God and urges the community of faith to repent so that God will once again bless His people.
Today we are feeling the consequences of hundreds of years of sin that has gone unatoned for. The Church has allowed great atrocities to take place but has not urged the community of faith into repentance. Pockets of American Christians are seeking repentance and reconciliation for the sins of our predecessors. However, the need for corporate repentance is much bigger than a few Christians scattered throughout the world who have acknowledged their own sin and the sins of the Church universal. If you are questioning what sins have been committed on behalf of the Church, just read the news from any news outlet, and you will see people speaking on behalf of God with words of hatred and confusion. People are promoting politicians in the name of God. People are casting out the alien and the outcast in the name of God. People are spewing words of violence in the name of God. People are oppressing those in need all in the name of God.
As a pastor’s wife, I often see the challenge of leading God’s church today. People are either preaching a false gospel or they are afraid of speaking the true Gospel. People are distrustful of anyone who counters their political viewpoints, mistaking politics for faith. People hide in the dark, waiting for the end to come because they don’t know how to reach out to a world that is full of sin and suffering.
The way out of this darkness is repentance. Some people don’t believe that a community of faith should repent for the sins of the past. I disagree. In Scripture we see Daniel seeking God’s forgiveness for himself and for the people of God. Daniel was an upright, holy, righteous man who challenged the confines of his society by living his life completely for the Truth. There are not many Christians today who could say that they live their lives like Daniel. We are all in need of repentance, and they only way that we can truly reveal God’s Kingdom now is if we repent together. We need to cry out to God, seeking His mercy not just for ourselves but for those who have stained the purity of the Church with centuries of sin.
Repentance first takes acknowledgement of sin. Then it requires a plea to God for His mercy. And finally it ends with a turning away from sin. If we cannot first acknowledge our own sin and the sins of our predecessors, then we cannot expect God’s mercy on His Church. We must act first through seeking His mercy not because we expect it but because we desperately need it.
Be challenged today to seek out God’s guidance for repentance not just for your own sins but for the sins of the Church universal, now and in the past. We need Him to heal us so that we can reveal Him.