On Corporate Repentance

Questions have arisen about the propriety of corporate repentance in light of resolution #6 on regenerate church membership passed this week by the Southern Baptist Convention. Is repentance only individual? Is it ever right for those who are not personally guilty of particular sins to feel compelled to enter into corporate repentance with other believers for those sins?

Daniel 9 gives us an answer to these questions. Nowhere does the Scripture record any of his sins. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he did not commit any, but it is significant in light of the prayer he prayed in Daniel 9. Daniel is in Babylon as a result of God’s judgment on Judah. Through his study of the Prophet Jeremiah’s words, he became aware of what was happening to them as well as God’s promise of restoration (9:1-2). It was because of the conviction that came to him from the Word of God that he “turned [his] face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (3).

Read Daniel’s prayer. He makes “confession” and says “we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, …” (4-6a). This kind of language is repeated throughout his prayer.

Daniel saw himself in solidarity with his people. As such, he prays in a first person perspective. “We” have sinned. This is appropriate for God’s people whenever we are seeking Him for corporate needs–whether for our family, city, nation, church or convention of churches.

That is why the call for repentance in Resolution #6 is appropriate. I have never intended that it be a resolution geared only toward certain churches. It is written in the first person, not second or third. By God’s grace, our church has practically addressed these issues in years past and seeks to practice responsible church membership. Nevertheless, as Southern Baptists we see ourselves as a part of a convention that needs to repent for the way that we have neglected church discipline and failed to live up to the ideal of a regenerate church membership. I gladly accept the call to repentance. We certainly have not done everything perfectly ourselves and we are not afraid to acknowledge the legitimacy corporately repenting. In fact, we express corporate repentance every Lord’s Day in our worship times.

The Gospel sets us free to deal honestly with sin and to repent. Christ died for our sins and forgiveness is promised to all who confess sin (1 John 1:9). Christians have no reason fear repentance. In fact, being a Christian means living in repentance and faith daily.

Churches ought to be encouraged to repent of our sins of not loving and caring for our members as we should. What might happen if churches all across the SBC began to examine these issues and humbled themselves corporately before the Lord? Perhaps we might see the stirrings of genuine revival.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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