Anyone who has honestly begun to follow the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord has a testimony of repentance. No one seriously begins the journey of Christian Faith without facing their own sins, both of commission and omission. True repentance before the Lord is always life changing. It is never forgettable. His grace and love are showered upon the repentant sinner. Always. But what of the life we then begin to lead?
The custom of the church to have a publicly recited confession every week is ancient, and I believe to to be good. But I know that the reality for myself and many others is that we do not usually repent at all well on a normal Sunday morning. At best most of us utter a prayerful “Please forgive me Lord” without any focus whatsoever. At least this has been my experience. Because of that I began years ago to make a regular time in my life to be alone with the Lord and to review my life before him while on retreat. I have found that often those days have led to a profound awareness of error and sin, and have brought me back to my “first love” over and over again.
Individual repentance is a continuing part of following Christ Jesus, and surely the corollary for the ordered life of the church is continuing reformation. But true reformation never comes without an admission of error. Is the organizational church in error? What if the path she is treading is the wrong one? What if she has gotten as entangled in the world as any other company of men, and is actually leading people in a direction that is contrary to God’s will? Is that possible? The entire witness of the Holy Scriptures makes it perfectly clear that it is possible. But how would we know, and what would we do if we did?
Suppose that the measure of any community’s faithfulness is measurable, and that it is possible to gauge that measure annually. Suppose also that the numerical growth of the community of faith is the single most important external evidence of faithfulness. Then suppose that you belonged to a community that got smaller every year for nearly fifty years. Would anybody notice? Would anybody care? Would that require repentance in the body of Christ? Would any of her leaders heed that call? Would anyone repent?
The English Reformers asserted that there were major errors that had been committed by ancient communities of Christian People. The XIXth Article of Religion was extremely blunt: “As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.” What should be said today, I believe, is that “the Church of England” needs to be added to the Article. So do her American children. Western Anglicanism has been in numerical, doctrinal, and moral decline for over fifty years.
How can leaders not notice? How can pious language about mission and the extension of the kingdom of God keep being uttered when decline is everywhere visible?
Next Week: Facing the Truth