We are now in that season known as Lent, traditionally a time of prayer and fasting, meditation and self-denial leading to Easter.
One of the hallmarks of Lent is also the emphasis on repentance, a turning away from sinfulness and selfishness, and turning instead toward God.
Christians are well-known for issuing the call to repentance. One radio preacher always reminds his listeners to “turn so’s you don’t burn.”
While it’s easy to mock such things, if one truly believes (as I do) that being eternally separated from God is the awful reality awaiting those who insist on going their own way, then calling others to repentance is a painful, though necessary, duty.
But repentance means more than simply making a one-time change in direction toward God. For those who already belong to God, it’s similar to a sailor who must repeatedly adjust the sails and rudder on his boat in order to maintain a steady course.
Even when Christians perceive the need for continual repentance, however, we tend to think of this almost exclusively in individual terms. We forget that as a community of faith, we must repent of the ways in which our collective words and actions have injured others, both inside and outside the church.
We forget that Jesus’ command to take the 2x4 out of our own eye before trying to remove the speck in someone else’s (Matthew 7:5) can apply not only to individual Christians, but also to the whole church.
When the church declares judgment without mercy, proclaims holiness while tolerating hypocrisy and preaches repentance for others but not for herself, then the world understandably rejects all her claims. For that the church must repent, and point others always, not to the church, but to Jesus Christ himself.
THE REV. ED REES IS THE PASTOR OF ST. ANDREW PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AUGUSTA.