Most folks associate Ash Wednesday with individual confession and repentance. But what about confession and repentance by the church?
One of my favorite chapters in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz (which I was happy to read has been made into a movie) takes place at his college, a school known for its hostility to Christianity. During a festival full of drunken debauchery, he and some Christian friends decide to set up a confession booth. But this was to be sort of a reverse confessional. From the book, here is Miller’s recollection of the conversation that was the genesis of this unusual confession booth:
“Okay, you guys.” Tony gathered everybody’s attention. “Here’s the catch.” He leaned in a little and collected his thoughts. “We are not actually going to accept confessions.” We all looked at him in confusion. He continued, “We are going to confess to them. We are going to confess that, as followers of Jesus, we have not been very loving; we have been bitter, and for that we are sorry. We will apologize for the Crusades, we will apologize for televangelists, we will apologize for neglecting the poor and the lonely, we will ask them to forgive us, and we will tell them that in our selfishness, we have misrepresented Jesus on this campus. We will tell people who come into the booth that Jesus loves them.”
(This whole chapter is available as an online excerpt at the publisher’s website.)
What a great idea! Instead of pointing the finger of judgment, which is exactly what the unchurched expect from the church, there is acknowledgement that Christians, and the Christian church, are not perfect.
I wish someone had made this kind of confession to me when I was an atheist.
So perhaps on this Ash Wednesday, and on into Lent, we who are the church should be more intentional about admitting the imperfections and mistakes of those who have represented and are representing Christ to the world.
When someone outside the church protests that “the church is full of hypocrites,” perhaps instead of defending ourselves we need to acknowledge that this is exactly true.
I’m a pastor, and I’m certainly a hypocrite. Ask my kids! I might preach about patience, but do I always live it?
Like I said, ask my kids.
And when we get done admitting that we don’t always practice what we preach, then we can explain that we are in church because we know how imperfect we are – because we are in desperate need of forgiveness.
And then we can say, “Sure, the church is full of hypocrites. And there is always room for one more!”
To close this Ash Wednesday entry, here’s another brief quote from Blue Like Jazz:
For so much of my life I had been defending Christianity because I thought to admit that we had done any wrong was to discredit the religious system as a whole, but it isn’t a religious system, it is people following Christ; and the important thing to do, the right thing to do, was to apologize for getting in the way of Jesus.
As Billy Joel sings to Virginia in Only the Good Die Young, “Your mother never cared for me, but did she ever say a prayer for me?”
I always appreciate a good pop/rock lyrics illustration!