Saturday, March 7, 2009

Identificational Repentance

One of the more annoying fads to come into evangelicalism in recent years is identificational repentance, where Christians take it upon themselves to publicly confess and repent of the sins of their ancestors, supposedly to break demonic strongholds so that God can then work miracles, and cities and nations can then be "taken for God." As is so often the case, the movement originated with Charismaniac Dominionists. Herescope has an excellent article on IR.

Identificational repentance is connected with a spiritual warfare worldview, which believes that life consists of a constant battle between good and bad, light and dark spiritual forces, and that we must use shamans prayer warriors to find out what these forces are and what they’re up to in order to appease them or break their grip. Bob DeWaay, pastor of Twin City Fellowship in Minneapolis, Minnesota, formerly subscribed to the spiritual warfare worldview. His written commentary on the subject may be download in pdf or html . I particularly recommend downloading Pastor DeWaay’s radio broadcasts of May 22 and 29, 2006; and December 1; 8; 15; and 22, 2008. Pastor DeWaay explains that the spiritual warfare worldview is basically a pagan worldview dressed in Christian terminology, where being in Christ isn’t enough in itself to provide for a victorious life.

In 2001 the Evangelical Alliance in the United Kingdom, whose slogan is the Dominionist-sounding "Uniting to Change Society," published several articles promoting IR which may be found here. The one I'll be quoting from is Identificational Repentance--Is it Necessary? Is it Biblical? by Frank Green.

According to Mr. Green:

Identificational repentance is a term coined by John Dawson in Healing America’s Wounds to describe a type of prayer which identifies with and confesses before God the sins of one’s nation, city, people group, church or family. It may also involve formally apologising to or asking forgiveness of representatives of the victims of the corporate sins (such as white Christians repenting of racism and asking a representative group of black people for forgiveness in a public ceremony)...

As a practice, identificational repentance has been encouraged in the context of mission, especially by those with a strong spiritual warfare slant to their ministry. They argue that the corporate sins of a nation or city form a major obstacle to the revival God wants to bring and that when the Church takes time to investigate and research the history of her nation/city, the Holy Spirit will reveal to her the specific roots of that which blocks the blessing. The next steps are the same as those taken by an individual who turns to God but with the added dimension of the involvement of a group of intercessors:

1. Identify the national sin
2. Confess the sin
3. Apply Christ’s blood
4. Walk in obedience and repair the damage

Mr. Green, typical of the promoters of IR invokes II Chronicles 7:14 (If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.) and Exodus 20:5b (...for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me) in support of identificational repentance. However, he takes both of these verses out of context. The context of II Chronicles 7:14 is the dedication of Solomon’s temple in Israel under the Old Testament. The land is Israel. The church of Jesus Christ is now under the New Testament, and no specific land is promised to the church.

In the case of Exodus 20:5b, H.L. Ellison explains in his book Fathers of the Covenant (pp.109-110) that three and four generations was the normal family group in Israel at the time. The preceding verses in Exodus 20 were warning against having too small a view of God. If a great-grandfather held to this inadequate view of God, the resulting sins would affect all those under his roof down to the great-grandchildren. I find it interesting that the IR proponents never mention Exodus 20:6 (And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments). The thousands in this case refers to generations. Why do the IR proponents always invoke the "curse" verse and not the "blessing" verse that immediately follows?

Mr. Green invokes the examples of Nehemiah and Daniel in support of IR. Once again, this occurred in Israel under the Old Testament. The church is now under the New Testament, and we have the Lord Jesus Christ as our priest; we don’t need a Nehemiah or a Daniel.

Later in his paper, Mr. Green admits:

There is no clear NT reference to it: Jesus never mentioned it, nor did Paul or any of the other NT authors (although, as we have seen, the Hebrew Bible contains numerous examples in the context of the nation of Israel before Jesus came, so it is not an unbiblical activity).

Indeed, one only has to look at the book of Acts. The apostles visited a number of places on their journeys, and never once did they feel it necessary to conduct a spiritual history investigation to find out which demons were afflicting these areas in order to free up God to do His work. Instead, they just proclaimed the Gospel, sinners were saved, and churches were started. In striking contrast, one of the things that’s missing from identificational repentance methodology is the clear presentation of the Gospel. It’s also worth noting that the Epistles, which were written to address issues specific to the church of Jesus Christ, contain no mention of identificational repentance.

Mr. Green does ask a number of questions that other proponents of IR should ask:

Is there a preoccupation with certain types of sin in some circles? The sociological analysis of the spiritual warfare movement frequently sounds like the U.S. Moral Majority or the former Tory Government in the U.K. ...

Is it easier to engage in repentance than mission? John Dawson says that we need to "keep doing it until it’s over." Isn’t this playing directly into the hands of the Enemy by busying ourselves with anything other than actually sharing Good News with lost people, which is supposed to be the primary activity of the Church militant.

How do we know if or when we have "broken through" and actually received the forgiveness for which we are asking? Will there be quantifiable results in the material realm that "breakthrough" has occurred in the spiritual realm?

Perhaps this is the most serious question of all: is it easier to repent of other people’s sins than those of our own? ... There may well be some railway-sleeper sized sins sitting comfortably in the corner of our own eyes that require urgent attention before we start focusing on the specks of dust in our history.


More on how identificational repentance is coming to the fore in evangelical and government circles in Trudeaupia (formerly Canada) will be in the next post.

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