Individual reformation begins when a man or a woman takes responsibility. To take responsibility means to say that I am guilty before God. It is does not mean assuming the guilt for all the other individuals around me, only Jesus does that on the cross when men and women turn to Him seeking forgiveness. To assume responsibility means taking a look at the mess, and then saying I am 100% responsible for my own sin. It does not mean assuming the guilt of those who are involved in this mess. And yet, there is no blame shifting, no excuses, no justifications. Full stop. The cross stands between the Christian and his or her excuses.
The Prophet Nathan understood this principle when King David fell into the sin of adultery with Bathsheba. He came to challenge the king on his sin. He told a parable about a rich man who stole a little lamb from a much poorer man, and then prepared it as a meal. Of course King David’s anger burned against this man, at which point the Prophet Nathan stares him in the eye and shouts: “you are the man!” Of course, David ended up taking responsibility for a very particular sin, and we have to take responsibility for particular sins.
But we also have to take responsibility for corporate sins. Nehemiah, when he sees the sin of His people in leaving the city of God in ruins, weeps and mourns and fasts and prays to God for a number of days. When he sees the corporate sin of the people, he repents with them: “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses.” Nehemiah is truly grieved when he sees the sin of his people and he confesses that he is responsible for this corruption. And then he utilizes his place of power to serve God’s people by leading them back to the city of God, rebuilding, and seeking the advance of the kingdom of God.
As we seek reformation in North America, it is easy to be given to complaining. Nehemiah even had people complain against him. Whose problem is this? The consistory? The pastor? The seminary? The synod? Is it our style of worship? Is it the guy in my parish who likes to go on month-long vacations while I have to slave away at home? No. It is my problem. Even I and my father’s house of sinned. I am the complainer. I am the grouchy Dutch guy. I am the hard-head. I am the bigot. I am the compromiser. I am the one who focuses on the peripherals. It is not those external structures that are the ultimate problem it is my relationship with God. If the walls of Jerusalem are in ruin, then I must also repent of my responsibility in this mess and lay it on Jesus Christ. He is the only head of the Church anyways.
Are you ready for reformation? I am. Just listen to the terrible stories of sin and unbelief that keep coming out of Christian high schools and universities, the schisms between Bible-believing churches, and the number of unbelievers who walk away from Church wondering what to think of our legalisms and stumbling blocks. Or you may be one of those many people looking for Christ because you were hurt and condemned in a sinful way by those in the Church.
Does this mean that there are no people working for this? Of course not. I know many godly people in many churches and denominations. But the question is: who will I be in this narrative? Am I Tobiah and Sanballat? Am I an imposter? Do I grow afraid and run when I hear threats and mockery? Am I just the annoying guy who criticizes from the peanut gallery? Or am I willing to jump on the wall and start moving stones? Am I willing to cut my hands on the stones and have them covered in blood all the while being mocked and taunted and threatened? Am I willing to suffer in service of the great Nehemiah, the Leader and Savior of the Church, Jesus Christ?
What is wrong with the Church? I am. What needs to change in the Church? Who needs to be reformed according to His Word? I do. The more people there are who answer in this way, and commit themselves to being trained in righteousness by the grace of God, the quicker this momentum will grow. Of course, this knowledge of God will begin to transform and/or bring new meaning to everything else from relationships to education to worship.