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By Stephen Green
First Published in Christian Voice March 2009
Neh 1:6 Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned.
Dan 9:4 And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;
Dan 9:5 We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments:
Identificational Repentance is the belief that Christians can and should repent on behalf of their nation. In this article I want to ask if Identificational Repentance is a Biblical concept.
Identificational Repentance is normally associated with groups of evangelicals who are interceding for the nation, in line with Paul's injunction to Timothy:
1Ti 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
1Ti 2:2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
But some intercessors go further, confessing the nation's sins and, as they believe, repenting on behalf of the nation, and regarding all that as part and parcel of intercession. Their proof texts are those above, the prayers of Nehemiah and Daniel, although Moses is often cited as well.
A few will even go as far as to say that theirs is the only way to turn our nation around, and that everyone else is wasting their time in witness, letter-writing, protesting in front of Parliament and so on. In Christian Voice we believe that everyone has a part to play, and that other ministries should not be belittled for doing according to what they honestly believe the Lord has laid on their heart, even if we believe they are not being effective or just plain doing it wrong. Is any of us the fount of all wisdom? Who knows what the Lord may do with a believer's prayers and actions? If every pot will have 'holiness to the Lord' on it, then He is gracious enough to let us get it wrong, see our heart, and turn it to His glory. Of course, it is better to be doing things according to His word than in opposition to it - time is precious. But I digress.
THE PROBLEMS WITH IDENTIFICATIONAL REPENTANCE
I see two problems with the examples of Nehemiah and Daniel cited in support of Identificational Repentance. The first is that although they confessed their nation's sins before God, they did not repent. They cried to God for mercy instead. Moses did not repent on behalf of his nation either; he told the people to repent.
The second problem is that none of us is in the position of Nehemiah or of Daniel (let alone that of Moses). Nehemiah was appointed governor of
by the Emperor of Persia. Daniel was a prince in Judah and Prime Minister of Babylon. They were like the Gordon Browns of their day, not the Stephen Greens. But even then, they did not repent on behalf of their nation. And why not? Because one person, or one corporate body, can not repent on behalf of another.
Let me put it this way. Let us try something a bit easier than repenting on behalf of our nation. Let's just repent on behalf of our next-door neighbour, who is a compulsive gambler who is leaving his wife and children destitute. Does our repentance on his behalf stop him gambling? Of course not. Our prayers might, but our repentance will not bring forth fruits, which is what God requires:
Luk 3:8 Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance ...
The word of the Lord in the mouth of the prophet Isaiah says:
Isa 1:16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
Isa 1:17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
GOD WANTS THE EVIL TO STOP
Indeed, I believe God deals with us according to the lines of authority He has ordained. Each individual is responsible to Him. So is every family, every church (or denomination), and every nation. We simply do not have the authority to repent on behalf on our next-door neighbour, and no church, and no group of intercessors, has the authority to repent on behalf of the nation. It is almost verging on arrogance to think we can; it is certainly a diversion of the Lord's valuable time and resources.
When I asked one lady what had been the fruit of her identificational repentance over abortion in this land, she said it was the fact that in the recent Human Fertilisation Bill, the required permission of two doctors had remained and it had not been downgraded to just one.
I have to say, the fruit of repentance in the case of abortion would be to stop the evil of abortion and somehow to atone for it, not simply to carry on as we are. And such a massive change of heart can only happen in our land at the direction of the Queen in Parliament.
In every case of genuine repentance in the Bible, the person or nation in question stopped doing bad and started doing good. Zacchaeus is a prime example (Luke 19:8). And in every case where a nation turned away from evil and towards God and His righteousness that action was led by a king or judge in authority over the nation: Moses, Gideon (who started humble but became leader - Judg 8:22), Samuel, Asa, Josiah, the king of Nineveh all spring to mind.
INNOCENT BLOOD POLLUTES THE LAND
Repentance involves not just humbling ourselves and a sense of shame, but a turning away from evil and a doing of right. See 2Chr 7:14 (turn from their wicked ways) 2Kgs 17:13; Jer 18:8, 25:5, 26:1-4; Eze 18:21, 33:11,14,19; Dan 4:37, 9:13; Joel 2:13; Jonah 3:8; Zech 1:4; Luke 19:8; Acts 8:22, 26:20; Rev 2:5.
In fact 2Chr 7:14 is often quoted as the cure-all for a nation's sins. It is taken as if it means that when the Church (or even a small group of believers) humbles itself, prays, seeks His face and turns from its own wicked ways, then God will heal the land. But the word of God says innocent blood defiles, or pollutes, the land. (Psalm 106:38) Sheer common sense says that if God did heal the land today, tragically it would be polluted again tomorrow. Of course a Church which en masse was in mourning and sorrow and genuine repentance for the blood of those innocents would in all probability be part of a repentant nation, in a revival bigger than anything we have ever seen in this land, with the possible exception of the great Evangelical Awakening of the 18th Century.
So I am sorry to say there are no short cuts. Identificational Repentance will not bring about the repeal of the Divorce Reform Act or the Sexual Offences Act or the Sexual Orientation Regulations or reinstate the Blasphemy Law. So what - or who - will?
SCRIPTURAL PRAYER AND WITNESS
Well, God will do it, but I believe He will want to see us doing the practical things He has called us to do specifically in His word, the Bible, before He will send the miracle we need. Now, I cannot see anywhere in Scripture where we are commanded to repent on behalf of another. That is because it is their responsibility to obey the command of the Lord, not ours. But we are commanded to pray and intercede, to seek the Lord, and to proclaim the truth of God's law-word in our nation. Isaiah (and his example is also to be ready to stand for political office!) is told:
Isa 58:1 Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.
That involves steadfast witness. It also involves cleansing ourselves of our own sins so that we shall not be hypocrites when showing the people - and the politicians - of this nation their sins. But I am sorry to say Identificational Repentance is a blind alley. I just pray that the Lord will see hearts of those who do it and mould their prayers into the ones he wants.