On Valentine’s Day this year, Angela and I participated in repentance/reconciliation commemoration. It was a low-key event convened by a friend of mine with whom I participate on a regional intercession team in the Alsace region of France. The commemoration marked the massacre way, way back in 1349 of 2000 Jews who were burned alive in Strasbourg, France on February 14th. They had been accused (falsely) of poisoning the wells during the height of the Black Plague that was ravaging Europe. That crime was the ostensible justification for their massacre.
The commemoration event was a time where about 30 people from the Christian and Jewish communities in Alsace gathered together near the physical site of the massacre. Representatives of the Christian community presented the facts of what happened and the motivations that lay behind it (quite probably the motivations were more heavily weighed on the side of greed, jealousy and self-interest than anything having to do with the Plague). These representatives confessed the role of the Christian community in this injustice and asked forgiveness of those in attendance who represented the Jewish community.
(You can find out more about what happened in 1349 here or simply do some internet searches. Strasbourg was not the only place where such atrocities occurred during that time.)
I mentioned this activity in our prayer bulletin and got the following question from a good friend of mine:
I have a question that I am wondering about. You reported about gathering to repent for the 1349 massacre of 2000 Jews. Can explain to me the value of that? Seems like the ones doing the massacring should be repenting. Is there a theological principle that you are exercising?
This is an excellent question and deserves a response, not the least because God is really on the move in areas of Reconciliation right now. I’ll say first of all, that Reconciliation and its various sub-topics is a vast ocean (as the length of this blog entry will begin to reveal). Secondly, I’m far from being an expert. I’ve been blessed, perhaps, to be exposed to the topic a bit more fully than most by virtue of being on staff at a 10-month YWAM School of Reconciliation here in France during the 2003-2004 school year. That opened my eyes to many things. Others however, have already written in depth treatises on aspects of the subject. Here are some that I found while searching around on the Internet:
Interesting to note that among Christians there is not necessarily 100% agreement about the specifics of Reconciliation. When one begins to discuss “Identificational Repentance” (heck, “identificational” doesn’t even pass the spell-checker!), well, let’s just say that the dialog becomes even a bit more…shall we say…interesting… (let the reader understand).
Back to February 14, 2006…and my friend’s questions…
I believe that there are several legitimate benefits to such an action and many perspectives from which it can be viewed, but I want to specifically answer the question from the perspective of evangelism.
To start with, indeed the ones committing any injustice should be the ones doing the repenting. Other than the ideal of not committing any sin in the first place, justice would demand that the perpetrators be held responsible. Of course, we all know that human history is littered with injustices where the perpetrator did not confess, did not repent, and in the case of the death of the victim could not possibly have made sufficient restitution/reparation for the damages and suffering.
There is only one solution to this mountain of injustice (even if those with blood on their hands are directly involved in repentance), both on a theological level and a personal level…the Cross of Jesus.
Our theology tells us that though Jesus came, lived, died and rose for us, it takes a personal heart connection with that reality and its motivating love for an individual to enter into a covenant relationship with the God of the Universe and to actually partake, on a personal level of those blessings…of that reality.
Aye…there’s the rub…
From Peter’s first sermon until now, figuring out how to draw people to a personal heart connection with that reality, Jesus, has been the focus of the Body of Christ…and figuring out how to keep people from drawing close to Jesus has been the focus of Satan.
Because simply as humans we bear the image of God (Gen 1:26-27 ), if Satan can get us to be offended with another human (not to mention despise them!) he’s put a stumbling block between us and intimacy with God because our image of God has become twisted and distorted. Now to really drive a stake into it, Satan loves to get people offended with the Body of Christ (“you know, those Christians!”) because then it is the literal image of Jesus on the earth that is twisted. Oh no, we’re not finished. Now this process is repeated generation after generation and century after century. So, though Jesus is the very definition of love and beauty in all of eternity, strangely enough you have people couldn’t possibly hate God and all the people who represent Him more.
So now the stage is set…
- Sincere, Jesus-lovers are following His commandment to “preach the Gospel”
- They present the Gospel message clearly
- Nothing happens
- Even worse, they receive an antagonistic response!
Our evangelistic focus ,has been wrestling with this question since the first century and the reasons for such negative reactions are many and can be complex and combined. Indeed we’ve discovered and overcome many barriers to the reception of the Gospel message. We’ve become skilled at avoiding certain pitfalls. We’ve applied perseverance. We know how to train and motivate people in the evangelistic process…indeed we understand that it is a process and not just a “transaction”. For this all we can praise God because it is truly the Lord who has guided us in all this process of learning.
I believe that the Lord is in the process of revealing to the Body of Christ yet two other aspects that can play important roles in Evangelism:
- Generational factors
- Corporate factors
In our current western society and mentality…particularly (though not exclusively) in America, our focus is often on “now” and the “individual”. This is exceedingly pervasive and has many philosophical, historical and spiritual roots that have led us to this place. This has an effect on how we evangelize and how we perceive the process and its dynamics.
But, whether we are fully aware of it or not, God is a god of generations and the past is a part of who we are…and not just the past from the day we were born…indeed many generations back. God is also a god of not just individuals but the corporate also. He loves His Church. He loves nations. He loves peoples. He loves cities. He loves neighborhoods. He loves families. He loves couples…
Because we are made in the image of God, we enter into the dynamics of generation and corporate dynamics…even if we don’t realize it! It is simply part of how we’re created and how life functions on earth. The implications of that begin to dawn on us when we realize that:
- In history (that is to say…not in the present…perhaps way back)
- Injustices (sins) have been committed by…nations, armies, governments, companies, families…The Church
- Which have never been recognized; which have never been apologized for; for which no one has repented; for which no one has asked forgiveness; for which no one has offered restitution
- Which continue to be deeply felt as unhealed, festering wounds by all kinds of people
- But for which Jesus paid the price
Ok, so how does this affect evangelism, you ask?
Well, suppose I come up to you and push you down and then steal your wallet. Overcome by guilt, I walk into a revival meeting that same evening and get saved and filled with the zeal of the Holy Spirit for bringing others into this wonderful new Life! I run into you the next day and I give you a theologically correct, sensitive presentation of the Gospel message.
You’re not going to be too receptive to my invitation to share in this wonderful life of Jesus. It seems obvious as to why, but let’s break it down a bit:
- You have been wounded by me
- You doubt my sincerity and my character
- I have never acknowledged my sin against you
- I have never apologized for it
- I have never asked you to forgive me for it
- I have never made restitution for it
But…Jesus’ blood covered my sin 2000 years ago! It’s a done deal. The power of the Blood of Jesus is absolute. The work on the Cross is 100% finished.
What stands in the way?
Well, without much thinking we can see what stands in the way. In this situation the Gospel message is actually hindered by the messenger. Despite our theological understanding of the Work of the Cross and the Blood of Jesus, we realize that there is a practical solution to this. I have to confess my sin against you and you have to forgive me for that blockage to be removed.
This doesn’t nullify the work of the Cross but it does show that we, as agents of the Cross, often play an important role in this…both in blocking and un-blocking the way for the message to pass to a willing heart.
We find that the Bible shows this dynamic as well. God has laid the groundwork of all reconciliation through the work of Jesus (Colossians 1:19-20) and has asked us, the Body of Christ to steward that work (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) very much as the priests stewarded the reconciliation of God and man in the Old Testament (Romans 15:15-16, 1 Peter 2:5, 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10)
What did the Old Testament priests do to steward the connection between God and Israel? Well there are a lot of details, but a couple of points are important:
- They administered the sacrifices and applied the blood.
- On their uniform, they wore representations of the 12 tribes of Israel on their shoulders (to bear their burdens) and on their breastplate (to keep them near their heart) (Exodus 28:9-21)
In the same way we administer the sacrifice of Jesus in the specific sphere of time and space in which God has chosen us to walk. Also, in the same way we perform this act of stewardship for more than just ourselves as individuals.
That brings us back to this whole issue of generations and corporate identity. In my example, we spoke of you and me (individuals) in a present-tense scenario. What if I was bringing the Gospel message to you but you were distrusting me because of something that I represented. When we come before the Lord and when we walk before men, we are more than our flesh and bone of individual presence. Oh no. Our identity, whether we know it or not, goes much deeper than that and projects much farther than we might think.
Take me for instance…David Leigh
I’m me, the unique individual, sure, but I’m also:
- A man
- An adult of my generation
- A Caucasian
- A father
- A husband
- A brother
- A son
- An uncle
- Of Norwegian descent
- Of English descent
- An American
- A Hoosier
- A Christian
- An English speaker
I don’t think about it all the time (in fact I had to do a quick mental run-down in my mind to think of those categories) but those are the stones I wear on my priestly garment all the time. I am called to administer the sacrifice of Jesus…to apply the blood of Jesus as a representative of those “tribes”. So, depending upon whom I’m communicating with, any combination of those aspects of my identity may affect greatly my message.
Instead of the assault scenario, I’ve just met you on a short-term missions trip I’m taking. You’re, for example, an Afro-Caribbean lady born and raised in the UK who is about my age. In high school you went on an exchange program to a high school in Indiana in the US where, during a church youth retreat someone had invited you to, a group of white boys taunted you and made fun of the way you spoke. No one has ever apologized about that or tried to make it right. You, yourself have probably long forgotten about it…until now. Until I try and share the Gospel with you. Until you realize that a personification of your wounding (though not individually personally involved in any way) is standing in front of you offering you the Greatest Gift Ever. You are blocked. You are blinded by the enemy of your soul, who would tell you that this Message of Life is tied with that wound you suffered personally…and with that great wound of slavery and colonial repression and on-going discrimination.
Sure it’s a lie, but you see what a twisted mess we’re in here. This is an eternal battle for souls and the devil didn’t sign up for a fair fight!
This is where I can choose to say, as did Nehemiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel, “I and my fathers (those with whom I identify in the past and the present) have sinned”. I can steward the sacrifice of Jesus into this situation and apply the Blood of Jesus to this wound.
So, for those injustices of history that have been perpetrated at a corporate level (and the list is practically inexhaustible it would seem), the sacrifice of Jesus is effective. The administration of that sacrifice that allows an individual’s heart to be unblocked (from barriers that they may not even realize themselves that they have) is a facet of our evangelistic task that we’re just now waking up to.
For the massacre of 2000 Jews in 1349 in Strasbourg, France, we are honored and burdened as Christians of today to identify ourselves as members of the tribe “Body of Christ” and stand in the gap of wound and pain and declare that there was an injustice; to repent for the complicity of The Church; to ask for forgiveness; to steward the sacrifice of Jesus and “apply the Blood” to unhealed wounds so that the enemy might be robbed of more souls and a way paved for more trophies of grace.