Kent’s post on community responsibility brings to mind the question of whether and how a community can repent. Do the first principles and ordinance of the gospel apply to the church as a whole? The church exemplifies faith through its teachings, and I can see the entire church organization as reflective of the ordinances of baptism and confirmation. But what about repentance?
I’m not aware of any instances where the church as an institution has worked through a repentance-like process (acknowledging an institutional error, accepting responsibility for it, apologizing, and then working toward restitution), but that doesn’t mean such examples don’t exist. The church’s approach to change is more one of institutional change-of-focus. We tend toward letting disfavored teachings fade away into the forgotten tomes of history.
Does repentance work the same for an organization as it does for an individual? In some ways it doesn’t make sense to even talk about institutional repentance, since we view repentance as part of an individual’s relationship with God. We don’t generally think of the church as having a soul, or needing forgiveness from God, but I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. While the church may not be corporeally resurrected in the last day, the saints who constitute it will be. There is one strain of belief suggesting that church will itself transform to become the kingdom of God. I see a parallel between that transformation and the individual transformation of resurrection, so, in some sense, I think it’s useful to consider the church as having an eternal soul.
The other consideration with repentance is the perceived fallibility or infallibility of church leaders. We teach that our leaders are normal human beings, capable of error. However, the lack of an institutional repentance process may contribute to the common perception among church members that leaders are effectively inerrant.
Does the church repent, either as a whole or at a local level? If so, what does it look like, and how has it affected you?