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‘Identificational Repentance’ – repenting for the sins of our ancestors

“Gladys” wrote in message .

In this generation of Australians we do not have to say, “Sorry!” which implies personal guilt. The correct word is “Regret!” and that has been said. It is only political activists who keep that issue gotin.

My response:

This is an interesting concept. Below I’ve reproduced an excerpt from an article on ‘Identificational Repentance’ which presents another view. Sorry for its length.

Identificational Repentance – Is it necessary? Is it biblical?

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 and asking the forgiveness of representativesof 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). Dawson has worked closely with Cindy Jacobs who, for ten or more years has taught on healing the nations through a type of corporate prayer that urges the Church to act in a priestly role by confessing and repenting of the corporate sins of the nations.

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.

A great deal of anecdotal material is cited in support of the methodology suggesting that major spiritual breakthrough has been achieved as a direct result of the employment of this and other “new spiritualweapons”.

Is it biblical?

The biblical references used to validate the practice of identificational repentance are from the Hebrew Bible. Mostly these are examples of prophets who recognise that the nation of Israel has disobeyed in her immediate circumstances and in her history and is therefore reaping the consequences interms of political, economic, moral and religious decay. Two key texts, however, are almost always referred to as foundational to the practice of identificational repentance. They are 2 Chron 7:14 (“If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”) and Ex 20:5b (“I, the Lord your God am a jealous God punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”).

It is clear from the many examples cited by its proponents and practitioners that identificational repentance is certainly biblical. Overwhelmed by the presence of God in the Temple, Isaiah expresses his heartfelt repentance on behalf of the entire nation of Israel (Is 6:5); faced with the terrible threat of national judgement, Jeremiah acknowledges the wickedness of his own generation and the guilt of his ancestors (Jer 14:20); as he fasts and prays for Israel, Daniel repents of the sins of the nation (Dan 9:20) and when he hears of the devastation of Jerusalem, Nehemiah also repents of the corporate sin of the people of God that has brought it about (Neh 1:6). It seems quite clear to me that these men are repenting before God out of a genuine sense of responsibility for the state of their nation.

They acknowledge that the problems began a long time ago but seem to admit that they and their own immediate contemporaries are equally guilty of disobeying the Lord in their own time. For me, this is identificational repentance. People of God identifying, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, their own part in the corporate sin of their nation, city or people group.

What I find puzzling is the consistent insistence by those seeking to validate the modern practice with these biblical examples that these prayers represent a type of symbolic identification with the sins of Israel rather than a personal confession oftheir direct responsibility as a part of the whole.The distinction arises out of the treatment of Ex 20:5 which refers to generational ties. There is a difference, they argue, between the sins of the fathers (these being original acts of rebellion towards God) and the iniquity (a different Hebrew word) with which the subsequent generations will be visited (this being the consequences of the original acts). This means that when Nehemiah, for example, acknowledges “both my father’s house and I have sinned”, he is confessing the sins of his ancestors and the effect they have had upon him. And when Daniel says “I was confessing my sin and the sin of my people”, he is doing the same. Neither, apparently, is confessing personal culpability, they are vicariously repenting on behalf of their ancestors.This is foundational since it gives a biblical precedent to those who want to identify with the sins committed by others perhaps thousands of years ago and offer their repentance to God (and maybe to the descendants of the original victims). I am not convinced by this interpretation. It seems to me that the identification we see in people like Nehemiah and Daniel is not substitutionary or vicarious but a recognition of personal culpability and a willingness to represent the nation in priestly prayer. They seem to me to be realising that their own attitudes and/or actions towards God, His laws and other people are no different from those of their ancestors. They are acknowledging that they stand in a line of continuity with previous generations who have sinned and they are confessing the actual part they are playing in perpetuating the sin and its consequences. They are repenting of sin not in a symbolic way but in an honest act of self surrender before God. My assertion, then, is that identificational repentance is biblical but vicarious repentance is not. This is important in terms of providing a biblical paradigm.

It seems perfectly right to me for a group of praying Christians who come under a sense of conviction of the Spirit for the corporate sin of their nation towards another or for the corporate sin of their people group towards another then to acknowledge their part in the perpetuating of that sin and to repent towards God, asking for forgiveness, a breaking of the cycle and corporate healing in line with the promises of God in 2 Chron 7:14. This would be biblical, meaningful and powerful. God keeps His promises and when the Church acts in obedience and humility and admits its own sin in line with the sins of the nations, then forgiveness will flow and the land can be healed. What I cannot accept is the idea that Christians can symbolically repent on behalf of other people’s sins without admitting their own guilt. Such an activity is meaningless and misleading and out of line with the biblical teaching that each person is responsible for their own sin and will be judged accordingly.

At a conference in Newcastle, County Down in Jan 1998 a gathering of prayer leaders from the UK andIreland listened as the history of the Northern Ireland “Troubles” was explained. The root was identified as the 17th Century “Plantation” of Scottish and English Protestants into Ulster by the Government who authorised them to dispossess Catholics of their land and property, killing them if they offered resistance. Those organising the conference asked the Scottish and English delegates to stand and acknowledge to God on behalf of their 17thCentury countrymen and women that what had taken place was sinful. The Irish delegates were asked to express forgiveness to the Scots and English who were confessing sins for which they were not personally responsible. Those who took part felt they had participated in something meaningful and helpful. We recognised that, although we had not been responsible for the original evil actions that set the hostilities in motion 300 years ago, nevertheless weshared a sense of responsibility for the current situation. Our personal sectarianism and inherent racism was exposed. We knew we were guilty and that our guilt was part of something bigger that was affecting the whole nation. So our identificational repentance was appropriate and relevant at both the personal and the corporate levels. How effective it was in terms of bringing healing to the land is, of course, impossible to measure.

Is it necessary?

We must be careful in trying to answer this question. We British find it far too easy to dismiss things that originate in other parts of the world and we are inherently conservative in our theology and practice. If this is part of the “new thing” God is doing then we need to be open to it and to embrace it wholeheartedly.The practice of identificational repentance has much to commend it. It has the potential to reorientate the Church in the West in the following ways:

It moves us away from our comfortable, self-seeking inwardness. The original setting from which this concept emerged has a strong missions thrust. It is prayer for the nation/city. Prayer with an outwardfocus. Prayer for other people rather than for ourselves. Sadly, some of its practitioners have turned it into yet another item for internal consumption on the conference calendar but that does not alter its inherently evangelistic nature..

It moves us away from “arm’s length” evangelism to incarnational mission. A distant and aloof Church can never identify with the nation of which it is a part. Only a Church that is immersed in the culture of those it is trying to reach can properly engage in identificational repentance..

It moves us away from the individualism that so often characterises Western spirituality. The whole concept is based on the corporate nature of a nation/city/people group and so we are forced to move away from individualism and isolated self-sufficiency towards community and interdependence. It is theoretically possible to practise identificational repentance alone but, realistically, it tends to occur in groups, which reinforces the point further..

It moves us away from triumphalism. This is why it is so important that those doing the repenting are sincere and genuinely contrite. The Church is a family of broken people who are aware of their sinfulness. When the Church admits its own failure in solidarity with the rest of the human race and asks for forgiveness from those she has offended (as in the case of the Reconciliation Walk) the worldwill begin to listen more closely to her message.


Most of the literature on this mentions the Reconciliation Walk which took place between Spring 1996 and Summer 1999. Led by Lynn Green, YWAM’s European & Middle East Director, it involved 3,000 people in walking the routes of the “Christian” Crusades of the Middle Ages, culminating in Jerusalem on July 15th1999, the 900th anniversary of one of the many Crusade massacres of Jews & Arabs. The purpose of the walk was to identify with and repent of the sins of those Christians responsible for the genocide that occurred in the name of Christianity. An apology was read personally to many Orthodox Christians, Moslems and Jews stating that the Crusaders had “betrayed the name of Christ by conducting themselves in a manner contrary to His wishes and character”. The walkers expressed their “deep regret for the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by our predecessors”.

Excerpted from an article by Frank Green



Rowland Croucher


Paolo Geminiani wrote:

Dear brother,

I’ve read the excerpt from the article by Frank Green found at the following link:


which you have published in your website to support the thesis of identificational repentance.

I’d like to share with you that in my opinion repenting for the evil done by people of previous generations in our nation against other nations is definitely an act which can bring healing between communities, and can create an atmosphere of harmony in a country. But saying that because God encourages his people Israel to repent so He can then heal the land, we as Italians or French should also repent for the sins of our nation in order to receive the blessing of our land is confusing the role and place of Israel as God’s chosen people with the role of Italy or France which as nations do not represent God´s people.

You are confusing the Church(Israel) with the World (Nations).

These ideas come from the US churches because  they think of themselves as being God´s chosen and blessed Nation. They feel  like the modern day Israel in a way.

There is no such a thing as a nation representing God’s people, rather God’s people are found in many nations.

Where do we stop identifying with the sins of our fathers? We might as well go back to Adam and Eve and repent for everything.

The curses upon the nations of the world are nothing else than the consequences of the sins committed.

The way out of this mess is to simply start living a Godly life. God will bless anyone’s obedience, no matter if they know all the gory details of the sin committed by their ancestors.

Will God not bless the people of a community if they live in obedience to him even tho they know nothing about identificational repentance? I think we take to extremes what we read in one or two verses.

The blessing of nations, the removal of obstacles to the gospel are simply connected to the way people react to the gospel. They have the choice.If they receive the light the darkness will flee. It´s very simple.

I see nothing in the NT as far as instruction of such practices given by the leaders of the church to the believers before sending them out to evangelize the nations…

Much love in Christ,
Paolo Geminiani
August 2008



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  2. On October 9, 2010 a group of Natives came to Lancaster Pa. to hear a group of Christians and Quakers, Mennonites, and Presbyterians acknowledge the events that took place here in Lancaster County when the Paxton Boy’s, a group of Militia who were affiliated with John Elder of the Paxton Presbyterian Church, mercilessly killed the Conestoga Natives. In gathering these 500 people in the 1st Presbyterian Church downtown, it was the 1st time many white people understood the history of the Natives in this country. We are currently doing a DVD and booklet about the ongoing work of educating our children about our Native American Holocaust. We used the heartfelt words of “I’m sorry” and “we regret” because we are sorry for all of the horrors that took place from those who called themselves “believers in Jesus Christ”. These events don’t reflect the nature of Jesus Christ or the God of the New Testament, as Jesus said, “the theif (Satan) comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I come to give you life more abundantly”. I pray that we as Christians can move into relationship with our Native people and recognize the pain of the past offenses and become true representatives of our loving God and Creator.

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  3. Really I see this as a pointless exercise none of you ever really can even understand the effects of your peoples hatred and homicidal evil has had on generations of say like American Indian people like myself and my family,right up to this day with my daughter and son as they look out at this reservation Pine Ridge here in South Dakota at the poverty and abject misery that people praising Jesus pushed us into the unwanted places for the unwanted people, but I can tell them and have a new generation that understands that even this was not enough for the children of god they needed to abuse my grand mother and their great grandmother had to be forced kidnapped taken to a The Christian Boarding and at 8 years old had to be beaten so severely for speaking in her language that even though she passed away when I was 7 I can still recall seeing the scars deep gaping tracks on her back and I could go on and on. So no I do not think Christians can comprehend how atrocious their collective sin truly was nor how deeply felt not even so much the mockers murderers and abusers are not as bad as you silent ones that say nothing now and said nothing then and the deniers that perpetuate the sins. No you can not repent what you could never grasp the size of.

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